It isn't exactly a rare thing, a video game largely based around … breasts. Think: after the first seminal game, what was Tomb Raider but a vehicle for torpedo-breasts? The developers themselves seemed distracted by Lara's endowments, and with each game, the only valid enhancement over the original was the heroine's ever expanding physique, while the rest of the content was boiled down to fetch quests that made Star Fox Adventures seem reasonable, and different ways to triple flip jump around broken AI enemies.
Itagaki and Friends – better known as Team Ninja – are officially in Lara Croft territory with the release of Dead or Alive Xtreme 2. Sure, the proper Dead or Alive – the fighting game series – has had some low points, notably devolving into a mindless counter-fest by the third entry, but there was always a great deal of polish to the look and feel of the games. Besides, the fact that high-level play is nearly impossible means that, for those of us who wouldn't bother with counters in the first place, the game could be seen as a fun diversion with good graphics and controls.
The first Dead or Alive Extreme game – DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball – was a cheap, easy volleyball game surrounded by what was basically a virtual dollhouse. Get money, unlock nail polish, and play (boring games of) volleyball! Alas, the game didn't have legs for anyone uninterested in picking out increasingly skimpier bikinis. Which sent a clear message: if you're not into primping impossibly perfect polygonal women, put your copy of the game up on eBay and call it a day.
I didn't expect much different from this sequel. More games besides volleyball, a few extra swimsuits, and Team Ninja would toss the game on the shelf and make us wish they would have applied their resources to something more constructive, like Ninja Gaiden 2 or even Dead or Alive 5. That's all true. What I didn't expect, especially with such a massive leap in hardware – I mean, we're talking an entire generation, here – was that a certain coveted technical feature would be downgraded over the original.
Xtreme 2 runs at half the framerate of the first game.
How this happened, I cannot explain to you. As even the biggest Dead or Alive fanboys have pointed out since the first screens of Dead or Alive 4 popped up on the internet, the models don't look much better than what we saw five years ago with Dead or Alive 3. We received a passable explanation for that, some silliness about the creepy, smooth-skinned look being a developed, purposeful art-style, and not leaving much room for improvement – but hey, look at their costumes, when they're not wearing bikinis! The cloth waves around much more pleasantly than an Xbox game could allow!
This being a beach game, there isn't much room for flowing, waving cloth, which means most of the processing power – infinitely more than the Xbox could handle, apparently – is dedicated to flowing hair, as well as that infamous series standby: wiggly, jiggly, bouncing breasts.
These breasts apparently jiggle so much, with such super-accurate attention to exactly which angles would produce the most pleasure for the sweaty, lonely gamer, that the framerate was slashed down to thirty frames-per-second to accommodate the necessary algorithms. Once you see the new tug-of-war and butt-bouncing mini-games – which both play pretty much the same way – maybe you'll agree that said algorithms are among the sexiest algorithms ever developed. You'll want to kiss your copy of Mathematica.
At least, that's what Team Ninja is hoping. It isn't really successful.
A better excuse might be the water effects, which are a great improvement over the original game, although, admittedly, they look somewhere between hydro-digitized perfection (I'm not sure if that conjunction makes any sense, but it sounds great!) and an animated version of that crazy glue stuff that creepy model train town builders use for fake streams and ponds. The algorithms that must have been developed for these effects obviously don't rival those of the Bounce Engine, as I like to call it, in terms of how much raw processing power they must demand, but even if the jetski minigame controlled badly, and forced me to listen to the exact same terrible faux-reggae tracks from the first game, at least the waves looked pretty.
You'll noticed I brushed on the topic of sound, and for those of you who missed it, I'll repeat something important: the soundtrack is made up of many of the same tracks from the first game, most of which weren't likeable in the first place! Had there been some undeniable classics the first time around, I would have appreciated a reprisal, preferably remixed, for the sequel, but I really had no desire even for a similar soundtrack, nevertheless a clone of it.
On the soundbite front, it's mostly scandalous yelps and grunts that should make anybody blush; for those of us with half a brain, it's a blush of embarrassment that this stuff passes for straight-faced entertainment for some people. I've ranted on in previous about the joys of satire in gaming, loving the ridiculous glee of silly banter and yelps in games like Grand Theft Auto, but this is simply to much or too little, depending on how you look at it. This is purely adolescent, and there isn't a trace of brain-food to be found.
You might call me out and say, "hey, there's a casino – gambling takes thought!" Yes, more thought than pummeling the broken A.I. in the standard volleyball mode – which makes me wish I was playing a badly-needed sequel to Beach Spikers. But the games are cheaply presented, and poker specifically is, for lack of a more appropriate term, broken. You can't see you're opponents' bet, which puts you at a massive disadvantage. How this was left in this condition is inexplicable and appalling. After playing the casino games in Yakuza, which were completely optional and fully-featured, these can only be seen as a total failure.
One can log onto Xbox Live or plug in a controller and play a few volleyball matches to stretch the game past the terrible AI confrontations. This does blow the replay value beyond what the single player game offers, but it doesn't change the fact that Beach Spikers was and still is a superior take on the genre, which in turn doesn't change the fact that this underrepresented sport has only Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 to represent it for the next-generation consoles. But if you're here just for for the volleyball, you probably know you're not getting something that is exactly … focused on the sport.
In the future, the Xtreme spin-off could be established into something with depth, and real production values, but so far it only seems to be a way to reuse assets from previously-developed games and sell a new, cheaply-developed product at full price. I can't recommend this game to anybody but the fanboys of the series who would buy it anyway, and the curious types looking for a game to when their sexual appetites. This is worlds beyond the bar set by The Guy Game, but not far enough to garner any respect. Stick with the fighting games, if you know what's good for you.
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