SEGA’s AM2 team is primarily known for the technical and developmental achievements they’ve made over the years, which were honed and defined throughout their Virtua series of titles. The Virtua games covered a number of different genres, from fighting to driving to shooting games, and by the time the Nintendo GameCube came around, AM2 was ready to bring their technical chops to arcades in the form of beach volleyball with Beach Spikers.
Originally released in arcades in 2001 and ported to the GameCube in 2002, Beach Strikers was the first realistic beach volleyball game for a home console since TOSE’s Dig & Spike Volleyball was released for the SNES in 1992 (Klonoa Beach Volleyball for the PS1 may have beat it to home market by a couple of months, but I wouldn’t classify that as “realistic”). The title would be quickly followed to market by several more beach volleyball games, and was the beginning of a trend that would last way, way too long: putting the focus of the game on the sex appeal of the characters over the all-around quality of the game. While not as absurdly obvious as future games such as Outlaw Volleyball or Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, Beach Spikers did have marketing where the female models were the focal point. In all honesty, the actual game doesn’t feature any over-the-top sexualization. It’s a beach volleyball game, and what you see is similar to what you’d see during a match on ESPN. Unfortunately, reviews at the time were more than likely filled with tongue-in-cheek comments about the presentation of the female characters, with outlets such as IGN and even TOM from Cartoon Network’s Toonami block focusing on the visuals in certain racy ways. That being said, the visuals are not what left an impression on me, or what I was looking for when diving into Beach Spikers.
The arcade history of the game is obvious when it comes to the controls, which are simplified to two buttons. While this helps keep the action at a fast-pace as intended, it’s a shame that the rest of the buttons on the controller are neglected. Instead of going for even slightly deeper play options, the controls are kept shallow and stayed faithful to the arcade original. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on how deeply you want to dive into beach volleyball, as the minimal button presses mean faster tosses and passes, and spike power is even based on an on-screen meter, which really hammers home the arcade aesthetic.
There are a couple of game modes to choose from, such as a standard Arcade Mode where players can decide all of the different match rules and select which team they’d like to play as. World Tour is the stand-out way of play, where you customize your own character from the uniform to skin tone to the country you represent, and take the team through an entire league season. World Tour is a tough mode to tackle because of the difficulty curve. Your partner starts out fumbling around the sand, barely able to tap the ball. As you win (and mostly lose) matches, you gain attribute points that you can assign to improve her serve, receive, attack, block, toss, power and response. It takes a while, but your partner slowly gets better and more able, and match wins get more and more frequent.
Beach Spikers, for what it is, is a pretty fun beach volleyball game. Unfortunately, the majority of the single-player campaign is spent being dragged down by your CPU-controlled teammate. SEGA AM2 never made a sequel, so Beach Spikers remained a one-off title instead of a series. It was also the only beach volleyball game to appear in the GameCube catalog, so this is the last time we’ll be diving into the sand.
Did you ever play Beach Spikers? What did you think of it? What did you like or hate about the game?
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