Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball is an acquired taste. Though there is no denying this game’s obvious attraction for members of the male persuasion, the $150,000 question is does DOAX give gamers a reason to play the game beyond simply goggling at well-endowed women as they play volleyball and the “bouncing game”? The answer to that all-important question is yes, but not much. While it is true that this game has a perfectly passable iteration of beach volleyball built into its design, the majority of your time can easily be spent doing other non-volleyball related activities. In fact, playing volleyball is completely optional. So it’s a good thing that the bulk of DOAX’s charm comes not in the form of its titled volleyball feature, but in building relationships with the other girls on the island, buying and giving gifts of girlish trinkets, accessories, and bikinis, listing to the lighthearted pop and reggae soundtrack, and gambling away your stash at the fully-featured casino at the end of every day.
This is the kind of game you can hunker down with and play for minutes or hours without worrying about lack of hit-points, memorizing long combos, or indeed invoking the dreaded “game-over” screen. It’s a toy, basically. With that said, I would like to point out that DOAX does actually feature a story by which the gamer assumes control over a host of high-kicking hotties, dig. The girls of DOA were suckered into coming to Zack Island under the pretense that it was to be the location of the next Dead or Alive fighting tournament (DOAX’s cast is plenty pretty but none too smart, apparently). The girls quickly come to terms with the situation and decide to make the best of things by enjoying a two-week vacation. The plot is basically just a thinly veiled excuse to show off the processing prowess of the Xbox and its ability to render scantily clad character models and lush paradisiacal island environments. All seven girls from the DOA series are accounted for and newcomer Lisa rounds out the roster to an even eight.
It doesn’t take long to get into the flow of things. From the moment you start a game your goals are pretty clear; play volleyball, accumulate cash, collect items, and try to acquire the skimpiest swimsuit possible. Even so, Lisa takes it upon herself to brief the player by means of a quick tutorial at the beginning of the vacation, quickly touching upon the menu system and different shops around the island. Lisa is also your default partner from the onset of the game, but if your initial volleyball game goes badly, she may team up with somebody else. That’s how it works in Xtreme Beach Volleyball; if you don’t maintain a healthy relationship with the other girls, they will most likely snub you when it comes time to partner up. But on the other hand, if you give the girls gifts that they’re interested in, they’ll give you presents in return and maybe even agree to a partnership.
Maintaining good relations with the girl you are, or want to be, partnered with is important not only because it is the only way to get some of the rarer items in the game, but because without a partner you can’t play volleyball. And while you aren’t required to play volleyball in order to progress, it is the best way to accumulate large amounts of cash. The best way, but not the only way however. Another way to earn money is by visiting the poolside where you’ll be able to play the almost-absurdly named “Hopping Game.” By tapping or firmly pressing the A button, the girl you are playing as will either hop or jump across platforms floating on a pool. Depending on how fast you make it across, and the timed consistency of your jumps, you’ll be awarded with a certain amount of money, about one-tenth of the amount you could get from playing and winning a match of volleyball. The other way to make money in DOAX is gambling. Each day of your vacation is split up between morning, noon, and evening segments, and each task you perform takes up a portion of the day. At the end of the day you are given the option to visit the hotel’s casino where you can try your luck at poker, blackjack, roulette, or the slots.
Considering that the title is essentially being marketed as a volleyball game, it was a little strange to discover that the volleyball component is really just an ultra-simple mini-game type activity that requires all of two buttons to play. One button is used for bumping the ball into the opponent’s side of the net and the other is for setting up spikes. But what is more surprising than the simplicity of the v-ball dynamics is the fact that it features an impressive amount of depth. For instance, the timing and power of your hits dictate to a large degree your success in each game. The left thumbstick changes the direction of your shots, and the ability to influence what your teammate does by pressing the applicable button at the right time also adds to the strategy. But as is the case with most everything else in the game, strategy is completely optional. You could feasibly play and win the majority of your games using one hand and two buttons the entire time, what you do with your other hand is completely up to you, sicko.
Once your girl reaches the end of her 14-day vacation, you’ll be treated to an impressive (though identical) cut-scene and thrown back to the title screen. But not to worry, all the items, swimsuits, and cash that you’ve accumulated during your two-week stint will still be intact should you decide to start a new vacation with the same girl. And it’s a good thing too because the sheer assortment of nick-nacks, paddywacks, and frizzle-fracks that can potentially be acquired is enormous. Suntan lotion, stylish hats, shoes, and bikinis are just the tip of the iceberg. Some of the more interesting things you can add to your collection include machine guns, cake, and promotional videos for past DOA games and, if you’re lucky, a sneak peak at the upcoming Xbox exclusive Ninja Gaiden.
Visually, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball is one of, if not the best looking Xbox game currently on the market, only to be arguably outdone by the incredible Splinter Cell. As the bright morning turns into evening and the sun begins to fade, the lighting techniques that Team Ninja integrated take center stage as palm trees and rock formations cast realistic shadows on the surrounding environment. The various animations that are present through the many aspects of the game are impressive. The girls act and react naturally playing volleyball, sometimes eating a mouth full of sand on missed dive returns or just stretching during idle moments. The character models seems to be a notch above those featured in DOA3 but the ability to mix and match the girl’s outfits considerably sweetens the deal. But all this graphical splendor would be less appealing if not for the fact that you are given full reign over the camera perspective in nearly every situation, allowing the player to pan around, zoom in and out, and basically view the “action” from any desired angle.
While the game’s graphics are irrefutably its main draw, the aural accompaniment is no slouch either. The soundtrack consists of a medley of tunes that perfectly mesh with the tropical paradise motif. These songs include tracks from B*Witched, Innosense, Big Mountain, Reel Big Fish, Raja-Nee, Christina Aguilera, and Bob Marley. While the set-list of songs is usually pretty fresh, they do have a tendency to get old after countless hours of play, which is why it is a good thing that you can visit the local radio station and queue up tracks that you’ve ripped to the Xbox. If you are in the middle of a volleyball match and a song that you’re sick of starts playing, don’t fret, simply hit the black button to forward to the next song on the playlist. The ambient sound effects of lapping waves, overhead birds, and background bustling in the casino are all played out to their full effect and give the game the kind of immediate immersion that I’m sure the developers were hoping for.
In the end, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball is a rare jewel that won’t soon be replicated on any platform, and for that reason alone it is worth picking up. If you’re looking for a spot-on, realistic volleyball simulator however, you’d be well-advised to look elsewhere. This game isn’t about bumping balls, as the title suggests, but rather it’s about kicking back and just having fun with little regard to competition or consequence. So from that perspective, DOAX is more like Animal Crossing than say Sega’s Beach Spikers.