Summer Heat Beach Volleyball
Acclaim brings its own group of bikini girls out to play. How do they shape up to Tecmo's lovelies? Oh - and how's the game?
PS2, Xbox, Cube
With the arrival of summer comes a slew of holiday-related compilation albums, barbeques and similarly related things. It was only a matter of time before this trend in marketing extended to the games industry and thus Acclaim seizes upon this and offer up a slice of summer fun in the shape of Summer Heat Beach Volleyball. Of course, whilst beach volleyball isn't an entirely new genre of sports game (as Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball and Beach Spikers attest to) it nevertheless offers welcome respite from demon killing and multiple car pile-ups. With two established volleyball games already available on the market, how does Acclaim's effort measure up?
The concept of beach volleyball is a strange one and certainly an odd choice for adaptation to console. DOAX confirmed this by offering up a multitude of extras and unlockables, leaving the bulk of the playable game a mere shadow of the glorious semi-naked ladies and their extensive wardrobes. On the other hand, Beach Spikers attempts to focus purely on gameplay and to a certain extent achieves this. So which side does Summer Heat pledge its allegiance? Well, actually it attempts to amalgamate the best bits of all of them.
In terms of actual playable content, Summer Heat offers an absolutely vital tutorial: despite multiple attempts to work out that control system using trial and error, this reviewer was trounced on each occasion. So on that note, don't try playing this game without first indulging the basics. Once you have partaken in the tutorial, you'll find that the game is far more intuitive than first meets the eye, as it soon becomes apparent that a great deal of effort has been made to keep the controls varied and useful.
Rather unsurprisingly, advanced training is largely superfluous purely because you're asked to run around a little till you're suitably good. Other than it being a necessity, the tutorials also provide the opportunity to unlock some of the extras included, unfortunately though these amount to nothing more than sunglasses and extra costumes. Other, more interesting unlockables consist of mini-games, clearly inspired by some of Virtua Tennis's finer moments. As interesting as they appear initially, the novelty wears off, as it becomes all too apparent that the controls aren't best suited to the mini games.
On returning to the main screen, we're given at least 3 play modes: arcade, exhibition and summer heat U.S. tour. Arcade is certainly where you'll want to start in single player, with nothing in particular at stake it serves the purpose of allowing the player to cram in a quick game before no doubt heading off to participate in a generic summer activity. Those with a little more time on their hands however will want to indulge in the U.S. tour, where the majority of the game lies. Here you'll be able to win trophies and unlockable features, which you can later access in the curiously unoccupied beach house.
Whereas Dead or Alive presented an already established line-up of hotties that we've been begging to see more of (with less on), Summer Heat's line up consists of both women and men, no doubt to appease the holy grail of gaming demographs, women. The range of playable characters each have their own wardrobe and vital statistics, however, whether these statistics make absolutely any difference in-game is a point of debate best left to those with more time than sense.
Worthy of mention is the soundtrack to the game, as Acclaim has endeavoured to smatter the game with a selection of licensed music that suitably purveys the seasonal theme. With the likes of Kylie Minogue, Pink and Sum 41 included, all bases are covered in terms of musical taste (though a distinct lack of beach boys and Jane's addiction perturbed this reviewer). How long it takes before these tunes begin to annoy the hell out of you however is a matter of tolerance.
Speaking of tolerance, the games longevity is largely reliant on the players' tolerance of repetition. Whilst the controls and physics of the game are more than suitable in multiplayer conditions, they render the computer AI dumb beyond all imagination. Winning becomes a matter of time rather than a matter of skill, as each point is spent volleying the ball back and forth until the computer opponent messes up. On first appraising this, it appeared to be a boon given the extensive nature of the U.S. Tour mode. However, after 3 tournaments, the process became quite tiresome, to the point where the gameplay becomes mechanical, lacking any real spontaneity. Whilst this is true of many sports games, it never seemed more prevalent than in Summer Heat.
Unfortunately, the games woes don't stop there. Whereas DOAX's multitude of costumes and extras are suitably interesting, summer heats similarly crafted costumes leave the player totally apathetic, as do the characters themselves. With no back-story or familiar ground to base these characters on, the process of choosing a character and their corresponding costume/sunglasses becomes a tiresome process. Ultimately, herein lies summer heats most troubling problems: where DOAX succeeded by riding on the back of a successful franchise, summer heat is asked to perform similar miracles without familiar characters or settings. No doubt the gameplay is meant to largely compensate for this but you'll only really enjoy this for as long as you've got human opponents on hand.
The press materials that accompanies the game include a selection of quotes and factoids, amongst which you'll find the top one of most interest. "The only volleyball game on PS2". Gosh damn, they've got a point here. Regardless of summer heats shortcomings, it does have a lot to offer: the graphics, whilst mostly functional, do tend to take the spotlight when the more interesting venues open up later in the tour mode. The music, whilst limited in scope nevertheless is a welcome change of pace from the norm, whilst the gameplay, though flawed, proves to be a lot of fun with multiple human players involved. Worth your money? Put it this way: it's probably the best way to convince yourself you're getting out the house and enjoying the sun this summer.