February 4th, 2003 | Review | Xbox
Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball
Tecmo plays to their strengths.

BY TECMO & TEAM NINJA, 2003

25 WORDS OR LESS:
The female cast of DOA takes a scantily-clad vacation on Zack’s private island.

Insert Groove Armada song here

Blame Microsoft. Their whole Xbox act has now infected the minds of well-meaning citizens all over. The massive pre-launch hype was all that Tecmo needed to finally elevate the Dead or Alive series to national recognition. Now here we are, beyond the oohing and aahing of DOA3 and looking at the first spinoff, Xtreme Beach Volleyball. The "design" gimmick of bouncing, unsupported breasts has evolved into an excuse to get the attractive yet nonexistent women of the series into paper-thin swimwear. And frankly, we’re…glad! Yeah, we admit suppressing a boner is a challenge, but this new DOA game is more than worthy of its namesake, with ample variety and addictive gameplay.

You might think that after the other games, Tecmo would have outright given up on trying to come up with some semblance of a story for DOAX, but you’d be wrong. It all begins on an island: Zack, the goofy ladies’ man from the DOA series who has always resembled (and now actually voiced by) Dennis Rodman has acquired his own tropical island and practically transformed it into a city-state. Zack gets an idea and sends out a mass invitation to the women who fought in the last Dead or Alive tournament, inviting them to what they think is DOA4. But once they all arrive, Zack’s jig is up. Oddly, all the girls decide to kick back and enjoy their free vacation, and thank goodness they all brought a swimsuit, too! As we find out, Zack Island is outfitted with a number of volleyball "courts" for the girls to play on and weakly keep the focus of the game, as well as a casino and a variety of shops.

The game has two modes: hanging out and experiencing the full game on Zack Island or opting for an exhibition volleyball match. The exhibition is the only way for 2 players to join up and if you’re wondering only has one swimsuit per character at the start (you’ll need to collect more on the island to have them carry over to the exhibition). On Zack Island, the player begins the game by selecting one of the 8 girls. Once arriving and wondering out loud what the hell is going on, you’re greeted by either Tina or newcomer Lisa as they tell you what’s up and offer to show you around. If you accept, they’ll remain as your volleyball partner and have you play a practice game before the day ends. From there, it’s up to you what to do next and for the rest of this two week vacation.

Zack Island consists of 9 locations that you can visit, which includes the 4 volleyball venues. There’s also a set of stores that dedicate themselves to swimwear, accessories and gifts. There’s the pool, where you can play the hopping game or simply watch your girl writhe around on her beach chair. There’s also the radio station, which allows you to pick and choose which music tracks you want playing during the game (including the ones ripped to your Xbox). The soundtrack that comes with the game is eclectic, to say the least: you’ll find an unsurprising selection of Disney Channel pop-rock mixed in with ska and reggae and other various forms of music that will no doubt blow your mind.

If you wish to get a new volleyball partner, or if your companion left you for greener beaches, you’re gonna have to work for it. Buying gifts for the rest of the girls and asking them nicely if they’d like to join you can either be a breeze or a total failure. So you have to keep at it, make sure that what you’re getting they would actually like (those useless stats from DOA3 now mean something, pal), and hope and pray that they’ll eventually warm up to you. To compound matters further, most of the girls will freely accept gifts but rarely pair up with you. Sure, it’s all pretty shallow, but how else can making friends be even a fifth of the way interesting?

Obviously, to acquire all those lovely swimsuits and knick-knacks on the island shops, you’re going to need money. Thankfully, DOAX offers three avenues for income. First is the aforementioned hopping game (the easy way), where your chosen character must cross to the other side of the pool via floating platforms, jumping ahead to the next one depending on how hard you whack the A button. The best way to earn cash is by winning volleyball matches but might not always have you seeing green. Lastly there’s the hotel casino, with four games including blackjack, poker, roulette and slots. If you’re lucky enough, the payouts will be constant. If not, then stick to what you know.

Finally we come to the volleyball itself. It comes as bit of a shock that the core gameplay does not rely on any visual aids as opposed to Sega’s Beach Spikers. Serving, spiking and seeing where the ball is going are not helped along with any meters or ground markers, which forces you to be exact with your timing or risk losing, especially when deciding which type of serve you wish to enact. In what seems to be an answer for that however, your chosen character moves more or less automatically, running towards the ball for a spike chance or diving for a ball out of reach. Of course, you’re also free to use the analog stick or D-pad to jaunt around the play area. The camera stays as a good angle, swinging from left to right as the ball crosses the net. If anything brings down this part of the game, it’s the AI of both your teammate and your opponents. They’re somewhat formulaic in their actions, but you can command your teammate to guard the net or act on her own intuitions by moving the right analog stick. The point, though, is to win, and if you’re quick on your thumbs you’ll be in a winning streak in no time. Despite the lack of assistance, the volleyball is solid and most people should get the hang of tossing the ball around within two matches at worst.

Even before release, DOAX was getting equal parts hype and dismissal. If you’ve been brushing it off since its debut at the last E3, we’ve gotta say that just for once, leave your hate at the door. Forget that the DOA fighting games were more style than substance. Try to forget that Tomonobu Itagaki is an insane and frightening shill monster. Above all, forget for just one day that no young women with bodies like that will ever get together for anything other than a photo shoot. DOAX is fun and there’s no other way to put it. If it’s the content that offends you, you really only need to look at the intro FMVs to conclude that it’s just as much a parody as a cheap way to soil a sock. In the end, think of this as the gift to give your Xbox so it will be your cheerful best friend and trusted teammate. Okay, maybe it’s time for a break. Ray Barnholt

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