Acclaim's Summer Heat Beach Volleyball is a game that doesn't really do much that hasn't been done in other volleyball games, namely Sega's Beach Spikers for the GameCube. By and large, Summer Heat also doesn't do anything particularly better than that game, though PS2 owners might not be familiar with Beach Spikers and wouldn't know the difference. Regardless, despite some rough edges, Summer Heat Beach Volleyball gets enough of the fundamentals right to keep things fun.
The core mechanics of the single-player game in Summer Heat Beach Volleyball essentially mimic those found in Beach Spikers, but there are some key differences. Most of your shots, from serves to spikes, are executed using just the X button, though you can perform jump serves and more-controlled bumps with the square button, and the triangle button comes into play when you want to perform an underhand serve or a feint shot, which can be quite useful for placing the ball close to the net. Whenever a ball is in motion, a huge arrow will be superimposed over the surface of the court, showing you where the ball will eventually land. The power, accuracy, and overall quality of your shots depend largely on two things: your player's proximity to the arrow, and the amount of time you hold down the attack button before making your shot. Instead of giving you lots of meters or dials to gauge the power of your shots, Summer Heat Beach Volleyball goes more by feel. The longer you hold the button, the more power your shot will have. In turn, the more power you put behind your shot, the less accuracy it will have. While lacking the precision of the modulating power meters found in Beach Spikers, the gameplay is responsive and easy to get the hang of, and the system that's in place works.
The most significant gameplay difference between Beach Spikers and Summer Heat Beach Volleyball is that instead of alternating control between your two teammates, as in Beach Spikers, you'll control one of the players, and the game's AI will control the other. The computer is generally a pretty competent player, and will move to cover the court depending on your current position, but it's definitely stronger at playing the net than it is at playing the backcourt. Since actually fielding the ball is much more essential to winning than blocking shots at the net, you'll likely end up spending a lot of your time in the backcourt, which makes for a slightly lopsided game of beach volleyball. The alternating control scheme found in Beach Spikers was so functionally elegant, it's a shame that Summer Heat doesn't take advantage of it.
The game sports several different modes of play, though most of them are pretty similar. The arcade, exhibition, and tour modes are all straightforward beach volleyball, with the key differences between them being the number of matches you need to play to win. Exhibition games are a one-off endeavor, the arcade mode puts you through a series of six matches, and the tour mode consists of eight tournaments, each of which is made up of five matches. Succeeding in the arcade and tour modes will net you new players, outfits, and accessories for your players, special multiplayer minigames, and some unlockable bonuses like music videos and clips from other Acclaim games that are accessible in the beach house mode, which is essentially a glorified trophy room. The multiplayer minigames you can unlock play an awful lot like the career-mode minigames found in Sega's Virtua Tennis games, in that they're court-based games that focus on specific aspects of your volleyball skills. These games are a novel addition at most, as they don't really offer you the level of depth or replayability that the game's straightforward multiplayer volleyball action does.
While the game definitely draws much inspiration from Beach Spikers, it's nowhere more apparent than in Summer Heat's visual presentation. The game uses a dynamic swinging camera that will always move to whichever side of the court is about to get possession of the ball, which eliminates any handicap there might've been for players on the far side of the net. The deformable sand has a nice, subtle look to it, and it seems to react more realistically than the sand in Beach Spikers. The overall quality of the presentation is good, but it's not without its kinks. The animations, while not great in number, generally look pretty smooth and believable, though you may notice occasional instances where you'll be moving from side to side and for a split second there won't be any animation at all and the characters' shadows will appear to be cast by rough, simplistic character models instead of the good-looking, refined characters that are actually onscreen. The game plays the sex appeal card a little, though not to the tawdry extreme of DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball. And, in a show of equality, it does something no other modern beach volleyball game has done yet by also including male players, allowing for all different kinds of mixed-gender matches.
The sound in Summer Heat Beach Volleyball is the least polished aspect of the game. The announcer is exuberant but inconsistent, offering comments on plays sporadically, and when he does say something, it's always irrelevant chatter. Characters will communicate with their teammates with simple "I got it!" or "More power!" shouts, but a limited number of samples are available. Some of the player voice clips come off as screechy and annoying right out the gate, so hearing them over and over again does not make them more bearable. What's supremely annoying, though, is the game's soundtrack. The actual playlist is pretty bearable, consisting of a rather oddball mix of dancey Euro pop and straight-ahead American pop-punk, with tracks from Sum 41, Kylie Minogue, and Pink included. What makes the soundtrack so grating, though, is the fact that there are only 11 songs in the game, and you can go through two or three songs during a single 15-point match, so the music gets repetitive very quickly. The game also seems to prefer certain songs over others, and you'll probably hear Kylie Minogue's "Love at First Sight" and Sum 41's "Fat Lip" more times than you'd really care to.
Despite the fact that there's at least one better, more-polished beach volleyball game currently on the market, Summer Heat Beach Volleyball is the only one for the PlayStation 2. The game is an imperfect but enjoyable take on beach volleyball, and it maintains a level of accessibility that will allow most anyone to pick it up in a snap.