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In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The latest title in Segaís action sports series is Beach Spikers, a Gamecube volleyball simulation from AM2. Like the other titles in the genre, this emphasizes arcade thrills over realism. With superb graphics, easy to master controls and intuitive play this is an excellent arcade-style game. A lack of extra modes hurts the replay value and is disappointing but doesnít ruin the experience. We go underneath the visual appeal to understand why itís another Sega gem.

Segaís been building quite a reputation for their excellent sports games over the past few years, with their arcade-action offerings. While not receiving as much attention as the 2KX sports titles have, Virtua Tennis, Virtua Striker and Home Run King have made some serious inroads with both arcade and sports fans. With itís all-female player roster of 16 different teams, this particular beach title should please gamers, with their exquisitely proportioned physiques. Underneath the sand and sex, lies a solid title with excellent mechanics that automates a lot of tasks for you, making the play immediately accessible. This intuitive approach makes for a thoroughly enjoyable gaming experience thatís both challenging and addictive.

Beach Spikersí game structure takes inspiration from Virtua Tennis, with similar mechanics and modes. While the eye candy is plentiful, this is a solid volleyball sim. While the interface seems simple, youíll need to master serving, receiving, tossing and attack moves, in order to really master this title. When itís your teams turn to serve, youíll find the power-gauge along the left side of the screen. You press one of the buttons to select the type of serve, underhand, overhand or a jumping serve and need to time it so that you the hit key when this reaches the top makes for a powerful shot as well but this system is intuitive. Once the ball is over the net, the other team has to receive the ball, toss it to the attacking player and then attack the opponentsí net. At this point, the controls switch from the attacking to the defensive players after each punch. Once your team is on the receiving end, the spiker and defender alternate control with each hit. After youíve gotten control of the ball and are ready to throw the ball back at your opponents, the power-meter once again comes into play and you can choose a devastating attack to beat them.

This sounds really complicated but Beach Spikers is a user-friendly title, and assists you with an onscreen indicator flashes in the general area where the ball is destined to land, making the battles that much easier. The play is straightforward and the controls need little explanation since theyíre so intuitive. Like the deceptively simple looking Virtua Tennis the real key to the game, and where its depth and challenge lies, is in the timing. Players will need to know, for example, when to use a jumping serve and when to attack the opponentsí net. It seems simple at first, but as you get to the more advanced teams with better AI, knowing the little techniques makes all the difference. Itís not something youíll find in the instruction manual, but getting into an intuitive groove with the game is essential. Beach Spikers also features an extensive practice mode, with extensive tutorial mini-games which teach you the basic moves painlessly, though most players will probably have more fun just diving in and learning on the fly.

Beach Spikers offers three main modes of play: Arcade, World Tour and Versus plus variations and rules changes in each. An excellent practice mode where you can build up your skills and technique is also included. In the Vs. mode, you play a single match against an either a computer or human opponent, but canít unlock hidden uniforms or teams. Beach Spikersí real challenge and depth lies in its World Tour which allows you to build and guide a team during an 8-round international tournament. You can customize your team-mates and give them encouragement, or berate them between matches. The game also allows you to create custom players with hair, face and uniform styles. Winning matches in this mode allows you to earn points, which can be used to increase the abilities and attributes of your team. These matches are also played for the full 15 points, which is unlike the shorter Arcade matches. In that mode, you only play for 5 points (starting at ten, not zero) in a shortened 8-team tournament format. Unfortunately, there are no mini-games in Beach Spikers which is really disappointing since they added to Segaís earlier action-sports releases.

Even though the controls are tight and responsive, there are some issues that detract from the experience. While itís half-automated, and half manual, this isnít clearly delineated during the game, which can become frustrating. Beach Spikers suffers from poor camera placement at certain points which makes it hard to position yourself to receive volleys and can lead to some lost points. This is especially true when the computer controlled teams start to get really aggressive later on. Itís frustrating to lose points because of this and itís unavoidable due to the poor camera placements. Some of this can be compensated by trying to position yourself ahead of time, but this strategy isnít always effective. Another problem lies in attacking mode because the controls here are inconsistent requiring you to change from standard to power-gauge almost immediately, which makes controls difficult. While this isnít an entirely bad system, it does interrupt the flow of each match and makes the matches a little disjointed. However, the good news is that once youíve mastered the art of attacking and can build up a big lead, the annoying shots become less frequent and important making Beach Spikers more fun as you go along.

As is the usual from Sega, the game features outstanding graphics, with excellent environmental, lighting and weather effects. The luscious character models are outstanding in their realism and the players move around with an convincing purpose and athletic grace. Different lighting effects and sand-surfaces give Beach Spikers more visual variety than other games. There are actually many different types of arenas in the game. While the basic levels are pretty bland after awhile, some of the World Tour stages feature elaborate backdrops filled with sponsorsí spinning signs and logos. This adds to the excitement of these matches and keeps your interest level high throughout. In the end, this is a very good title that succeeds at capturing the atmosphere and fun of beach volleyball. Between its solid gameplay, multiple modes, intuitive controls and sex appeal, Beach Spikers is another addictive action-sports title from Sega.

- MP


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