"If you lose your team partner, it's a major loss. You then have to work your tail off to get another team member so you can go back to playing volleyball. This is done through what serves as the other majority of the game, the gift exchanging. See, each girl has likes and dislikes, besides the whole winning and losing thing."
The girls of Dead or Alive are some of the best cases for high polygon counts in the industry. If you've ever seen an entry in the series, it's obvious that video games have come a long way in the visual department from the day when we first saw Mario's blocky nose and moustache in Super Mario 64. If you're of the mind that this is a good thing, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball is your game. And if you prefer 'serious' endeavors, be warned: you'll need to look elsewhere.
Since it's on everyone's mind, let's start with the obvious: this game features incredibly hot girls wearing next to nothing, and a lot of the time you spend with this game will go toward unlocking that skimpy bikini you've been dreaming about. Nothing complex. No princess to save, no mobster to put in his place...no anything resembling a tangible plot. Again, if that bothers you, look elsewhere. If, however, the thought of all those Dead or Alive girls hopping about and spiking balls has your attention, the game's few shortcomings probably won't matter to you.
We already know the Dead or Alive girls are attractive. It's hard to imagine anyone ever seriously saying they're not. And as stated at the beginning of this review, they've always tested polygon counts. However, that's never been the case so much as it is now. And that's important, because a lot of the gameplay revolves around moving the camera around and looking for that titillating shot of some skin in a naughty place. You're not going to see anything you really shouldn't--the only nudity is in the cinema sequence that serves as the game's intro--but you'll come as close as Tecmo dares let you. The whole time, everything looks round that should, everything looks smooth that should, and most importantly, everything moves in the way it should. That includes skin-tight clothing. Really, it's hard to recall a game that has looked prettier, even Dead or Alive 3. Besides the shocking beautiful girls, though, there's the island paradise that serves as the setting.
Basically, there aren't that many places you'll see. There's a map of the lush island, there are the shots from FMV, and there are the 'arenas' where you play. These arenas mostly take place on the beach, with cliffs, waterfalls, sand, and the ocean all about. Or you can go into the jungle for a little volleyball action. Everything is vibrant and detailed, right down to the shadows the distant, swaying palm trees cast on the ground. There's lots of sunlight reflecting on the rippling water, too, and giving artificial lens flare as you swing the viewpoint about to look at Kasumi from behind (or whatever it is you're doing).
Speaking of the camera, it really is a huge part of the game. If you don't know how to modify it, you're missing half the experience. Pressing the 'L' button causes you to change perspective by around 180 degrees, while pressing the 'R' button and using the right analog stick allows you to search about for that right horizontal angle. The left stick moves you up and down a bit. During replays of great volleyball playing, or while you're watching the girl lounge by the pool or prepare to hop across some floating rafts on the water, this knowledge is invaluable. And really, that's all there is to the camera control. Throughout the rest of the game, you're either looking at menus or the game is handling the perspectives as you bump, set, and spike.
Yes, there actually is volleyball in this game. And no, it doesn't feel like an afterthought, even if it is simple in its execution. What happens is you have two girls on each side of the net. Presumably you've played volleyball, so you know most of what happens from there. Each team has three moves if the ball comes to their side of the net, which is basically the opportunity to bump, set, and spike. The goal is of course to get the ball to touch down on the opponent's side. The first to do this seven times is the winner, unless both sides are tied at 7, at which point the game keeps going until there's a winner by 2 points. Simple stuff, made simpler by Team Ninja's decision to forget about boundaries. All that matters is that there's one half of the world on your side of the net, and another opposite that net. Whenever the ball hits the ground, one team is going to gain a point.
Controls this entire time are intuitive. The 'A' button is a regular hit, while 'B' is what you'd need to use to set. Meanwhile, the left analog stick moves your player and the right one tells your teammate to get in a position you direct (sorry, nothing sexual). Mastery of both members of the team can be useful, though it's nice to see that your teammate isn't completely helpless when left without direction. She's just as interested in winning as the girl you've chosen as your player. She'll do her best to set you up for a spike. Also worth noting is how easy it is to execute a spike. There's really no 'jump' button. If you're in position to use a spike, your character will jump. From there, you press the button at the right moment to maximize the effect, and hopefully you don't screw up and hit the ball into the net.
If you are the sort that repeatedly has trouble with this setup, you're going to suffer for it. On this island, the girls either like each other or they don't, and each is driven by a desire to be the winner. Lose a few matches and you'll lose your sexy partner to a different scheming girl. If you lose your team partner, it's a major loss. You then have to work your tail off to get another team member so you can go back to playing volleyball. This is done through what serves as the other majority of the game, the gift exchanging. See, each girl has likes and dislikes, besides the whole winning and losing thing. Christie is British and likes tomato juice, for example. So to get her to join you, it's a good idea to buy some fresh tomato juice, then deliver it to her in a hurry so she'll think you're worth an alliance.
What complicates all of this is that you only have a limited stay here. Two weeks, to be precise. Each day is divided into around four slots: morning, afternoon, evening, and night. In the first three slots, you can shop at any point, go to the pool hopping mini-game, relax, give a gift, propose that someone join your team, or play volleyball. Shopping aside, each of these choices costs you one of those three slots. Even if you're just checking out Kasumi as she sits by the poolside table, you're wasting one third of a valuable day. So if you want to buy all those bikinis, you're going to need to stay busy, as volleyball and perhaps the casino are the only truly good ways to build up your bankroll.
The casino is your main option once night arrives. Volleyball is no longer reasonable, so everyone heads in to spend their prize money on slots, poker, blackjack, and roullette. This may sound exciting, but it's not. Poker is the least exciting version of the game you've ever played on a console. Period. And slots are no good, either. In fact, the casino's only redeeming feature is the roulette table, which is gambling at its finest. Here you can get really lucky at times and win enough money to buy just about every swimsuit your heart may desire.
And there are a lot of swimsuits. And accessories. The game is full of them. With so many options, you're likely to be a little overwhelmed at first. Many of the suits are quite similar, and Tecmo never really hides the fact that this is all about voyeurism. What girl really likes to have a teddy bear head printed on her suit? It's all good fun, though. You'll also be collecting promotional videos, which show video of past Dead or Alive games and more. Some of these come in the form of gifts from the island's fictional owner, Zack. At night, you can watch the films in the hotel until you're sick of them.
It's always nice to be able to view the evolution of the Dead or Alive franchise, so the videos you can find are cool. Also cool is the game's soundtrack, a true collection of really cheesy music that somehow fits just perfectly. From Christina Aguillera to Real Big Fish to the Spice Girls, there's probably something here you recognize and may even have found yourself liking. And best of all, you can turn it all off! Any music gets old after a while, and this solid soundtrack is no different. But if you tire of it, you can always use your own custom track. What could be better than watching those scantily-clad girls dance around to the music of your choice? Not much. The feature seems perfect for this title. Almost any music you select is gong to go good with the on-screen action. Really, the only problem you're likely to run into is that you'll get tired of your favorite songs, or maybe you'll invite a friend over to play and he won't like the music you do.
Yes, you can play this with a friend. Only one. Though it would seem hand-crafted for as many as four players, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball allows only two human players to participate, and they have to be on opposing teams. That's just as well, though; if you get more than two guys together, you're probably going to end up playing Halo, anyway. But for two guys, or one guy and a girl who likes to broaden her horizons, this is a delightful experience.
Still, it's an experience you will tire of. The volleyball is good, and fun. The girls are gorgeous. The music isn't annoying. And there's the two-player mode. But just like real volleyball, the whole experience can only remain fresh for so long. Though it seems unlikely the thought of another match would ever nauseate you as it can with some sports titles, it's also true that you're unlikely to find this game rewarding for more than about ten hours if you have to go it alone, or maybe twice that if you have a few willing friends. After that, it'll be sitting on your shelf untouched, most likely. Still, it's another excellent showcase of what the Xbox can do, courtesy of Tecmo and Team Ninja. You owe them at least a rental.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 24, 2003)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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