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Awful Review: Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball (Xbox)

 Having enjoyed immediate sales success with Dead or Alive 3, Itagaki and Team Ninja turned their attention to their next project. As an iconic gaming rebel with an iron fisted grasp of the demands not only of hardcore gamers, but digital fanboys and casual gamers, Itagaki boldly decided to take the series in a different direction: 2 on 2 bikini clad beach volleyball with an all female roster.

Ironically, the new game is as true to the traditions of Dead or Alive as was Dead or Alive 3. Where Dead or Alive 3 emphasized and expanded upon the combat side of the series, neglecting the collection aspect, DOAX take the opposite tack, putting emphasis squarely on bodacious female characters and a nearly endless opportunity to purchase, collect, and trade costumes, accessories, and equipment.

Although Dead or Alive has a notoriously large roster of female fighters (growing with each installment), the available lineup was just short of a full deck with just Kasumi, Lei Fang, Tina, Ayane, Helena, Hitomi, and Christie. Team Ninja quickly remedied this problem by adding Lisa, Zack's melatonin-rich business manager. Reaction to the new character was immediate and strong, with fans petitioning Itagaki to include her as a playable character in future editions of the DOA fighting series.

Conceptually, the game is simple: the player chooses a character for a two week "vacation" on Zack's island. Each day, you have three opportunities to play a volleyball match, give gifts, attempt to find a new partner, play a jumping mini game (designed to enhance familiarity with the game's use of analogue buttons, which most everyone will opt out of in preference of the precise gameplay offered by separate buttons for hard and light strikes), shop, reprogram the island's radio station (with access to whatever music you've uploaded to the system), or just rest, play, and gambol about the island in a highly provocative manner (gravure style). At night, you have additional opportunities to send and receive gifts and to gamble.

At the end of two weeks, your character makes off with whatever winnings they're still holding, and their stash of items purchased or received as gifts. Lather, Rinse, and Repeat.

Players have a few different options for making money, which is essential if you intend to afford the rarest bathing suits, with prices reaching into the millions of Zack dollars. You can "invest" your seed money in the casino at night, play the jumping mini game for cash rewards (up to six times per day), or play volleyball games. The more accomplished you are at gambling, jumping (timing counts), or volleyball (higher point spreads lead to greater rewards, so take advantage of weak opponent matchups), the more cash you'll have to spend in the island's stores.

Each day, the items available in the stores change. Food items purchased early in the day spoil if not added to your collection or eaten, and each character has access to certain rare items that are not available to other characters except as presents. The ultimate hardcore fanboy will want to aquire every one of the hundreds of available items for each of the eight playable characters. This will require insane amounts of effort to purchase the rarest items and wily friendship garnering tactics to prevent the giftee from simply throwing out your gift. Fortunately, in the DOAX world, simple bribery is more than enough to win the friendship of even the hardest hearted rival.

But what will keep them from rejecting your bribes? Simply put, there are some things that each character likes so much that they will never throw them out. Ethnic foods, special recipes, musical instruments, guns, things that are a certain color, all can be used to curry favor if you give them to the right people. This influence peddling strategy also comes into play when you are attempting to convince another character to join you as your partner in world domination through volleyball.

The volleyball itself is adequate, but could certainly be better. Partner AI is frequently very bad, particularly if you permit your partner to take a position near the net, even if the character has high defensive skills. There are options to reposition the partner character, but this is definitely an advanced feature. The camera field of view is frequently too small to permit you to see what your partner is doing, and it can be difficult to properly position yourself along the width of the pit so that you can effectively counter opposition attacks. Even so, the animations are fluid, and the game looks great. Setting up opportunities and receiving setups works surprisingly well. Serves, while difficult at first, become like second nature with extended play, and can be deadly scoring opportunities when properly executed.

In all, there's just enough gameplay not to discourage players from coming back for more, which is a good thing, because otherwise, you'd never earn that Venus suit for all eight characters.