Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 isn't much of a game. Like its predecessor on the Xbox, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, gameplay is almost an afterthought to the sight of jigglesome female models lounging and frolicking about on an idyllic tropical island resort. In fact, fans of the first game may be a little surprised by how little has changed, to the point that DOAX2 almost feels more like an enhanced remake than an honest-to-goodness sequel. There's some genuine craft to parts of the game's presentation, and those looking to do a little virtual ogling will probably come away at least somewhat satisfied. Still, the quasi-dating-sim aspect of the game doesn't come close to fulfilling its creepy potential, and the beach-themed minigames that populate DOAX2 are few and simple to a fault.
At least the game doesn't take itself too seriously, as exemplified by the game's opening cinematic, which sees eccentric Dead or Alive fighter Zack discovering the sunken remains of Zack Island, the tropical getaway from Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. With a little extraterrestrial intervention, he's able to resurrect it, renaming it as New Zack Island in the process. All this, of course, so that he can invite all of the lovely ladies from the Dead or Alive fighting tournaments to take a nice, relaxing two-week vacation. It's openly suggested by some characters that Zack's intentions are prurient, though beyond the prerendered cinematics that bookend the vacation, you never actually see Zack. You'll receive a number of gifts from him over the course of your vacation, though, and you'll do plenty of gift exchanging with the other girls on the island as well.
Before making your way to New Zack Island, you'll need to choose which DOA girl you'll be vacationing as. You can choose from almost all of the lovely ladies who were featured in last year's Dead or Alive 4, with the young geisha-in-training Kokoro being the single new addition to DOAX2 since Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. The character models are arguably the centerpiece of the game, and they really do look quite lifelike, with lots of individual detail and some realistic, if occasionally mannered, animation. They perhaps look even better than they did in DOA4, and the so-called "soft physics" that give the girls' breasts their pronounced bounce has been refined so that each moves independently. While perhaps an impressive technical feat, in practice it's overkill. With features like this and the ability to conduct tawdry, Maxim-grade photo shoots, it's apparent that the game aims to titillate, but the soft physics are so over the top and ridiculous that it regularly kills the mood. Also, like in DOA4, there's a ribbon-like quality to all of the long, flowing hair. It just looks fake, and the way it clips through the characters is distracting. The oft-breathy voice acting matches the game's playful yet sexually charged atmosphere, and a Japanese-language option gives the game an even more exotic vibe. The largely licensed soundtrack is relentless in its cheery blend of mall-pop and overproduced reggae songs, though mercifully, you can customize the game's playlist.
You can see a lot of detailed information about each girl on the character select screen, including nationality, hobby, favorite food, and favorite color. It seems totally frivolous at first, but it's information that's worth jotting down, as these details play a big role in successfully interacting with the other girls on the island. On your first time through you'll spend your first day being guided across the island by Lisa, who will also act as your volleyball partner at the start. There are several locations where you can challenge other girls to a game of volleyball or just hang out and relax, as well as a marina where you can take part in a Jet Ski race, a pool where you can relax and play, and three different shops. The accessory shop features plenty of hats, glasses, shoes, and other trinkets that you can dress up your girl in. From the sports shop you can pick from a huge number of swimsuits that are usually character specific, buy new Jet Skis to give you an edge in the marina races, pick up some different-colored volleyballs, or buy tickets that will unlock additional beach games. Zack of All Trades is the most random shop of the three, with no apparent rhyme or reason as to what they stock--on a given day you might be able to pick up some sheet music, a leather bag, and some fried chicken. You can't really do anything with most of the items at Zack of All Trades, but any item you buy or receive in the game can be gift wrapped and given to another girl. The stock in each store is almost constantly rotating, and since gift giving plays such a prominent role, you'll likely spend an inordinate amount of time perusing the various wares on offer.
Interacting with the girls on the island nearly takes prominence over actually racing Jet Skis or playing volleyball or any of the other beach games included, though your means of interaction are contradictorily limited. Though you'll always have the opportunity to start your vacation with another girl attached as your partner, it's a union that's far from permanent. Showering them in gifts that appeal to their tastes as hinted at in the character select screen is one way to keep them happy, as is consistently winning the games that you choose to compete in. Keep your partner content for long enough, and she'll start reciprocating and sending you gifts, including swimsuits that are otherwise unobtainable. If your partner gets fed up with you, she'll do the passive-aggressive thing and just leave without saying anything. The idea here is that you can't participate in any volleyball games without a partner.
There's something uncomfortably compelling about the idea of plying these girls with gifts in order to convince them to be "friends," but after doing the dance a few times the process reveals itself to be far too limited to stay interesting. Also, the game is just terrible about giving you feedback concerning the current state of your relationships. If you're already partnered with someone, the only time you'll get any indication of their mood is at the beginning of the day, and depending on how things go, you can very easily wake up the next day single again. When courting new partners, the only way to see how things are going is to approach them with another gift. Sometimes it's obvious whether a girl likes a particular gift. The girl who likes cooking will probably appreciate the toaster oven, while the girl whose favorite color is blue might like the blue wind chime, for example. But much of this isn't so clear-cut, and the lack of good feedback, combined with the fact that these girls can sometimes just be fickle, can make the whole gift-giving process needlessly vague.
To bankroll all the shopping you'll be doing, you'll need to compete in and win games. Volleyball plays roughly the same as it did in Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, though after a couple of rounds it becomes apparent why they took this particular game out of the title for the sequel. There's just no depth to the action, and the camera angle it's presented at makes it nearly impossible to get a sense of where, exactly, the ball is headed. Also returning from DOAXBV is the pool-hopping game, in which you have to jump across a series of floating platforms to get from one side of the pool to the other. Like before, the platforms are either right next to each other or spaced out with a small gap, and you'll need to either tap or hold the jump button depending on what you get. It's been enhanced slightly for DOAX2, as the platforms are now color-coded, and by pressing the appropriately colored button on the 360 controller you can earn some extra cash; but it's still a one-note experience that fades quickly. There are additional beach and pool game types that you can unlock, such as a tug-of-war game played while perched atop floating platforms, a massive waterslide that you have to speed down without falling off, a foot sprint on the beach, and the delightfully named "butt battle," in which two girls stand on a floating pool platform and bump rumps in attempt to knock the other off. They're all novel the first time through, and the girls look great in them, but there's just nothing to them.
The biggest addition to DOAX2 is the marine races, where you'll compete against up to three other girls on a variety of courses around the island. There are colored buoys to slalom between that can earn you a temporary boost, and ramps to perform jumps and a few basic tricks off of. It's reminiscent of Nintendo's Wave Race games, insofar as you'll have to compensate for choppy waters, waves, and swells that will wash across the course. The water looks really inviting in the first few races, with a rich aquamarine hue and a really great-looking glimmer on the surface. As you advance, though, the chop of the water becomes really pronounced, and the shapes it takes on don't look natural at all. The marine races are definitely the most compelling part of the experience here, and they also prove to be the easiest way to earn lots of money; but it's just not enough to carry the rest of the game.
It will take you a couple of hours to play through the full 14-day vacation your first time through, and if you play again with the same character, she'll retain all the money and gear that you accumulated at the end of the first vacation. Since there's no real way to win or lose, the only thing to bring you back is the burning urge to collect all of the swimsuits the game has to offer. Nearly all of the Xbox 360 achievement points are based on this notion as well. Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 also features Xbox Live support for the volleyball and marine race games. You can play ranked and unranked games, which only seem to affect your position on the game's online leaderboards. When playing volleyball you have your choice of characters and locations. Strangely, though, volleyball is strictly a one-on-one game, despite the fact that you always have two characters on either side of the net. It seems likely the reason for this limitation is that the game wouldn't have been able to handle four live players in a single game, as we experienced some pronounced latency issues while playing volleyball. The marine races, which do support the full four players, seemed to perform a bit better, though as in the offline game, the collision was really erratic.
Though the "why" of Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 is transparent, it's pretty incongruous with other recent work from developer Team Ninja, which is also responsible for the hard-hitting Dead or Alive fighting games as well as the aggressively challenging and rewarding Ninja Gaiden games for the Xbox, and fans of those games should take heed. Though it's marginally improved over Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, the gameplay in Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 remains on the verge of being nonexistent. While the sheer yardage of well-produced virtual skin will make it an appropriately guilty pleasure for some, anyone actually interested in playing the game will no doubt be disappointed.