Beach Spikers

Year: 2002
Platform: GameCube
Publisher: Sega
Developer: AM2
Genre: Volleyball
Review Date: 9/27/02
Rating: ***

In anticipation of Team Ninja's awe-inspiring "Dead Or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball," I decided to pick up its so-called legitimate rival. The very first thing about this game that will fry your circuits is seeing and hearing the classic Sega stinger right after the Nintendo startup screen. It is completely unnerving, but Sega wants people to know that they're still in the game, even if they're sleeping with the enemy.

The game is a straight forward sports title with a simple two-button interface that can be mastered in less than twenty minutes. Gameplay is surprisingly fun, although a lack of depth and variety makes it seem overly simple and repetitive. The game offers several modes including the standard arcade mode that supports 1-4 players, a single player world tour mode that allows you to create a custom team and build up a computer controlled partner, and a series of uninteresting and uninspired mini-games. One of the most rewarding aspects of the game is creating a custom team in world tour mode. You get to choose hairstyles, facial types, skin tone, sunglasses, and uniforms for your team, which can become all-consuming for a geek like myself. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of variety in the uniforms, and most of the facial models are hideous and frightening. There are even a few that feature twisted Joker-like grins, much like Meg Rainman in "The Ring: Terror's Realm." It must be a Japanese thing. Another downer is that once you've created your team, you can't review or edit your choices. World tour mode starts you off with a rather untalented partner who slowly gains skill and experience with your guidance and feedback until eventually, and rather embarrassingly, she's considerably better than you are.

But where the game really pays off is in multiplayer mode. The arcade and versus modes aren't overly fun with one person, but with two or four players it's a complete blast. Especially when you can select the custom teams you've carefully made in world tour mode. "Beach Spikers" is an excellent party game, because the learning curve is so short and the controls are so simple and elegant.

Graphically, the game is pretty good. While the character models aren't overly attractive, their animations are smooth and realistic, and right on the money. I'm particularly fond of the way characters glance at each other and the way their hair moves. Subtle, but very effective. They also like to adjust their uniforms quite a bit - no doubt due to all of that irritating sand. If they had a button for that, I'd be pushing it all the time. But maybe I'm just a pervert. However, much like sand in the shorts, the game is full of minor irritants. The stages seem rather plain, the audiences are uninteresting and not very animated, and some of the sky textures suffer from horrible seams. I can't believe that QA didn't flag that. The replay engine is laughably bad and rarely captures any of the action. The game also features an omnipresent announcer who constantly comments on the game with a very limited selection of vocabulary. He also narrates all of the menu items, which is extremely annoying. I remember "Sonic Adventure" doing this as well, but I figured it was because the game was aimed at an all ages audience, and younger players might not be able to read very well. But "Beach Spikers" fits into a whole different demographic, so I don't understand it. Additionally in the audio department, I found it disappointing that all of the players have a very limited vocabulary and only speak English. I think it would have been really cool to have the Japanese team speak Japanese, the Russian team speak Russian, and so on. But all of this is just artistic nit-picking, and doesn't detract from how fun and addictive the game is to play.

Another reason I wanted to play this game was to try and understand (and defy) all of the negative attitudes towards it, from men and women alike. I've read countless reviews from men saying that the game would be much more fun if it featured male characters, which I don't understand at all. "Beach Spikers" is fun because it's a female volleyball game. Adding men to the mix would just make it like every other boring sports game out there. If you don't like girls, then stick with "Madden." I've heard similar derision from women as well, who find the thought of playing female-oriented games distasteful and at the same time criticize men for playing them. I actually overheard a group of young girls at the store who were harrassing a couple of boys who were playing the game. "Why would anyone want to play women's volleyball?" they chided. Why not? Are today's young men and women so uncomfortable and confused with their own sexuality, and so oppressed by the media and cultural sterility that having games that feature athletic women in a non-violent competitive arena makes them react in disdain and disgust? Lighten up, people!