Release Date: July 29, 2008
From a gamer's perspective, it's always fascinating to see what team sports a particular console will end up getting once its life cycle has been completed. Soccer, hockey, baseball, basketball and football are all team sports that have a constant presence on every gaming console, thanks in part to major organizations guaranteeing exposure to the masses as well as yearly cycles that produce the latest updates to each team. Other team sports get so little exposure that the chances of it getting a game are slim to none. Then there are the sports that ride the line between being popular enough that people will watch it yet not so popular that someone is willing to invest in developing a game for it. One such sport that falls into this category is indoor volleyball. While men play the sport, more people recognize it as a women's sport, especially during the Summer Olympics that occur every four years. Now that the PS2 era is coming to an end, Agetec and Spike found it to be the perfect time to put women's volleyball into video game form. Unfortunately, Women's Volleyball Championship is about as exciting of a game as the title is imaginative.
The game is split up into three modes. Exhibition mode has you select a nation's team to go up against another nation's team for some six-on-six indoor volleyball. What's surprising here are the number of items that one can pay attention to and the number of things that can be done outside of just playing the main game. Players have to be given certain positions on the court in order to do specific jobs, and only certain positions can ever be substituted. You have to pay attention to team motivation as well as stamina. Having certain players on the team helps with stamina and increasing or decreasing morale. Seeing this much detail in an arcade game is pretty stunning.
Season mode has you pick a team and fight it out for the championship. You choose a team and play against the others in a league, and the winner of the International Cup is determined by the win-loss record. Immediately following this is the International Tournament, where those same 12 teams play a single elimination tournament to become champion. Once that is completed, the winner of the International Cup faces off against the winner of the International Tournament to determine a final winner. Considering that the game does not contain a license to any professional women's volleyball league, this is actually a pretty good way of extending the single-player experience. Championship mode is simply an abridged version of the International Tournament, where everything can be customized to your liking.
Create a Player mode has a few interesting ties with the rest of the game. Aside from the standard appearance and position options, you can power up your attributes by playing through Championship and Exhibition modes. Instead of just having your created athlete play through these modes, however, you can have any team go through the modes and earn points for the created player, making the process of taking your player from rookie to superstar much faster. The points are used to buy cards that train your player in skills from passing to accuracy to stamina.
When it comes to the technical aspects of players and the game, the depth comes at a price that some may consider too steep. For starters, all of the modes play too similarly to each other, so it's pretty hard to tell which of the three modes you're in because they all feel the same, with little to no presentation change. The difficulty fluctuates wildly, depending on which team you face. About half of the teams you face are surprisingly easy to deal with since they miss easy shots quite often. The other half of the teams, however, are insanely difficult to play against, as they tend to make impossible shots look easy. Unlike other sports games, there is no middle-of-the-road performance from the AI, making you loathe the game for being too easy in one match before ramping up the difficulty immensely in the next one. Finally, while the Create a Player mode has its merits, the fact that the player can only be entered into the custom team makes an arduous task of being part of a legendary volleyball team because you have to spend a very long time playing other modes just to put together a decent custom-built team.
The controls play out like a tennis game in that they are easy enough for anyone to immediately pick up but provide enough depth for those willing to put some time into it. The analog stick handles player movement, while the face buttons handle blocks, passes, spikes and volleys. The shoulder buttons set up different playing positions, while pressing them in tandem with the face buttons will unleash power moves and deepen the pool of plays you can choose from. All of this sounds well and good, but in practice, the game almost devolves into a series of Quick Time Events, thanks to automatic positioning by your players. You can play a few games by just hitting the face buttons and not worrying about the analog stick at all.
The graphics do not do justice to what the PS2 is capable of, especially this late in the life cycle. The arenas look fine, though the crowd is pretty flat and lifeless. The players look bad, though; the character models are decent, but the faces all look square and pasted on, much like sports players did in the late PSOne life cycle. It doesn't help that their expression never changes no matter what's happening on the court. Movement is even worse, as their animations never string together correctly, resulting in jerky transitions from one move to another. You know things are bad when players appear to be sliding all over the court faster than they can move their legs.
The sound is all over the place in terms of quality. There's nothing to really complain about with the music; the generic material won't send you running to turn down the volume. The sound effects are not bad either. Ball hits and the grunts heard on the court come out clearly, with no noticeable compression or distortion at all. The commentary, however, is what really drives down the game in terms of quality. The snippets of voice sound bites never get stitched together well, resulting in a flow that was only present in the infancy of vocal commentary in sports games. Worse yet, the vocal inflections are incorrect almost all of the time. For example, announcers get overly excited when describing one of the player's performances during the team introductions but don't show that same enthusiasm when a difficult shot is made by that same individual during the game.
Women's Volleyball Championship isn't exactly a bad title. It does a good job of tracking several different statistics usually reserved for sports simulation titles, and the different modes tie into each other rather nicely. This alone can't make it a good game, though. The different game modes really don't feel all that different, the graphics look like it's a first-generation PS2 game, and the sound falls into the same boat. While the low price may make it a tempting buy for some people, the quality of the end product makes it seem overpriced. If you really want to play a volleyball video game, stick with the older titles that focus on beach volleyball or pray that someone can come up with a better take on the indoor version of the sport.Score: 4.5/10