Beach Spikers Virtua Beach Volleyball, to give it its full title, was released in the arcades by Sega’s AM2 in 2001 and subsequently ported as an exclusive to the Gamecube a year later. This is very much typical of Sega’s output at the time with bright sparkling visuals in that classic blue sky style – one could imagine the Ferrari from Outrun 2 driving past in the background.
This is essentially a translation of the highly successful Virtua Tennis formula to the 2 versus 2 format of beach volleyball but one thing needs to be mentioned up front – all the characters in this game are tall, athletic women, rendered to a high quality. So a middle aged male gamer, being “caught” playing this by someone else in the household may cause some blushes because of the statuesque ladies on show. The original Xbox got a similar game called Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball but Sega’s offering isn’t as controversial as that game as it doesn’t appear to concentrate on certain parts of the ladies’ anatomy quite so much – Beach Spikers is very much an arcade game.
The initial thing that is noticeable about this game apart from the all female cast , is the quality of the visuals. Courts, backgrounds and characters are all rendered really well and there is an overall feel of presentational polish. The animations are well done and the supporting sound effects and menu/option screens generate an atmosphere of summer and light heartedness.
The game is always a 2 vs 2 set up so when playing solo, you have to rely on an AI partner and this can make the game feel less controllable that its Tennis based counterpart. Controls are very much arcade in style with 2 buttons and a directional stick being the only things to worry about but they can combine to give the player a decent range of responses to choose from based on the situation. The game supports up to 4 players with the CPU filling in as a player in any combination you wish.
Beach Volleyball isn’t as free form as Tennis – the team member interactions are of a set piece nature for example and there are rule restrictions such as the number of hits before a return over the net is made. These go together to make it slightly less intuitive than Virtua Tennis. You can still pick up and play but there is a decent tutorial mode that has a set of quick drills to pass. While these are not a prerequisite to playing the game it’s recommended as they do give a schooling in some of the more subtle control options
There is the original arcade mode with a simple linear progression of challenge matches but this is supported by a career mode with some light RPG elements allowing you to develop skills of your players as you progress. You can praise or admonish your team mate depending on results and this will either develop your character or not – it comes across as a bit haphazard but at least it’s an attempt to add a bit more to the campaign mode. Playing this will unlock some items such as arenas, hairstyles and costumes for the characters and it really only amounts to window dressing – but at least it’s something to go for. There is also a straight up versus mode and a clutch of mini games to play with 2 – 4 opponents – again with the CPU filling in any gaps.
Beach volleyball became recognised as an Olympic event in 1996 and this is reflected in the Beach Spikers character roster – instead of named stars as in Virtua Tennis the lineup consists of teams of 2 ladies from a wide range of countries. Overall this is nice game – it’s not up there with Virtua Tennis but it’s an entertaining game and offers up something a little bit different.