Reviewed: April 10, 2003
Released: Jaunary 24, 2003
I’ve been playing Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball for just over a week now and I am still trying to figure out exactly who the target audience for this game is. The ESRB (which I am now convinced is run by Dr. Laura and staffed by a bunch of uptight senators who can’t climb off their pageboys long enough to recognize a perfectly harmless game) has rated this wonderful title as Mature putting it just out of reach of the very teen demographic who will want to play it.
DOA Volleyball is a cleverly crafted combination of casino game, dating sim, and yes, there is even a volleyball game tucked in there somewhere. But let’s clear the air right now. If you are honestly looking for a volleyball game then don’t kid yourself into thinking this is a sports sim along the same lines as Beach Spikers Volleyball. The volleyball portion of this game is about as deep as the casino gambling and only a bit more complicated that the Pool Hopping mini-game you can do to earn extra cash.
Anyone who has played the DOA fighting games will certainly know that they feature some of the hottest babes you can create using 3D polygon models and convincing skins textures – lots of skin. It was only a matter of time before somebody decided to take these girls and strip them down to the smallest swimsuits money can buy and stick them on a tropical island to bounce and frolic around the beaches while they wait for DOA4 to hit the shelves.
Sex sells just about anything these days including videogames, so you can imagine just how successful this game is going to be. The only people hornier than the game designers are the sex-starved kids who will undoubtedly be flocking to whatever local outlet currently has copies available. But once you’ve gotten your initial “fix” of computer generated T&A, is there enough substance beneath the bikinis to keep you playing?
You basically have two modes to choose from when playing DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball. If you are looking for a quick pick-up game you can pick your girls and hit the beach using anything that has been previously unlocked in the Vacation Mode.
The Vacation is the “career mode” of this title. You pick one of eight girls, seven are from past DOA fighting games and we are introduced to Lisa, the new girl of DOA and quite frankly my favorite. Once you pick your girl you head to Zack Island for a two week vacation with 14 days and nights that you can use however you see fit.
Each day consists of three turns where you can do various things such as tan by the pool, sit and relax, play a Pool Hop mini-game, shop in the stores, or visit various locations around the island to frolic on the beach, swim, or play some volleyball. It’s entirely up to you where you go and what you do. Each time you go somewhere or do something the virtual clock ticks to the next time of day until the sun eventually sets and you are forced to return to your hotel room. At this point you can either go to bed or head down to the casino and take your chances against the house odds.
First and foremost, DOA Volleyball is a relationship sim based on the popular dating games that seem to be more prevalent in Japan than in America. From the moment you arrive on Zack Island you will want to pick another girl and start forming a “relationship”. This is done through a complex gift exchange system combined with your win-loss performance in the volleyball portion of the game.
Each girl has a predisposition to the other girls making it easier to make friends with some girls over others. You will need to study their bios to find out their favorite objects, hobbies, colors, and other clues to know what to give them to earn their favor. Items have various levels of like and dislike associated with them, and you can build up a varying level of friendship with a girl only to tear it all down with a single bad gift.
There is no real story mode or goals or any way to “win” this game, at least as we have all come to know the word “win”. There are hundreds of gift items and swimsuits for each girl and there is undoubtedly somebody out there with the time and lack of a real life who will eventually fill in all these inventory slots. The more immediate goal of most gamers will be to get their favorite girl in the smallest swimsuit possible and therein lies the challenge of this game.
All of the best (read skimpiest) swimsuits are only available to Lisa (the new girl), who also happens to be one of the easiest girls to make friends with. So if you want to get Tina into that Venus Lisa is going to have to be the one to earn a few million dollars (yes – the best suits cost more than a million dollars) then build-up the level of friendship so Tina actually accepts the suit.
Whether you do this with Tina or any of the other girls it is no easy task. Giving a girl a revealing swimsuit will instantly drain any level of bonding you have previously established up to that point. This means you have to do some creative planning and scheduling on a level so intricate you might want to pick up a copy of Microsoft Project to keep track of it all.
Keep in mind you only have 14 days and in that time you must make friends with a girl and earn enough money either in volleyball or by gambling to buy her presents (that she likes or loves) and the desired swimsuit. You then have to give her the suit early in the day so you have enough time to give her more items she likes/loves so she doesn’t toss your million-dollar gift in the trash. Yes – I’ve lost over six million dollars in swimsuits to ungrateful women.
You can either spend weeks and months figuring all this out or just go online and find one of the many strategy guides that will itemize each girl’s favorite objects and help you get the entire cast into minimal coverage in record time.
With the relationship management behind us we can now concentrate on the fun parts of this game. One of the most surprising and challenging parts of the game is the Pool Hopping challenge where you take a girl and have her hop across the pool using the jump button to jump across floating platforms. Not only is this a great way to earn extra cash and see a short exercise/stretching video clip, this also teaches you how to judge the amount of pressure you are using on the buttons – something that becomes very important in the volleyball game.
At night you can head to the casino and partake of a variety of casino games including Blackjack, Poker, Roulette, and Slot Machines. These are all loads of fun and a great way to earn big money if you have the skill and luck required to beat the house. Depending on your volleyball skills you may find it easier to make money earning stake capital doing the pool hop then gambling that money at night.
Yes – I’ve been saving the volleyball for last just to annoy you. I’m still confident that the volleyball portion of this game plays no larger part than the gambling yet the game is called Xtreme Beach Volleyball and you do get to play volleyball…if you’re lucky.
The first thing you have to do is get a partner. All games are two-on-two and you can’t get your game on without a partner. This can be frustrating at times, as I had one vacation where I could not get any girl to join me for the first 8 days of my stay. If I wanted to be rejected (sometimes rudely) by hot women I certainly don’t need an Xbox.
When you have a partner you can then start scanning the various locations around Zack Island. Some locations are only available at certain times of the day (like low tide) and some areas will not have any players allowing you to frolic on the beach in an animated cutscene that will make you wish you had your Polaroid. When you finally nail down a pair of girls and they accept the challenge the game begins.
The volleyball engine is as simple as it gets reducing the entire game to two buttons. You use the “receive” button to bump or set the ball for your partner and the “attack” button for returning, spiking, or blocking the ball. Much depends on your position on the court, whether you are jumping or standing, and the force of the button press. There is also some critical timing issues where you must strike the ball at the apex of your jump or you may send the ball into the net.
Each girl has their own style of play and their own strengths and weakness. Tina is a great team player but other girls may hog the ball and never set you up for the spike. I won’t mention any name…cough…Christie…cough. This can be annoying, especially when they get all pissed off when you lose and you never really got to touch the ball.
The volleyball games seem to increase in difficulty as the 14 days progress. While you can get by with basic returns and serves early in the week you will quickly need to master the art and timing of jump serves, blocks, and carefully aimed spikes to win the tougher matches in the end. You are awarded cash for victories with bonus cash for shutouts and even more money for specific moves like jump serves, blocks and spikes. Skilled players can often earn more bonus money during the game than the prize money at the end.
Hands down, this is the showcase title for the Xbox. The scenery is so realistic I’ve already cancelled my yearly trip to Costa Rica and plan to just relax next to my TV watching the waves roll in…yeah right. The island is divided up into several exotic areas like a lush rainforest, several beaches, a sandbar that is covered during high tide, and a fancy hotel swimming pool area.
The casino and hotel look great but are merely backgrounds for menus. The casino games are quite authentic with realistic looking slot machines, spinning roulette wheel, and all sorts of card games with a tasty deck of cards featuring all the DOA girls in their swim attire.
The movies that are interspersed throughout the game are stunning starting with the opening music video montage featuring an upbeat song with clips of all the girls doing all sorts of sexy poses and activities like skinny dipping, roller blading and drinking coffee...yes, I said drinking coffee!
When you start a new game you get another movie that will have Titanic fans either smiling or groaning, or both. The in-game movies generally consist of the girls doing stretching exercises or relaxing by the pool. You can use the analog sticks to move around and zoom in and out to your perverted heart’s content. When you go to a deserted section of the island you will see your girl swimming or rolling around the beach seductively posing for some unseen photographer, or maybe it’s just a private show for you.
Since each day of your vacation is divided into various stages you get realistic lighting relative to that part of the day. This allows for some incredible shadows and colored lighting during sunset or glowing white light during a noontime match on the white sandy beach.
The girls are all animated beautifully both on and off the court. Girls will dive, jump, spike, and block with precise animations that all blend together seamlessly. This not only makes the game look great but also allows for some impeccable controls and responsiveness that is critical to the split-second timing required to pull off the best moves.
Another nice touch is that any presents you have purchased for other girls may often be seen on the court. Things like swimsuits, sunglasses, hair ornaments, etc. can often be seen on your teammate and even girls on the opposing team if you have given them something in the past.
I only have a few complaints with the graphics. The first is that the camera often favors the opposing team’s side of the net. This means that you are often playing blind. While the computer does a good job of automatically putting you in striking range of the ball you simply cannot get the timing down to spike or set the ball when you can’t see your player. The good news for those with HDTV’s is that the widescreen version of this game gives you an unobstructed view of the entire court the entire game. Plus the 480p video mode makes this game literally pop off the screen.
My only other complaint – and this is minor, is that there is no replay function. In a game where bikini watching is a sport unto itself it is almost unforgivable that you can’t watch your previous game from any camera angle of your choosing. The final seconds of each previous play is shown from exciting camera angles but these are too brief and few to be satisfying.
DOA Volleyball features a great selection of music from plenty of popular artists that fit the tropical island paradise theme perfectly. Even so, you will likely be playing this game for hundreds of hours and the music will quickly become common and repetitive which only makes the buggy custom soundtrack feature that much more annoying.
Yes, there is a “radio station” on Zack Island that allows you to customize the playlist using any combination of tracks from multiple soundtracks on your Xbox hard drive. You can even specify certain tracks to play at certain times of the day. The only problem is that using any music other than the tracks on the DOA DVD can (and will) eventually lock up your game. It’s not a matter of “if”, only “when” this documented glitch will happen. This seems to be a popular problem with several Xbox games lately, but this is the first game where a custom soundtrack would really be useful.
Dennis Rodman brings the only male character to life with his portrayal of Zack. The rest of the cast retains their original Japanese dialog that is subtitled in English. At times you can make out certain words, mainly variations of the word “spike” and the girls' names that are called out when setting the ball.
The rest of the sound presentation is nothing more than the ambient sounds of the environment whether it be the gentle blowing breeze and crashing surf, or the overwhelming noises coming from the casino. Music is constantly playing no matter when you go on the island and it tends to drown out the more subtle effects.
Your value will vary with your patience and just how dedicated you are to dress all the girls in the tiniest of swimsuits. You can easily spend over 100 hours on this game and that’s if you are following a strategy guide outlining the gift exchange system. If you try to figure all this out on your own you can expect more than 200 hours to get every girl's inventory filled up with every possible swimsuit and item in the game.
More than likely this will become an occasional pastime that you toss into your Xbox when you want to take a break from the more serious games. The two-player game is pretty good but I found the lack of four-player support for a two-on-two volleyball game was disappointing, especially after playing the four player version of Beach Spikers Volleyball on the GameCube.
My opinions of this game have run the gamut. I initially had no respect for this game thinking it merely a tawdry gimmick to parade a bunch of semi-naked women across my screen under the premise of a volleyball game. But the more I played the more I fell in love with the complexities whether it be the sophisticated relationship model, the challenging volleyball simulation, the thrills of betting big in the casino, or the guilty pleasure of watching the girls bounce their way across the hotel swimming pool.
There is certainly something here for everyone, and DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball is one of those games that will grow on you the more you play it. And once you master the volleyball mechanics and the gift exchange the only challenge left will be how to play this game and not look guilty when somebody enters the room and catches you panning around Lisa lying on her lounge chair in her Venus swimsuit.