Non-games have had a rather big impact on the video game industry lately, with the likes of Brain Training and casual experiences such as Animal Crossing and SingStar selling to gamers and non-gamers alike, and in big numbers. The Xbox 360 hasn't really been targeting this same audience, but long-time Xbox supporters Team Ninja clearly felt the time was right to give 360 owners something a little more relaxing. The sequel to Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball is that game, although Team Ninja has approached things from a slightly different angle.
If you're new to the Dead or Alive Xtreme series, that slightly different angle is women; scantily clad women, wandering around on a tropical island, playing volleyball, riding jet skis and posing seductively for photographs. To put it bluntly, it's hard to play DoA Xtreme 2 without feeling ever so slightly like a pervert. There's a very vague story that sees Zack (a fighter from the Dead or Alive series) raise the sunken island from the original game, but other than the opening and closing movies he's never seen, leaving the girls to take up all the screen time while you either take direct control of them or act as some kind of voyeur, taking pictures from all manner of revealing angles.
To be fair, Team Ninja hasn't attempted to disguise what the game is, so no one should be shocked by what they see when they start playing. After choosing one of the female characters to go on a two-week holiday with, it's time to get down to the serious business: sunbathing, exchanging gifts, playing volleyball, frolicking by the pool and generally making friends. As I said at the top, this isn't really a game in the traditional sense, so your goals are vague and you'll play through a few times before you have any real idea about what's going on, and even then you'll be somewhat confused over just how you're meant to earn the vast sums of money (Zack dollars, to give the currency its proper name), needed to buy some of the more expensive items - a top of the range camera, for example.
And seeing as all money and items are retained when you play through again as the same character, you clearly aren't meant to be able to afford the best items on one play through. Making money is pretty easy, with almost everything you do rewarding you with cash, but these mini-games simply aren't good enough to make earning it all that fun. Jet ski racing is the best of the bunch, but it's not a patch on the likes of Wave Race, and later races become exceedingly hard due to some rather violent waves. The volleyball is ok as a game to play now and again, but the strange camera angle makes judging player positions a real hassle, while the majority of the pool-side mini-games require money to unlock and are really only entertaining for the first few times they're played. Gambling in the casino can bring some quick rewards, but it's also possible to blow everything, making it a place that you'll learn to stay away from after a while.
The relationship aspect to the game comes in the form of your female partner on the island. At the start of your holiday you get to pick which other female character you'd like to partner with, but this relationship is far from set in stone. Unless you perform well in the beach games and shower your partner with gifts, you'll find that your one-time friend will start exhibiting a sour attitude towards you and will leave you on your lonesome. With the beach volleyball game only playable when you're paired up, you're then forced to try and form new friendships, but it's far from easy. This is in part due to a lack of in-game information on how each girl feels about you, but at times it seems that there's simply no pleasing some of them.
It seems impossible to fail to complete your holiday, but if you want to get anything from the game you'll have to persevere with the relationship building. The majority of the Achievement points are tied to the items you collect, and lots of the rarer items and costumes can only be obtained as gifts from other girls on the island. The costume collecting is also tied to the photo mode, seeing as you're going to want to photograph your girl in numerous bikinis and outfits. Sadly, while you can view all your glamour photos in a photo album, there isn't an option to upload them to a website for other photographers to view. Add in some awkward controls which don't allow for any customisation and you have fairly disappointing feature.
Visually the game is a step up over the original Xbox game, but it's not as big a leap as you might be expecting. The girls are clearly the stars, with some incredibly impressive character models that are among the best yet seen in a video game, but they're not perfect - the rather bouncy physics play havoc with some of the ladies' most attractive features and the ribbon-like hair glitches too often to go unnoticed. Audio is a mixture of awful voice acting (unless you opt for the original Japanese voices) and wonderfully cheesy pop and reggae music, that'll no doubt have you uncontrollably tapping a foot until you reach for the mute button.
Online play is available for volleyball and jet ski racing, but currently it's very hard to find players online. Volleyball features the same 2 vs. 2 action as seen offline, but there isn't the option for each girl to be controlled by a different online player, which is probably wise considering the lag seen with two human players. The jet ski mode allows up to four players to race, but unless you happen to like the choppy racing it's not a mode you'll spend a lot of time with. You'll also find a dubious selection of premium downloadable content, which seems to follow the current trend of offering an easy (but expensive) way to get your hands on items that would otherwise take extended play to unlock
Dead or Alive Xtreme 2's biggest problem is that it doesn't contain enough of a game to make it appealing to gamers, and those looking for some titillation and glamour photography opportunities will likely want more than the bikini-clad stylised women on offer. Non-games are definitely the 'in' thing at the moment, but Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 has gone so far into obscure territory that very few people will find much to enjoy, and that includes the bounciness.