Summer Heat Beach Volleyball Review

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Publisher: Acclaim
Developer: Acclaim Cheltenham

Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

Take to the sand with your choice of swimsuit-clad volleyball players, engaging in causal play or the extended tournament of the Summer Heat US Tour.

Kyle Ackerman

Acclaim's Summer Heat Beach Volleyball enters a suddenly crowded field of two-on-two beach volleyball games. This game is trying to distinguish itself from competition like Outlaw Volleyball and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball in two ways: through the strength of the volleyball play and a bargain price (at twenty dollars less than the competition).

The actual volleyball game is surprisingly robust. There is a wide selection of characters, both male and female, each of which has three traits to distinguish them: Power, Control and Speed. The characters with the highest ratings in all three need to be unlocked, but there are plenty of very effective players available as soon as you turn on the console. When you play, your success depends on your character's location, how long you hold down the button, when you release the button and how you try to position the shot. Essentially, every time someone hits the ball for a pass or a spike, an arrow appears. To set or spike the ball, you need to position your character at the end of the arrow and hold down the button to hit as long as possible. While pressing, you can position where the ball will land using an arrow of your own. Of course, if you release the button too late, you might make a bad pass or even hit the ball into the net. Once you release the button, you can't power up the shot any longer, but you can put spin on the ball to finely control placement.

This might seem like an overly complex system, but it turns out to be easy to master. The game is sensibly set up so that it is easy to hit the ball just well enough to get it back over the net, and requires practice to execute hard spikes and great sets for your partner. To help players acclimate, there is an extensive tutorial system that takes you through all the necessary moves, one at a time. After the tutorial and two brief games in exhibition mode, it was no problem for this reviewer to make it all the way through the Easy level Summer Heat US Tour (an extended campaign mode), and defeat Arcade mode on medium. A skilled player against a hard computer opponent can continue volleying the ball back and forth for something near eternity. Eventually, someone will make an error, run into his teammate, or make an excellent, unblockable spike to the far corner of the court.

This beach volleyball game falls short when it tries to go beyond the volleyball. Games such as the Dead or Alive beach volleyball game are not as sophisticated in the volleyball portion, but focus on realistically rendering unrealistically proportioned women, and adding a dating simulation-like game that lets you dress the female players in bathing suits of your choice. In Summer Heat Beach Volleyball, it seems that the developers made an effort to create provocative women with suggestive suits. You can even replay many volleys from a variety of camera angles to get a close-up view of the jiggles. From a distance (such as that normally encountered in play), the game looks quite good, on a nicely textured sandy field that fills with divots as play progresses. If you use the playback feature to watch a completed point you can zoom in from any number of angles to see everything very close up. Oddly enough, only women's hair and breasts seem to move, and they jostle excessively. Everything else about the women and men is completely rigid, giving the female players the appearance of Barbie dolls with fluid implants and making the men look like action figures in motion.

The first few hours of play are good, but the game relies on unlocking additional items by winning games as an incentive for additional play. Many of the unlockable items are clothing, such as bathing suits or sunglasses. Unfortunately, the models are so plastic that unlocking a revealing suit wouldn't even be interesting to the most lascivious teen, trapped in a basement with only this game. Other unlockable features include promotional trailers for Acclaim games, viewable music videos or decorations for your beach house. It should also be mentioned that there are some very long load times before and after games. This can get grating after playing for a while.

The detail on players' figures may be low, but there are plenty of little touches to fill out the environment. Most of the time, the same, sandy court is all you see, but on a court like the college venue, you can see a mascot in a rhinoceros suit running around the sidelines, and occasionally hear faint, but audible, cheers from the cheerleaders. Other venues might have skateboarders, or a court surrounded by advertising for other Acclaim games like Vexx. The ambient animations for the players are also a nice addition. Players brush sand off their bellies after a dive into the sand, and hug, high-five or point accusingly, depending on the outcome of the point. The soundtrack is also good. The game includes some decent, recognizable songs, such as "Get the Party Started" by Pink and "Fat Lip" by Sum 41. You can go to the beach house to configure the soundtrack, deactivating songs you don't like without just turning off the music.

There may not be a lot of incentives for excessive play, but there are a few cool features. The best of these are multiplayer modes. You can play plenty of games multiplayer, and the game is a lot more fun with a skilled, human buddy, but there are some cool, multiplayer-only mini-games. These include Nerd Smash and Ice Court. Nerd Smash sets you and your opponent up for lots of spikes, and fills the other side of the court with fanciful targets. Spiking the ball into the targets nets you points, and the player with the most points wins. Ice Court is even cooler – the game plays like the conventional volleyball game, but on a lip of ice overhanging nothing. Every time the ball hits the court, the court cracks a little bit. Hit the ground enough times in one area, and that entire side of the court collapses, sending the losing team plummeting along with chunks of glacier. In single player, if you finish arcade mode, you might get to play against athletes named after Greek gods, replete with metallic, reflective skins and amazing skills.

Altogether, the volleyball portion of the game is quite good. It's easy enough to learn how to play, and takes a bit of practice to consistently defeat the harder computer opponents on the higher difficulty levels. If what you are looking for is volleyball play, with good multiplayer action, Summer Heat Beach Volleyball is a solid choice. If you are in it to admire the computer generated human form, this is not the right game. Either way, it's certainly worth the expense of a rental to check it out.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 23, 2003 1:12 PM.

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