Gamestyle Archive Intro: Chris Faires takes to the beach with this PS2 review from July 2003. What else is there to say about this release? One of several in a mini-genre kicked off by the DOA Xtreme title.
Summer Heat Beach Volleyball is the first volleyball game on Playstation 2; its presence on the mass-market console is a step forward for the sub-genre. Three recent peers being Gamecube’s Beach Spikers, Xbox’s DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball and PSone’s Klonoa Beach Volleyball – how redundant is the word ‘beach’? There’s no series of ‘grass football’, is there?
What the word does is help evoke a sense of fun, the same effect for summer and arguably heat, so the semantic conclusion is the title accentuates the positive. As comparisons go, Summer Heat is 70% Beach Spikers, and 30% DOAX, but with the voyeurism and sexualisation turned on its head – this is a game aimed at girls. Pink and Kylie are on the soundtrack, the players represent both genders, and bikini bimbos are matched with C-grade, boy band-styled himbos. Of course, games for girls are a ‘good thing’, and this shouldn’t count against a volleyball game from (of all places) Cheltenham.
Gamestyle is wary of making too many comparisons, and that some readers may not be familiar with either of the two genre titles, however Gamestyle rather cynically suspects that the target audience for the game will not be. A volleyball title is no stretch of the imagination now that other people have taken the risk. So will Summer Heat be able to match or better its peers (nay, influences)? Playability-wise, efficiency is the watchword. Arrows are used when directing your shots whilst for accuracy a shrinking box exists over the sand. In practice, hitting the targets is not difficult as they never change. This is rote learning at summer camp – and the lessons are brief and theoretical – because you never face any AI. Thus the rigours of the full game are not learnt here. Practice is best in exhibition mode, and then progression to the Arcade or US Heat competitions. Here, you and a partner team up against the world on sun-kissed scenic spots from around America.
To win, you need to take advantage of your strengths, try to unbalance the opposition, and plant a sweet shot that’ll rocket down onto the sand below. There are three shots to juggle – a placement shot, a power shot, and a net shot. The length and direction can be altered before the shot is made. Despite the abundance of scantily-clad women, the camera is not your friend. It twists from one view to another following possession of the ball, and you need to get used to it. Even as a known hazard of the sub-genre, it’s disorientating. A constant cursor by your player would help, as the player’s modesty is protected by small clothes, and there is mainly flesh to distinguish between players. Of course, <b>Gamestyle</b> could always concentrate more. The AI as always leaves something to be desired, and can’t be relied upon to step back a couple of times to block a shot. Is it too much to ask for a degree of control over a ‘significant other’ in games like this?
Your partner does move around the court according to your position, but this is just a halfway measure and Gamestyle would much prefer either issuing instructions – Virtua Tennis stylee – or for the AI to actively try and prevent the ball from meeting sand. Sometimes the shooting system feels too constrained and too much like a golf swing. Hitting the corners is difficult, though with practice accumulated (and a switch from the d-pad to the left stick), scoring suddenly becomes easier and more fluid. Credit is due for the canny and accurate use of a line judge, and memorisation of the last picked team for exhibition and arcade games – and for the wonderful replays, enabling you to see all of the action.
Part of that action is, naturally, some breast-juggling. We just thought you’d like to know. It’s unsurprising that the multiplayer is a highlight. Arcade can be handled with a friend, as can the excellent mini-games. Areas, accessories and goodies (such as music videos) can be unlocked from participation in the US Beach Heat competition. You can view these in the Beach House mode, or just watch the camera float through and around the house – it’s strangely relaxing and all very nice, though it doesn’t feel like your house even after you start winning tournaments. Despite the hostile introduction, Gamestyle liked Summer Heat Volleyball. It’s a different spin on the sport and isn’t easy to get into – especially for newcomers – but it’s ultimately enjoyable. One more thing: don’t believe the sassy, colour-soaked presentation, as winning on the latter settings is no piece of cake. It took a while for Gamestyle’s cynical, twisted heart to warm to Summer Heat, and despite not really standing out above its peers, our ‘love oven’ is at a decent gas-mark.
Gamestyle Score: 7/10