Show Some Love

Posted on Jul 6th 2012 at 04:02:50 AM by (Crabmaster2000)
Posted under Volleyball, Nintendo, NES, Vball, Spike, Super Spike Vball, Kings of the Beach, Volley ball

It may not be the most popular sport around, but Volleyball was well known enough in the NES era to warrant 3 licensed titles on the system. Luckily each of these titles offers a drastically different take on the sport. Each game shines and stumbles in its own distinct areas.

Curious to know which of them are worth your time? I was, but no longer.

DISCLAIMER: This is a look at only the licensed Volleyball titles on the NES. Unlicensed, import, homebrew, and other types of games were not taken into account. The look into these games is also strongly focused on the single player aspects of the game and doesn't delve into the multiplayer experiences they offer.

Going chronologically we'll look at the earliest attempt at the genre, simply titled, Volleyball. Volleyball was released in March 1987 as one of the now iconic Black Box packages. While the later two titles I'll get to focus on the 2 vs 2 beach style Volleyball, this game fills a traditional indoor court with 6 players on each side. If you're like me and played Volleyball at some point in school, this format is going to be the most familiar. Choosing computer difficulty will require the manual for most of us since I doubt many of you followed mid early to mid 80s world class Volleyball which is how the teams were ranked in difficulty. Tunisia was apparently home to Spiketown.

While the 6 vs 6 style looks good on screen, and is probably more familiar to people it tends to cause a lot of issues when learning the game initially. You'll quickly come to find that you have control of either the entire back or front row all at once as opposed to one player at a time. If the ball is coming directly to each row this isn't much of a problem. The issues arise when your opponents skillfully tip the ball near the dividing line for controlling either side. Picture yourself backing your front row up to bump an easy ball lobbed over the net. Now picture the ball going, just out of their range and control swaps to the back row. Before you have a chance to react you've unwillingly moved your back row further away from where you need them in order to return that easy lob. Frustrating, but with some practice you can learn to watch for most of those kinds of hits.

You'll probably also notice that your front row middle character loves to set the ball and your other guys might not be so well equipped with that particular skill. The sooner you learn to harness his power as the second person to hit the ball, the better. As with the front to back row's invisible line that your characters don't like to cross, your left and right power hitters don't want to venture into their buddies territory. Once and a while you'll get a set right near the middle and its hard to tell which guy can actually hit the ball, but if you stick with the proper setter this shouldn't be a problem often.

Another control "quirk" I found often when learning to return the opponents spikes. You hit the A-Button to bump, but I was missing a lot of the digs by not timing it correctly. Fortunately you can hold the button down and you'll bump the ball as long as you are lined up correctly. Unfortunately you cannot move your character if you're holding down the button. It takes a little getting used to, but you'll eventually find a nice balance between running towards your target and holding the button in for consistent returns.

One of the nice things about Volleyball compared to the other two games is the serving window. Its very easy to get your serves over in Volleyball, whereas the other two games have a significantly smaller timing window when making your first hit.

Each game is played to 15 using Set Point scoring. Best of 5 matches wins the game and you must win each match by at least 2 points. Fairly standard. As with many NES games the AI isn't the brightest and if you pay close attention to their movements you'll figure out ways to exploit them relatively easy.

If you haven't seen the game in action before check it out here. Its a lot rougher around the edges than the later titles, but it offers some unique gameplay with the 6 on 6 games.

Released in January 1990 (because my mind always goes to beach Volleyball come January Tongue ) was the second attempt at the sport, Kings of the Beach. Since nobody really cares about competitive beach Volleyball it may not be obvious from the get go, but the game actually uses some real life beach Volleyball players in the game.

Playing this after Volleyball will really show how much games progress in just a few short years. The game is better in nearly every way. With the improved graphics, which should be obvious from the screen shots, it becomes a lot easier to line your character up with the ball and you should have significantly less errors when going for simple bumps when compared to Volleyball.

The 2 on 2 format works a lot better too. You take control of only one of the 2 men and the computer will handle the other guy on your team. AI will occasionally mess up and you'll lose an easy point, but its not often. For the most part he is pretty competent. The game is much less cluttered by losing the extra 8 players, and the pace of the game stays about the same so its a win-win in my book.

The first area that game me trouble was the timing for any hit where my feet where off the ground. Jump serves in particular. It took about a dozen failed attempts at jump serving to finally find that sweet spot. Once you land a couple they become instinctual, and much more consistent though. I had the same problem with spikes at first too, but to a much lesser extent. The nice thing about the spikes is that you only have to jump and as long as your character comes in contact with the ball he'll hit it. No need to time a second button press to hit the ball.

One of the most annoying parts of the game is doing quick digs to return your opponents spikes. This is done by pressing..... nothing! Its been ingrained into me that I need to react by pressing something so I often missed these digs by pressing the A-Button or the D-Pad in hopes of bumping the ball to my partner. The good news is that your partner is actually a pretty solid wall and does a fair amount of blocking at the net, so you don't have to worry about too many stray kills raining down on you.

One of the most unique aspects of the game is the ability to argue with the ref. You didn't like his last call? Feel free to let him know. He might occasionally reverse his call. But be careful, if you're being overly aggressive he may dock you an additional point.

The tournament mode in Kings of the Beach plays fairly similar to Volleyball. Each game is Set Point scoring to 15. Only one match is needed to move on to the next opponent though. After 3 opponents you'll be awarded with a sexy bikini clad 80s babe and a passcode to continue your progress later if you like. Win 15 matches to claim your title as Kings of the Beach.

The 3 years in between Volleyball's and Kings of the Beach's release really shows. Unless you're a die hard 6 vs 6 fanatic I don't see much reason to choose it over the greatly improved Kings of the Beach for your Volleyball fix. Check out some gameplay here and I think you'll agree that its a step above Volleyball in many ways.

Appearing in stores just one short month after Kings of the Beach in February (is there some connection between the middle of winter and beach Volleyball that I'm unaware of?), was Super Spike V'Ball.

The first thing that should jump out at you is the much larger and more stylized character graphics. The closer view of the action means that the screen has to scroll left to right much more than in either of the other games. This didn't bother me or make the gameplay any more challenging, but if you need to know where your characters are at all times I could see it being a bit bothersome. In addition to the stylized characters sprites you may notice a few other little quirks in the game such as the "whap" and "KABOOM!!" words that pop up during play or the interesting characters to select from (the Double Dragon brother make an appearance).

The 2 vs 2 style of game controls much like Kings of the Beach, in that you take control of one character and the computer AI handles your teammate. You teammate wont really make stupid mistakes, but he wont be a powerhouse either. He'll make sure you get the ball and it'll be up to you to work your magic with it. Out of the three different games I think Super Spike V'Ball nailed it with the players being controlled as such.

With both other games you had to follow the shadow of the ball to line your character up in order to have your hit connect. With Super Spike they provide you with a nice little aiming reticule on the ground so you know where the ball is going. This made the game much smoother I felt since it meant very few unfortunate misses.

Unlike either of the previous titles, in Super Spike you must push an additional button to hit the ball when in the air for both your jump serves and spikes. So instead of jump timing your jump you have to time your jump and your hit. The timing window for each time of jump hit is fairly wide though so this doesn't add much difficulty to the game.

In Kings of the Beach a well timed spike can occasionally, but not consistently, stun your opponent. In Super Spike V'Ball though they take that idea a whole lot further. As you jump for your spike keep mashing that jump button and you'll see a glowing orb over your head slowly grow in size. The larger the size the stronger your spike will be. When you finally connect with the ball you'll unleash a Super Spike which has the potential to slam the opponent right out the court should they dare to try and bump or block it. The defensive response to this is to charge up your Super Block the same way and hope you mashed that jump button just a bit more than the offense. This mechanic makes the use of any kind of turbo pad lethal to your opponent.

The games go much quicker in Super Spike V'Ball thanks to the Rally Point scoring as the default option, as opposed to Set Point in the other titles. Sports game in general at the time typically seem slow and sluggish so I think the Rally Point scoring was a fantastic idea, and helps keep the game a lot more interesting and intense since your opponents actually gain points for your mistakes, and vice versa.

The tournament mode consists of 6 matches against various teams from around the world culminating in a match against the US Navy. Each game is played to 15 and must be won by at least 2 points, with the winner being declared after only one round of play.

One thing I've failed to mention in the previous two games is the sound. That was intentional because its really forgettable. Neither game had anything memorable or annoying. Super Spike V'Ball on the other hand has a surprisingly decent sound track, with several interesting songs and some goofy sound effects that fit along with the less than serious style that the game offers.

See if you like the style for yourself here and be sure to listen to the music and check out a Super Spike or two while your at it.

With just three licensed Volleyball games on the system its not surprising that they all offer some unique ideas on the sport and don't have many overlapping mechanics. Each is worth checking out if you are even slightly interested, but Super Spike V'Ball is easily the gem out of them in my opinion.

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Super Spike was always my favorite. It's one of my most played games on the NES.
i remember owning super spike v'ball as a kid. I still to this day question why i picked it over mario 3...prob because i wasnt finished with either super mario 1 or 2 (and wasnt having much fun with either)
Super Spike & Kings of the Beach FTW Smiley
I haven't had the pleasure of playing anything but the Nintendo volleyball game, but I torn between Kings of the Beach and Super Spike.  Sure, Super Spike just looks so good, but Kings runs so smooth (due to the smaller characters and graphics, no doubt).  Hrm, I can't decide.
@bombatomba:I'd personally give the edge to SSV'Ball, because I really like the style, music and its just so satisfying to land a good Super Spike.
Sure Super Spike may win the gameplay battle, but Venice Beach Volleyball has my vote for cover art Wink
When I was a kid I really enjoyed Kings of the Beach.  It was one of the first games I felt I should reacquire for my collection.  A lot of fun, but I can't say that I have played the other two yet.
Super Spike is also my favorite but to be honest, I haven't played Volleyball or Kings of the Beach.  Just got a Satellite so I might have to have a volleyball party.
Nice reviews Crab!  I too enjoy Super Spike the most.  It's a little more out of the box than the other two, which makes for a more exciting game.  I played lots of Kings of the Beach growing up and for a more realistic experience, it's pretty good.

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