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Beach Spikers: Virtua Beach Volleyball Package Art
 GENRE
  Volleyball
 DEVELOPER
  Sega AM2
 PUBLISHER
  Sega
 NUMBER OF PLAYERS
  1-4
 CONNECTIVITY
  no
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Beach Spikers: Virtua Beach Volleyball

I’m distrustful of any game that sells itself based on having scantily-clad women in it. Don’t get me wrong –- I like scantily-clad women, as our newsagent will be more than happy to tell you –- but having T&A is used all-too-often to disguise a fundamentally bad game. Tomb Raider was sold for years on the pathetic adolescent thrill of having a protagonist with breasts; Dead or Alive is a good game, but its finer fighting mechanics are totally overshadowed by the jiggliness of its protagonists. So, I picked up a copy of Beach Spikers with a rightly skeptical view.

However, I was pleasantly surprised. Certainly, Beach Spikers features women in thong bikinis –- fairly unavoidable in a beach volleyball game, after all, though being played much more for kicks by Tecmo’s rival DoA Beach Volleyball. And it does make the most of that fact, with a disturbing amount of bikini-adjusting animations and some intentionally erotic hugging between players. However, underneath, we’re pleased to see, is an innovative, likeable and, most importantly, original sports game, that’s one of the freshest I’ve played yet on the GameCube.

visuals

The first thing you’ll notice -- other than the fact that the outfits the women wear in this game are barely there –- is that their bodies are far too “shiny,” as poor CG often is. So shiny in fact that if they were real players, they could see their reflections on one another’s midriffs, which completely destroys any little thrill you might have gotten from watching them play. Despite this though, the players are superbly animated, ably demonstrated by the superb replays after a good shot. I would complain about the disturbing amount of time and attention paid to the bikini-adjusting animations if the game were any less good than it is; but as it is, they’re just another nice touch in a game full of them.

One thing I will bring up is the amount of hugging between points that the ladies indulge in; I was disturbed, not aroused, by the amount of pseudo-lesbian goings-on, especially the one where the girls close their eyes and hug before falling to their knees together. It’s not that we’re not turned on by it, but is there such a need to appeal to the sad, pathetic, turned-on-by-Lara crowd, especially when there’s a damn fine game underneath?

There are, thankfully, no moveable breasts as the girls leap around; I’ve heard some people complain about this, under the pretence that it makes the game “less realistic.” Funny how no one complains about the lack of jock strap adjusting or ass-scratching in a football game –- after all, it would also be more realistic.

Away from the ladies for once, the visuals still impress –- the sand has had as much care lavished upon it as the bikinis: starting smooth and level and getting tossed up as the games go on. There are a lot of arenas in Beach Spikers, and they are all very impressive -- though thanks to Sega’s new policy of whoring itself to every corporation going (see the Dole-sponsored bananas in Monkey Ball?), each is plastered with logos from Nissan, Holiday Inn, Coca Cola, and some strange company known as “Nintendo.” Odd.

audio

Tedious announcer who spouts ‘fantastic’ after each pass; boring rock soundtrack cribbed from Sonic Adventure… need to know any more? No, no you don’t.

gameplay

Beach Spikers’ easy to pick up, difficult to master style of gameplay will be instantly familiar to Sega fans. Playing the game is, on the surface, simple enough: hit the ball onto the lovingly crafted sand of the opponents’ side; stop them from doing the same thing to you. Sounds easy -- but in the classic Sega style it’s anything but. Rallies back and forth between good teams can last for minutes, and if you and your partner are in any way decent, the matches quickly become edge-of-your-seat material.

There are two single player modes available in Beach Spikers: Arcade mode & World Tour. In Arcade Mode, you control both players on the team and play a shortened version of the game, where matches are won by obtaining 9 points. It’s fun for a while, but thankfully there’s the far deeper World Tour mode to keep you interested.

After creating a shiny woman to play as, and an equally waxy partner, you battle through a series of tournaments, gaining points to improve your partner’s skills as you play. To start with, your partner has the coordination of a disabled mollusk -- unable to hit even the lightest ball. However, manage to win a couple of matches and she improves, and she’ll continue to improve until by the end of the tournament she’s out-playing you. By the final matches in the World Tour your team will be such a well-oiled outfit (ahem) that the matches start to become a matter of life and death.

However, because of its structure, the World Tour doesn’t have the replayability of similar modes in other titles, such as ISS’s International Cup. After making your team into the greatest in the world, the last thing you want to do is go back and start again with a teammate who would make Stephen Hawking look like a professional volleyball player. The World Tour only gets really exciting about six tournaments in, and you’ll have to have the patience of a saint to put with your inept teammate time and time again.

multiplayer

This is where an investment in Beach Spikers really pays off. No matter how much fun it is to create your own partner and train them up, nothing compares to having a few friends over whom you can swear and throw cushions at when they miss simple balls. There are a few bonus multiplayer games other than standard volleyball (including an amusing one where you chuck bombs at one another). In fact, due to its rather short lifespan elsewhere, the multiplayer mode is the saving grace of Beach Spikers.

overall

The decision to purchase Beach Spikers or not depends on how many available gamer friends you have. While fun by yourself for a time, the structure of the World Tour means you’re unlikely to play over it more than a few times, as its early tournaments are simply head-wrecking and it’s actually quite hard to succeed after losing so many times –- and repeated early failure that’s no fault of your own is not fun at all. The game tries hard to coax you back with any number of secrets, but it’s innovative structure is also ultimately its undoing.

Despite this, the game is a must-rent for any solo player who fancies something new, and a definite purchase for those looking for a multiplayer game to tempt them away from TimeSplitters 2 for a while.

final score 7.7/10





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Staff Avatar Gearóid Reidy
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"Compare your lives to mine and then kill yourselves."


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