Reviewed: October 30, 2003
Released: October 13, 2003
In my own egotistical mind I fancy myself the guru of all things “sports”, so when Ultimate Beach Soccer was sent my way for review my first reaction was, “Huh?” Soccer is one of my favorite sports games, and even though there is a disturbing lack of televised coverage (unless you have a digital satellite) I try to watch at least the major games. I even manage to follow several of my favorite teams throughout the season.
When I think of the “beach” I think of volleyball, surfing, Frisbee football, just about anything but soccer, but apparently beach soccer is a real sport that is quickly developing a major following, at least overseas and more recently making its way to California beaches. That’s probably why Ultimate Beach Soccer was designed by French developer PAM, published by French publisher Wanadoo, and released in the States by DreamCatcher Interactive, a company who’s been known to work with Wanadoo in the past.
Ultimate Beach Soccer probably won’t do much to get the general public excited about the sport, not so much because the sport isn’t fun, but more to the fact that the game just isn’t that much fun. If this is supposed to be the marketing tool to introduce a new concept in sports gaming to the U.S. market then somebody missed the mark.
A casual glance at the cover of this Xbox title will have you thinking this is a soccer variation of Hyptnotix Outlaw Volleyball. The back of the box makes bold claims of the potential excitement contained on the shiny disc inside:
Ultimate Beach Soccer puts you on the sands of beaches from all over the world in six-on-six action. This is a much smaller team than soccer aficionados will be used to but in all fairness the playing fields are significantly smaller than a stadium field. It almost looks as if you are playing on large volleyball pits with the net removed and goals placed at either end.
There are several game modes to choose from including Friendly, Arcade, and Tour. You can also create your own custom Tournament and take part in some training that will introduce you to the various commands and controls used to play this game. The tutorial does a descent job of getting you up to speed with the controls but does little to help you play or understand this variation of the sport. Even after you start playing actual games you’ll quickly realize this game is definitely geared toward the arcade side of the sport rather than the simulation.
I found the Friendly mode a bit superfluous, much like the exhibition mode in other games. I suppose if you want to just hop in and play a quick game with little setup this is the way to go but everyone else will probably head to the Arcade or World Tour mode.
Arcade mode allows you to pick your desired team’s country for some 1-4 player action or you can attempt to lead your favorite team through the Ultimate Soccer Tour. Each team has a skill setting that indicates their performance when compared to the rest of the league.
Playing the game is very straightforward, perhaps even a bit too easy compared to other more sophisticated soccer games out there. You have basically two defensive moves, the standing and sliding tackle, and your offensive controls include passing, kicking the shot, aerial pass, or knee flip. While all these moves are easy enough to pull off and look good when you do, it all gets very repetitive very fast.
Taking a cue from Midway’s extreme sports design, players that perform above and beyond the call will gain boost or super-human abilities that make scoring much easier but also snap you out of what little realism this game was trying to maintain. The game plays very quickly, even when your team isn’t turbo-charged, which is a harsh contrast to the sluggish controls that almost seem to have a delay between the time you press the controller and when the man actually responds on the screen.
Visually, this game was all over the spectrum. The textured sand looked amazing but the characters looked like GameCube people, both in model complexity and texture design. With six people per team you have twelve players on the court but there don’t seem to be enough original models to keep things fresh, so you see a lot of the same people with slight variances.
The players all have some nice animations and they all transition together seamlessly and quite smoothly but since there aren’t that many original moves there aren’t very many animations so you will see everything these players can do and everything this game has to offer in one or two games.
The courts are nicely detailed with banners and grandstands that make the playing area look like a modified volleyball court. The crowd is fairly generic but at least they don’t look like cardboard cutouts. There is a DJ spinning tunes with giant speakers and cheerleaders attempt to liven up the crowd. They didn’t do a whole lot for me since there only seemed to be four girls for every game (the same four girls mind you) who wear the same uniform and do the same dance. Yawn. Even the XFL got that part of it right.
The music runs the limited range of beach tunes spanning Reggae, Hip Hop, and a few tunes with some cultural significance, or perhaps it was just Latin flavor. It wasn’t really my style and after hearing some of the grander music in the bigger soccer titles it was a bit depressing. Even more depressing was the lack of support for custom soundtracks.
The sound effects range from limited crowd noises and cheers – nothing that compares to the chanting in FIFA or Winning Eleven 6, and the commentary is fairly worthless. They talk a lot about nothing and if they do happen to comment on something that just happened I’m sure it was a coincidence. I was impressed that you can change the commentator language to reflect the country you are in. Even bad commentary sounds good in French or Portuguese.
Assuming you love soccer and are really hard up for a funky spin-off of the sport you can probably squeeze 8-12 hours of enjoyment from this game before you cast it aside. I’d definitely recommend anyone remotely curious to rent before laying out any cash on a permanent purchase. Even with support for up to four players I just don’t see this game having much of a life on the Xbox. There are just too many other good sports titles vying for your buck.
At the end of a long sweaty day at the beach I was left slightly underwhelmed and rather bored with the entire experience. Sure, Ultimate Beach Soccer is new and different and that might be enough to get a few curious gamers to check it out, but I doubt it will keep their interest for more than a day or two.
I’m guessing this game will do much better overseas where it was developed and where the sport of beach soccer has a wider following. Even if you are one of the few who actually follow this sport I fear the simplified and sluggish controls and arcade-style gameplay will scare off anyone looking for anything more than a half-hearted tribute title.