Ah, summer. Sunshine, surf, beaches and bikinis.
Problem was that to fully experience these you used to have to leave the house. No longer. With the release of “Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball,” “Outlaw Volleyball” and “Summer Heat Beach Volleyball,” you don’t even have to get off the couch to get a tan. (As long as you want one of those highly dangerous “sat-in-front-of-the-TV-too-long” tans.)
If you want to play real beach volleyball with no bells or whistles, and if you have only a Play-Station 2, pick up “Summer Heat Beach Volleyball.” Of the three, it’s the easiest to learn and control.
It also doesn’t take too long to sicken of the 11 songs on the soundtrack. (Tired of the extremely overplayed “Get the Party Started” by Pink? No problem. Here comes the extremely overplayed “Fat Lip” by Sum 41. Somebody help me.)
Like the other two, this one features standard two-on-two beach volleyball made up of teams you choose from the available characters. (“Select from 14 unique hotties and dress ‘em as you see fit,” the box says. Funny, I didn’t see any bright green monkey suits to make them wear.)
After I went through all the training drills, they released Tina Golding, who proved to be far superior to any of the stock characters they started me off with.
“Summer Heat” sticks to the sport (what a concept in a beach volleyball game!). You simply decide how hard to have Tina hit the ball, then where to place it. Take that, Lance Wilson! Point for me.
The graphics are decent and the characters move fluidly. There are ancillary items, play fields and characters to unlock if you have the patience, but I didn’t. This game got pretty boring after a couple of hours, and I needed something with a little more bite.
And bite “Outlaw Volleyball” did. Hard.
If “Summer Heat” is an ice-cold lemonade, “Outlaw” is a tequila shot with a diesel fuel chaser. Think thongs and tattoos, bad attitudes and fights. Among the colorful characters is Lizzy, who “is the trashiest of the Euro trash and ... proud of it,” the booklet says. She’s got spiked red hair and an outfit that makes you understand why this game got a “mature” rating. And she’s not even the most outrageous. Wait until you meet Harley, who “likes to explore her feminine side by resisting arrest and collecting restraining orders.”
Oh, the game does have some volleyball. It took about two hours to get my team to score a point and start winning. To do so, you have to keep one eye on your power meter, on the left of the screen, and the other on where you want to target the ball, usually on the opposite side. This hurts after a while. And the commentary (done by Steve Carell of “The Daily Show”) is funny until it gets repetitious.
As if playing beach volleyball in an underground sewer -- one of the 10 courts available -- isn’t “Outlaw” enough, you can also start a brawl with one of your opponents for no good reason, just to steal momentum. But the fights are somewhat vanilla. Shawnee seemed as if she could beat anyone once I figured out how to make her kick real fast, but that required furious button-pushing that made me almost break out in a sweat.
Whew. Now I need a vacation.
Ah, those girls ...
Which brings us to “Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball.” Imagine spending two weeks in an island hotel with eight beautiful women.
You pass the day lounging by the pool, shopping for bikinis and frolicking on the beach in picturesque settings. At night there is a casino complete with slots, poker, blackjack and roulette. If you move your chosen character to a deserted part of the island, you get a private photo session as the sensual beauty splashes and poses, her movements becoming strangely hypnotic....
Huh? This is a volleyball game? Oh, right.
When you actually decide to get away from sucking up rays by the pool and get into a game, the volleyball action is easy to play, almost too easy. In fact, I found myself using just one button most of the time. But something tells me the point of this game isn’t volleyball. (The characters are spinoffs of the popular “Dead or Alive” fighting series.)
Winning a match means you have more money to buy a smaller suit or other accessory, or to gamble in the almost-better-than-Vegas casino.
Besides, if you lose all your slats at blackjack, you can always turn off the game. Why can’t Las Vegas be like that?
But those girls can be a fickle bunch. If you don’t keep your partner happy, she’ll leave you for greener pastures. Maybe I didn’t shower her with enough gifts or win enough matches with my humdrum playing style, but suddenly Tina up and dumped me. And then no one else wanted to team up with me. Oh, well, back to the casino.
Each of the three courts has a beautiful, postcard-quality background that almost -- almost -- distracts you from staring at the bubbly and playful girls, but none succeeds. The girls are the main draw of this game after all. Those dreamy girls....
I need to get out more. Maybe next summer.
“Summer Heat Beach Volleyball”
Good: Best pure “volleyball” game of the bunch.
Bad: Gets repetitive quickly.
Details: PlayStation 2 platform; $29.99; rating: teen (suggestive themes).
Good: Um, the characters have tattoos.
Bad: Games shouldn’t be this hard to play.
Details: Xbox platform; $49.99; rating: mature (mature humor, mild violence, suggestive themes).
“Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball”
Good: Beautiful graphics. Those girls.
Bad: The volleyball is only an excuse to ogle the girls.
Details: Xbox platform; $49.99; rating: mature (mature sexual themes, gambling, nudity).