Women's Volleyball Championship Review
Sometimes, we just shake our heads in disappointment and consternation, wondering why on earth a developer would give the green light to a project like Women’s Volleyball Championship. Somebody in the office at Spike figured there aren’t enough volleyball games out there, which is probably the only good point made throughout the entire meeting. Perhaps the reason there aren’t a lot of volleyball titles out there is because it’s not a super popular sport, and when you toss in an evidently tiny budget, you’re doomed. The instant we started an Exhibition match in this game, we just had to laugh, especially when we got a look at the replays. Those were especially comical, and although we tried our damndest to have fun; to understand what should’ve been a relatively straightforward gameplay scheme, we ended up tossing down the controller in frustration. It was one of those experiences that, while not quite horrendously abysmal, was somewhat amusing – in a dark kind of way – and just plain boring. Nothing to see here, ladies and gents. Move along.
Or, if you’d rather delve into the grisly details, than we welcome you along for the very bumpy ride. We could use the company, too, just because we always find it difficult to write reviews of this nature. The visuals found in Women’s Volleyball Championship suffer from bad frame rate, shimmering, aliasing, poor character modeling, a serious lack of detail, and an overall bland presentation. In short, the game looks terrible, even for a PS2 title. We mentioned the inherent comedy of the replays earlier, and it’s due to the sliding-on-glass players, the choppy playback, and the myriad of technical issues that are glaringly – and depressingly – obvious. The actual gameplay isn’t much better and with the ho-hum menu interface and nothing even remotely appealing about the in-game graphics, only one word sums this one up: “blech.” We’ve seen worse in past years, but for the most part, there’s very little redeeming quality with a visual palette like this…well, you can customize a player and team. Guess that’s about it. Where’s the color? Where’s the flash? How’s about a nice visual effect for spikes? Nah, that’d take too much effort.
The sound, believe it or not, is even worse. We figured the commentary might be okay at first, but Spike strings together the announcements at bizarre intervals throughout the game, and the repetition is laughable. Much of the commentary doesn’t even coincide with the action on the court, and it doesn’t help that the sound effects are terrible. The crowd in the stands doesn’t even sound human; the “roar” of the onlookers sounds more like a digital mini-hurricane of wind, most reminiscent of sports games from the 16-bit era. There are no exclamations or sound coming from the players, which is particularly annoying considering that the competitors in real volleyball matches aren’t silent. The soundtrack consists of strangely selected music that in no way seems fit for a sports game, and certainly not a volleyball game. Basically, you don’t hear much and what you do hear is either painful, grating, or flat-out disappointing. We still can’t figure out how one could arrange the commentary that badly, and why a developer would even bother with a soundtrack if they’re going to make such inane selections, but…whatever. We don’t have the energy to over-analyze this.
The gameplay, if it had been solid and entertaining, would’ve allowed us to be lenient in our overall score despite the atrocious technicals. Really, the gameplay is all that matters, and this is all the more true when talking about a sports game. Unfortunately, after running through the single most boring video game tutorial on the planet earth (it was just a bunch of pictures and text descriptions), we started to get that sinking sensation. Most critics are aware of this sensation; it’s the one that tells you in hushed tones that the worst is yet to come, and you had best prepare yourself for a combined feeling of irritation and mirth. Sadly, the mirth doesn’t last long and pretty soon, you’re diving for the power button on the system. Not surprisingly after that tutorial, we entered a quick match and quickly came to the painfully clear conclusion that Women’s Volleyball Championship is devoid of any real merit. But just to string you along for a bit longer, we’ll address a few of the positive aspects of this production. Don’t worry, though; this won’t take very long at all.
Even though the camera often fails you during the serve, it’s not a problem when you’re in the midst of a volley. We have no idea who thought it’d be a good idea to place the camera behind the server (even on the opponent’s serve!), but the distance and general position of the camera once the ball is in play is decent. When the pace picked up, we didn’t like the fact the camera would switch back to our side of the net only after the ball cleared, but it wasn’t a crippling issue. There are plenty of those elsewhere, anyway. Another bit of good news is that you have multiple game modes to select from, and this includes a fairly well-constructed Season mode, designed specifically for the hardcore v-ball fans. Lastly, gaining a firm grasp on the controls doesn’t take more than a few minutes so at least the game has that “pick-up-and-play” accessibility. Okay, so that’s the end of the good stuff. The real downside here is that these aforementioned pluses don’t mean much of anything when facing the overriding flaws and errors. The minuses absolutely pummel the crap out of the pluses, and we’re left with an extremely poor effort.
First of all, even though the controls are easy on the surface, it was hard to understand how they actually worked. They tell us to hold the spike button down and release when we want to hit the ball, and yet, the player will invariably spike the ball anyway, and at about the same speed. Then we assumed we could direct the ball with the left analog, which seemed true to some extent…but in pushing the analog three times in the exact same direction, the ball went in three very directions. The players you can pass or set to on the court are designated by an X, Circle, Square, or Triangle, which is fine, but how exactly are we supposed to tell which player is best suited for the job? In the tutorial, it says we should offer up a spike opportunity to the “more powerful” player, but as far as we could tell, there was absolutely no way of determining the power levels of our players on the court. Oh yeah, and if you hit any of the buttons a tad too late for a pass or set, the player would just pop the ball about 20 feet behind them. Yay. All we really did was try to get a solid understanding of how the game operated and we were never able to do that.
The best we could really do is watch the ball go back and forth about 10 times – way too many to be realistic – just trying to keep spikes in-bounds and not bothering with the shoddy blocking. The computer would rarely miss even on Normal difficulty, our players were either 100% consistent or entirely incompetent, and none of the shifting or movements made sense. When attempting to move a player quickly to the desired spot, it felt as if we were slogging our way through a vat of cold molasses, and the animations were stiff and repetitive. The frame rate issue continued to pop up when the ball flew a particularly long way, and given the complete lack of flash and panache, this is one of the most bare and stripped-down sporting experiences you will ever have. Yes, you could feasibly do a Season, and you could alter the scoring and set/point limits and all that, but the gameplay is so ineffectual and erratic, most people won’t get very far. All you really need to do is play an Exhibition match to realize this is a waste of your time, even though it’s a budget-priced title. Trust us, there are better ways to spend your $15, especially with all the older yet still top-notch PS2 games still on store shelves.
Women’s Volleyball Championship doesn’t do anything right. It does, however, fail miserably in a variety of different areas, and remains mediocre in the aspects where it’s not a total failure. It’s too bad, because there really aren’t many volleyball games on the market. Even though something like the Dead or Alive: Xtreme series on the Xbox and Xbox 360 isn't exactly the bastion of authenticity or depth, they’re at least far superior to this. Hell, most anything is.
11/17/2008 Ben Dutka