Along with Halo, Dead or Alive 3 was one of the Xbox launch's showpiece games. Tecmo's fighting game was more notable for its graphics than its gameplay, though it's still remembered as one of the system's standout games, thanks to its large environments and voluptuous female characters. Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball puts an even finer focus on DOA3's strengths, trading in the fighting engine for some basic volleyball and casino action and swapping out the fighting attire for what is probably the largest collection of swimsuits ever seen in a game. Plus, almost all the male characters are out of the picture. Unfortunately, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball doesn't have the gameplay or variety to back up its graphical prowess, and the whole experience ends up feeling pretty shallow.
The game's story line is totally irrelevant and never comes into play during the actual game, but for completeness' sake, let's go over it briefly. The winner of the Dead or Alive 3 tournament turned out to be the flamboyant fighter Zack, who promptly took his winnings to a casino and turned it into an even larger bankroll. Zack then turned his stake into some property--the fittingly named beach paradise, Zack Island. He eventually lures the girls of Dead or Alive to his island resort by telling them that it will be the location of the next Dead or Alive fighting tournament, but the joke is on the girls, as they arrive and realize that there's nothing to do aside from lying around, gambling, shopping, and playing volleyball. So the girls make the most of their two weeks. That's where you come in.
At the start of your game, you're given the option to choose to play as any one of the DOA girls, from mild-mannered Hitomi to pro-wrestling cowgirl Tina. All the girls from the fighting game are here, and they're joined by a newcomer named Lisa. At the select screen, you can see each girl's favorite color, hobby, and food, information that actually comes in handy later on. Once you've chosen a girl, it's off to the island. Each vacation day is split up into a few segments, and you use a segment whenever you do something like talk to another girl, rest by the poolside, or play a game of volleyball. At the outset, you're given a brief tour of the game's shops and are dropped into a volleyball match. From there, how you spend the rest of your vacation is entirely up to you.
If you do well in the initial volleyball game, you'll probably already have a competent volleyball partner, but you can ask any of the girls to partner up with you whenever you see their icons listed next to a location on the island. Of course, the girls won't partner up with anyone off the street, and this is where their background info comes into play. You can purchase items from the shops and give them as gifts, and if you give the right girl the right sort of gifts, she'll eventually team up with you. Once you have a partner, you can keep her happy by giving her gifts. In actual practice, though, all this gift giving has very little impact on the game once you've spent the 20 to 30 minutes it takes to master the game's rendition of volleyball.
For a game that has "Volleyball" right in its title, you'd expect to see a reasonably good attempt at the sport of volleyball here, but DOA's version feels incredibly stripped down. Games in the main mode are two-on-two matches that are played to seven points, and either team can score regardless of which team is serving. Games that end up tied at six go into tennis-like deuce rules, meaning the winning team must score two in a row to win, though games will also end as soon as someone scores 10 points. When playing, you have limited control over your partner using the right analog stick, and your girl is controlled with the left stick and two buttons. One button returns a ball hit to your girl, while the other receives the ball and keeps it on your side of the net, letting you set up spikes. The Xbox controller's analog buttons are used to execute light or strong versions of both hits, but timing and good aim are what really win matches. The game does most of the hard work for you, lining up your girl for spikes and even automatically jumping when it's time to send a hard hit at the opposing side. All you need to do is point the analog stick at a hole in your opponents' defense, hit A at the right moment (or B, if you want to abort the spike and instead tap the ball around a blocking opponent), and hope for the best. Properly timed spikes, serves, and blocks will earn you a little extra spending money, making volleyball the easiest way to earn cash. Playing a winning game of volleyball also keeps your partner happy and, in some cases, can be enough to keep that teammate from leaving you, making the gift-giving system seem totally irrelevant.
At night, you automatically return to your hotel, where you'll have the option to play in the casino. The casino features roulette, blackjack, slot machines, and poker. Roulette and blackjack are about what you'd expect--it's simple virtual gambling, like what you can play online for free. The game's slot machines are extremely simple and don't accurately reflect modern slot machines. They all have only one pay line, and you can bet one to three coins per pull. Poker is essentially the standard Japanese implementation of video poker, meaning that after every win, you're allowed to play a double-up game to risk your winnings for an even bigger reward. Annoyingly, the video poker's lowest non-joker win is two pair, rather than the usual standard of jacks or better.
While you can gain and lose fortunes quickly in the casino, its bare-bones presentation makes it a very lonely place to be. The casino isn't fully modeled in 3D--you're just given a menu that allows you to select different games. This really could have been a great place to throw in some more social interaction between the girls, or even with the elusive Zack himself. As it is, the lone casino interaction that occurs is at the roulette table, where you'll see some of the other girls' icons appear at the bottom of the screen, indicating that they're playing roulette with you, making their own bets, and so on. But all you really get out of that is the icon and some unsubtitled Japanese speech.
The other interactive portion of Xtreme Beach Volleyball is the hopping game. This minigame is played poolside, and it is essentially a means for you to get comfortable with the analog buttons. Floating blocks are placed in a pool, and you have to hop from block to block without falling in the water. A hard push of A hops two spaces, while a soft press moves one space. It's pretty silly. It also earns you money, but not nearly as much as a game of volleyball would.
As mentioned, the game has a large shopping element, though the way it handles your inventory is a little clunky. You can keep items in your inventory and use them, wear them, and so on. Or, in your hotel room, you can put items into your collection, which serves as a checklist of what you've seen. Considering that your vacation ends after 14 days with no real resolution or climax, completing each girl's collection seems to be the only real goal here, as the collection and inventory stays with that girl from game to game. Weirdly enough, some items--such as a handful of DOA3 commercials and a trailer for Tecmo's upcoming Ninja Gaiden game--can't be viewed directly from your collection. Instead, you have to remove them from the collection and put them back into your inventory before you can actually watch the videos. Considering that most items have little to no actual purpose in the game, this extra step is totally unnecessary.
Now that you have an understanding about the activities you can engage in on Zack Island, let's talk about what Dead or Alive Xtreme Volleyball is really about: dressing up the girls in skimpy bikinis and accessories and, well, looking at them. The graphics are on par with those of Dead or Alive 3, meaning they're impressive, and the skimpy outfits give the whole thing the feel of a virtual pinup calendar. The game occasionally gives you limited camera control, letting you move around a little bit and, perhaps more importantly, zoom in for a closer look. The game has well over 100 bikinis to purchase and try out and plenty of other accessories, like hair clips, shoes, wristbands, hats, and so on.
Considering how much of the game is clearly focused on looking at 3D models of girls dressed in bathing suits, you'd expect that the voyeuristic portion of the game would be incredibly well developed, allowing you to view the action from any angle, quickly change outfits and locations on the fly, and so on. But even this portion of the game feels like it was thrown together without concern for the final product. There are only a few different spots to put the girls in, and each girl has a limited number of animations, so you'll be looking at the same routine of Lisa rolling around in the sand over and over again, or the same animation of a girl inching her way along a tree trunk. Also, the show doesn't last very long before kicking you back out to the menu, costing you a segment of daylight in the process. If you're a big fan of any of the DOA characters, it's true that you'll get some enjoyment out of viewing the girls in various outfits, but the real lack of variety in the locales and animation really prevents this part of the game from having long-term appeal.
The lack of animation extends to the volleyball section of the game as well. Each character will go into a series of idle animations--usually stretching--when she hasn't moved for a second or two. The characters won't break out of this idle animation until you do something, so you'll occasionally see a girl go from stretching out a leg immediately into a ball-hitting animation, which looks very awkward. More pronouced head tracking animation--having the girls' heads and eyes follow the ball as it moves around the court--would have added some more visual flair to the game and also would have helped out with the game's slow-moving camera. For a game that deliberately puts little emphasis on its gameplay and instead shines a bright, bright spotlight on its graphics, you'd expect little details and other small touches to run rampant throughout the visual presentation--so it's actually a little shocking that the game ends up looking less than perfect. That said, the character models do look fantastic, and the swimsuits seem well designed, for the most part. The beaches are appropriately sandy, and the sand is deformed and displaced as the girls move around. The lighting is well done, accurately depicting different times of day. It's true, the graphics are the best part of Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball.
Like the graphics, the sound in Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball mostly gets the job done but falls a little short. Stylistically, the licensed soundtrack is composed mostly of pop songs, though there's a little reggae and ska thrown in for good measure. Christina Aguilera is the most recognizable name on the soundtrack, though other acts like Reel Big Fish, Big Mountain, and Bob Marley make appearances. Mercifully, the game allows you to use custom soundtracks. The sound effects are fairly generic and minimal. The slaps of hands hitting volleyballs are about as accurate as you'd expect, and there isn't much more than that. With the exception of the dialogue in the intro and closing movies, all the game's speech is in Japanese. While this is on par with the previous entry in the series, the Japanese speech seems rather out of place in a volleyball game. The fact that a fair portion of it isn't subtitled doesn't help matters, though 95 percent of the speech is useless anyway. The intro and closing movies depict Zack's misadventures in getting and losing his island, and his voice was provided by former basketball player and occasional pro wrestler Dennis Rodman. Rodman had to record only a couple of lines of speech for these movies, but even those sound ham-fisted and completely phoned-in. Someone shouting, "Once more, with feeling!" at Rodman wouldn't have hurt.
What is Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball? It's a volleyball game with very little volleyball. It's a poorly designed casino. It's a virtual pinup calendar that could have used some more variety. It's a shopping simulation. And, perhaps most of all, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball is a graphical showcase that makes for a pretty uneventful game. With no real beginning or end to the festivities, you could theoretically play the game forever. But once you've mastered the volleyball, the gameplay portion becomes a nuisance that stands between you and the completion of your item collection, and the virtual peep-show portion of the game isn't done well enough to score solidly in the fan-service department. It's easy to get the impression that someone once had significantly higher hopes and dreams for the game, but the end product feels empty and utterly unfinished, making it best suited for a curious rental than anything else. Hopefully Tecmo's Team Ninja has finally gotten the "sexy polygonal models" thing out of its system and will get back to basics for its next project.