Beach Spikers Preview

Hit the sand with AM2's first game for the Nintendo GameCube. Details and new shots inside.

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Though it might've fallen under the radar because its Japanese release was close to Super Mario Sunshine's release, Beach Spikers is quite a noteworthy GameCube game, as it marks AM2's (the creator of Virtua Fighter 4) debut on Nintendo's tiny purple console. And it should come as no surprise to those who played the arcade version that it's quite an entertaining game. At its core, Beach Spikers is quite similar to Virtua Tennis in that its gameplay has been designed with simplicity in mind, allowing players of all skill levels to jump right in and have a relatively enjoyable experience. However, if you take time to learn the game, you'll find that there's quite a bit of depth and strategy involved as well.

Time to hit the court.
Time to hit the court.

AM2 has added extra features to the home release--which fans of the arcade version will be pleasantly surprised to see--including a training mode, a group of minigames, and a world tour mode. The training mode helps familiarize you with the basics of the game by taking you through each of the different skills. For example, if you want to learn how to serve, you'll first be taught how to perform a basic slap serve, followed by a moon shot (an underhand serve), and then jump serve training. When you have all the basics down, Beach Spikers then teaches you how to control the serve, so you have a higher chance of capitalizing on a defender out of position. You'll go through a similar training process for bumps, sets, and spikes--each giving a general rundown of the basic moves and control. The training mode is really helpful, especially if you've never played the arcade version or if you're somewhat new to sports arcade games, but the game is so easy to pick up and play that the training mode isn't entirely necessary.

The graphics in Beach Spikers are really well done.
The graphics in Beach Spikers are really well done.

In fact, the arcade mode in Beach Spikers also serves as a good training option, because the AI isn't incredibly difficult to deal with, but you'll get a much better feel for the fast-paced gameplay. The arcade mode basically offers a four-game tournament, and in three of those games, you'll play against one of the other selectable teams. When you reach the real championship game, you'll have to play against a special team that has a much higher skill level than any of the other teams in the tournament. If you beat that particular team, then you can unlock an additional uniform in the game's world tour mode, which is essentially the heart of the home version of Beach Spikers.

Though it shares the same name, the world tour mode in Beach Spikers is actually quite different from the one found in Virtua Tennis. Instead of just playing through a series of matches for the purpose of accumulating more money to buy goods and such, you'll actually have to build up a partner from scratch, which is actually more difficult to do than it initially sounds, because your partner almost entirely lacks any sort of skill. She'll miss passes, mishit on spikes repeatedly, perform weak serves, and just generally be a pain to deal with. You can't even really compensate for your partner's inability to play well either since volleyball isn't structured as that kind of a sport. Fortunately, you'll have an opportunity to improve your partner's skills as you play through each match.

Around the World

When you start the world tour mode, you'll have to customize your team's look. You can change a player's hairstyle, change her uniform, and even put sunglasses on her face. As previously mentioned, you'll unlock additional items by playing through the arcade mode, but there are already quite a few options to choose from. After customizing both players on your team, you'll have to distribute several points into your partner's individual abilities. If you want her to be strong in a particular area, then you can sink all your points into that skill, but of course, using that strategy will make the match much more difficult. A better course of action is to spread the points as evenly as possible and maybe put an extra point or two into one of the skills.

The world tour mode adds some depth to the game...
The world tour mode adds some depth to the game...

Your first match--which you will undoubtedly notice because of the abundance of advertisements--is in the Pringles Tournament. It will take you only a few seconds to realize how incredibly bad your partner is as you watch her stand almost completely still when the ball comes flying into your side of the court. Even if she does manage to bump the ball, and you set her up for a spike, she will mishit, and the ball will go flying out of bounds. Conversely, if you successfully bump the ball, then your partner has the tendency to miss the setup entirely, so needless to say, your chances of winning the first match are incredibly slim. Fortunately, as you start to win matches (and even when you lose matches) you'll receive additional points for increasing your partner's skills, so you can examine the area that she's weakest in and then distribute the new points accordingly.

One thing that you'll also notice about the world tour mode is that your partner has a meter that seems to indicate her level of confidence. Like with a virtual-pet simulator, you have the option to tell your partner different things during a brief break in the game. For example, if she's been playing well, you can select the first option and give her praise for the excellent performance. If she's been playing poorly, you can berate her or just flat out ignore her during the break. In any case, your partner will react differently to each option, and in some cases you may not get the response you were expecting. As your partner's confidence level drops below 30 percent, your players will start to ignore each other after each point as opposed to giving each other high-fives. In addition, they'll start to yell at each other after losing a match.

...but it can be incredibly frustrating at times.
...but it can be incredibly frustrating at times.

If you get frustrated with the world tour mode, you can jump into one of three minigames found in Beach Spikers' versus mode. The first minigame is beach flags, in which four players start with their heads in the sand, jump to their feet, and then race to the other end of the court to capture a flag, which is accomplished by tapping the A button rapidly. There's also a beach countdown option, in which the volleyball has been replaced by a bomb. With each hit, the timer on the ball is reduced, and the player who hits the bomb when the timer reaches zero loses. Lastly, there's beach PK, which is essentially a spike challenge. You have to spike the ball into the area of the court where the single opponent can't get to it. Likewise, when you're on defense, you have to return the ball so that it lands safely inbounds. If your spike is returned or if you hit the ball out of bounds, then you lose a point, and if you lose at least three points, then the game's over.

Beach Spikers can be quite entertaining. Anyone who enjoyed Virtua Tennis will probably enjoy this as well, and the extra modes seem like they add quite a bit of replayability to the game. The North American version of Beach Spikers is currently scheduled to ship mid-August.

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