It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time the reveal of a Dead or Alive spin-off that was focused entirely around volleyball was a surprising one. Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball was exclusive to the original Xbox, and released back on 23rd Jan 2003, making it almost exactly 15 years old to this day.
The series has since continued (and even has an online game now), since ditching the “beach volleyball” suffix to broaden the remit to cover all sorts “xtreme” beach pleasures. Later games include things like rock climbing, butt battles, and jumping across floats on a pool.
Which is fine and dandy, if that’s what you’re into, but we can’t help but be left feeling a little wanting by these newer games.
What’s worth remembering is just how genuinely, surprisingly great the original Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball was. And it’s largely due to the laser focus on the volleyball in question. Yes, there were some other pursuits, like the casino and interacting with the other girls socially. But, in the case of DoAXBV, they all tied right back into the main volleyball aspect of the game.
It’s a curious format for a sports game to take, blending social sims with volleyball performance, that actually provided a unique and nuanced take on a sports video game like this.
The diversions beyond volleyball all still affected the matches themselves. Gambling would get you currency that you could use to buy gifts for the other girls. You could then use that to increase your bond with your teammate, allowing for better team plays in the matches themselves; or to potentially poach new teammates from the rest of the cast. It was a loop that worked really well.
Not to mention the mechanics in the volleyball itself were fantastic — both simplistic, and nuanced. It’s akin to the wonderful simplicity of Sega’s Virtua Tennis series, but a bit more stripped back (instead finding that extra depth in the social mechanics). It mainly revolves around two buttons — one used for spikes and blocks, and the other for receiving and setting. Hitting the ball easy, but only by getting the timing and rhythm down will you be able to hit it well. It’s a great system, and while it hasn’t developed much, you can still see it hidden away in the modern Xtreme games.
Also, you can’t get around it. At the time, when this released on the original Xbox, it did look simply stunning. Of its generation, the Xbox was absolutely the powerhouse next to its competitors, but it didn’t always seem like it.
For every Jet Set Radio Future, there were many more games that used its tech for boring grim-dark art directions. Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball was absolutely vibrant and popping, really selling that beach vacay feeling on your big, non-flatscreen TV, even if it was pouring it down with English rain outside (which actually makes the game even more exhilarating).
As a series, Dead or Alive Xtreme is always going to raise some eyebrows. But let’s not forget to make sure we raise an eyebrow to the first game in the series, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, which was a legitimately great volleyball game for the original Xbox, and had a little bit of magic that we just might never see again in quite the same way.