Bump, set, stare.
Valentine's Day, after the flowers and the dinner.
"So, what do you want do?" I ask my girlfriend.
"I dunno. What do you want to do?"
"Hmmm...well, uh, how about some… Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball?" I ask behind a smirk as I hand her the game.
She takes one look at the cover, emblazoned with three small girls and six large breasts, and pauses. I hold my breath, waiting for a cry of annoyance or at least a lightning-fast wedgie attempt. Instead…
I was hoping for more of a reaction, something along the lines of: "What!?! HELL NO! I hate you. Die." You know - something really interesting to write about. It would have been a great covert sociological experiment!
You can't blame me for trying. Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball is the video game equivalent of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue. Besides, my girlfriend is a fan of Beach Spikers, Sega's volleyball entry and the only recent game to compare this one to.
But instead of gripes or complaints or slaps in the face, she played it and gave me her honest opinion. Not a traditional way to spend the holiday, but hey, it got this review done.
Zack, the DOA character that looks like Dennis Rodman, strikes the jackpot at Vegas. Instead of setting up a charity or a memorial fund, he parlays his winnings into his very own island paradise. He then invites only the women of DOA to his tropical getaway for some fun in the sun. I suppose sexist Zack doesn't want to see Bass and his man boobs.
The single-player game begins by selecting one girl out of the eight representatives from DOA 3 (plus a new gal, Lisa). You then spend up to two weeks on the island honing your beach skills. Each day, there is a limited amount of time for the different activities. There are shops to buy swimsuits, accessories and gifts, beaches to just lounge around (and ogle), and games of volleyball to play.
Two analog buttons control the core volleyball game - an attack and a set. The harder you press, the harder you hit the ball. The comfortable analog style becomes second nature.
As in Sega's Virtua Tennis, you must move as close as possible to where the ball will land in order to hit it efficiently. The game automatically nudges you the rest of the way. The closer you are to the landing spot, the cleaner your hit will be.
In all, it's a decent game of relaxed beach volleyball. No boundary lines, no visual overlays of where the ball will land, and no power indicators mar the field of view. The camera bounds back and forth, showing only the receiving side. It works, but it could have been better. The game is lighter on strategy than Beach Spikers, but then again, it isn't trying to mirror competitive volleyball.
Unfortunately, there is no 4-player mode. If a 4-player mode can be shoehorned into the DOA fighting games, it's outright disappointing that it's missing here. You are also limited to controlling only your own character, meaning you have to rely on the computer for a fair amount of the work.
In addition to the volleyball, there are a few other games here. One mini-game has you hopping across floating squares in a pool, and a bunch of casino games let you blow your money at night. The casino games could have been better fleshed out with some more realistic rules; blackjack is limited to you and the dealer, and poker is greatly simplified. There's also roulette and slots.
The first time I played through the single player, I was still adjusting to the volleyball. My teammate had left me, forcing me to nab a new partner. However, the other girls kept turning me down. I felt less like a lecher and more like a lonely High School girl… albeit a lesbian one. "Why do all the other girls hate me? Will no one be my friend?" I thought, as I languished by the pool.
In order to nourish relationships in the game, you must buy gifts such as teddy bears or desserts. Each girl has specific interests; Christy the assassin just happens to be partial to guns. It's odd how artillery can be found so readily on an island resort, but hey, reality has already been thrown out the window.
Since the game lets you send dessert gifts to the other girls, there should also be realistic weight gain. It would be great watching the mean and snobby girls bloat up, packing on the pounds. Not going to be my friend, eh? Well then, I hope you get FAT!
Each girl also has her own selection of swimsuits available at the store. The risqué ones, such as the bejeweled Venus, are the most expensive. In order to "complete" the game and collect all the swimsuits, you must befriend the other characters, get them in a happy mood, and then hoist your swimsuits over to them as "gifts." Depending on how they are feeling, the girls will either accept the present, showing it off, or they'll dump it in the TRASH! The nerve!
The sheer number of swimsuits and the many permutations of getting every swimsuit onto every girl are enough to keep you competing, spending and befriending for a long time. But if collecting swimsuits and making nice with the other characters isn't enough to float your boat, there's not much reason to keep playing.
The problem is the lack of a real incentive. Money is awarded for each match, but there is no tally of overall victories or larger goal behind it all. While the open-ended gameplay is relaxing, mirroring a real vacation, I wish there was some kind of reward for the gaming - a trophy, control of the island, a servant monkey…
The girls in Beach Spikers seemed like Barbie dolls. Well, it ain't like that here. After all, DOA is synonymous with "physics." Welcome to top-of-the-line, digital-cartoon boob jubbling, which can be taken for as much or as little as you will. During replays, you will have some limited camera movement and zoom-in capabilities for a short amount of time - again, take that as you will. The backgrounds are gorgeous, especially the sunsets, and really capture the island glow.
The music is sugary girly pop, including Christina Aguilera, Reel Big Fish and even the Spice Girls. While that might sound incredibly irritating, most of it fits the mood. Thankfully, the ability to play your own music off the Xbox hard drive has also been implemented.
The girls tend to be on the chatty side, shouting each other's names, and offering compliments in Japanese. Zack and all four of his lines are actually voiced by Dennis Rodman; while that's hardly a selling point, it's definitely fitting.
My girlfriend's review of the game is: "I miss the indicators and the ability to control both players. I feel like there's less strategy with the inability to aim the shots and see exactly where the ball is going. I don't like the way the camera moves back and forth. But the graphics are really beautiful… even besides the boobs."
Which effectively sum up my feelings as well. DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball succeeds on two fronts: lightweight volleyball action and lighthearted digital chick eye-candy. The friendship aspect of the game is interesting to toy around with, and yes, there's plenty to collect, but collecting can wear thin. Still, the game is fun in its tongue-in-cheek way and has eaten up hours of my time. And hey, it's the first game ever to make me feel like a lonely High School girl. What a way to spend Valentine's Day.