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Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: March 22, 2001
For some, the beach brings back memories of sand castles, shell collection and the phrase, “It’s warm once you get in!” Others, however, view the beach in more of a functional sense and realize that you can fit an awful lot of Volleyball courts along a single shoreline. The members of the latter group are most likely fans of the sport that replaced beach blanket bingo as the activity of choice by the waterside: Beach Volleyball. Unlike traditional indoor variations of the sport which pairs off two teams of five, the sandy surface of Beach Volleyball means that a single person can dive with abandon and thus cover significantly more area of the court from any given point.As such, participants work in teams of two and scramble on the loose, but soft, sand of their courts to bump, volley, set and spike their way to fifteen points. The Federation of International Volleyball (FIVB) oversees most of the regulations and events that feature this growing sport, and thus it’s fitting that the organization has lent its licensed players and seal of approval to the only game of its type on the PlayStation to date, Power Spike Pro Beach Volleyball.
More than 40 FIVB players lend their names to Power Spike Pro Beach Volleyball, including Gabrielle Reece, easily one of the top female players in the world. Joining her are such luminaries as Sinjin Smith, Carl Henkel, Elaine Youngs and Liz Masakayan. All of these players are available in the various modes, and should the selection still prove too thin, a player editor has been included. Choosing from three skin tones and four hair colors, a newly created athlete may further customize their appearance with a selection of sixteen jerseys, shorts and accessories such as caps and sunglasses. After resolving any aesthetic concerns, it’s off to the attributes screen, where the skills of your new player are determined. Each of the six statistics starts with a basic value of fifty, and a pool of one hundred points must be spread between them in order to fine-tune the character. Adding points to Strength will affect the length of their serves and height of other moves, while points put into Serve will reduce the likelihood of balls slamming into the net. Attack is, of course, a useful skill since it directly affects the speed and power of that character’s spike. Similarly, Block, Set and Pass skills all have a direct correlation to the aptitude and accuracy demonstrated at each of those areas.
These abilities aren’t necessarily set in stone, as the World Tour, the game’s primary mode, will reward particularly skilled competitors with bonus attribute points. Of course, it’s no easy task to acquire such rewards; the World tour consists of eight tournaments, each of which involves sixteen teams playing in a double elimination configuration. Because the tournaments are international, it’s necessary to select a national team, with options including the United States, Canada, Spain, Japan, England, France, Italy, Australia and Brazil. Many countries have only two players available for both the Men’s and Women’s tournaments, which means there’s no real selection when you play for that country. Fortunately, the created players have no nationality and may thus be added to any country’s lineup provided they’re of the correct gender.
Given the international flavor of the sport, it should be no surprise that the tournament venues span the globe. In total, there are fourteen beach courts available, including those located in Sydney, Australia; Marseilles, France; Los Angeles, USA; Osaka, Japan and Acapulco, Mexico. Obviously the tournaments move from place to place in a set pattern, but those looking to customize their experience may create a one-off exhibition game and specify a favorite venue.
In addition to exhibition and tournament play, a practice mode has been included, and most players will most likely want to cut their teeth in this scoreless pick up game before heading into the big leagues. In many ways, the practice mode will instruct novices in the simplicity of Power Spike Pro Beach Volleyball, rather than in its complexities. The interface is designed to be intuitive and allow for more emphasis on correct shot placement, rather than struggling with tricky control schemes. One button handles most actions, including serving, setting, spiking and bumping, while extra controls allow for blocks and power spikes, which are only used in the appropriate situations. On the Amateur difficulty level, this scheme seems too simplistic, but in the Advanced and Pro levels, the simple controls emphasize the process of aiming each hit. A small targeting icon appears after the move has been triggered, and with the setting player in place the controller moves this target. As anyone who plays Volleyball will note, simply returning the ball isn’t enough — you have to spike it down where the opposing team won’t be able to intercept it, making skilled control over the targeting cursor as important as proper defensive coverage.
Of course, the balance between offense and defense is best maintained through proper teamwork, and PlayStation owners with multiple controllers or a multitap will be able to use their hardware to incorporate friends into the game in a variety of combinations. Two players may go head to head and each have the AI as backup, or cooperative play will pit the human team against a computer-controlled pair. Adding a third player puts the odd man out on the opposing team, while a four-person configuration lends itself to an all-human trial of virtual athleticism.
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