I blame ESPN2. While it's certainly nice to have a second 24/7/365 all sports channel, there are just times where there isn't anything happening of interest in the sports world. Football season is over, so invent Arena Football to fill the rest of the year. Arena Football season is over? Oh, then how about World Poker Playoffs. That's about as exciting as Extreme Team Bingo? Well, how about All-Star Geriatric Mud Wrestling? Ehh. Well, what else can we put on to fill those boring winter months? And thus was born Beach Soccer. Why not? It worked for Beach Volleyball, didn't it? Well, yeah, but Beach Volleyball was more about chicks bouncing around in skimpy bikinis than it was about volleyball, and of course, volleyball was designed to be played in small arenas. Soccer, on the other hand, is about hairy guys in baggy shorts trotting around a grass field roughly the size of Luxembourg. Is it possible to combine the 'beach' aspect of the at least marginally successful Beach Volleyball franchise with soccer? Well, maybe. Assuming it is, is it also possible to parlay this into a successful console video game? Um, no.
I guess you can't blame DreamCatcher for trying with their Ultimate Beach Soccer title, but maybe we should. Advertised as "The first Beach Soccer video game designed especially for fans of soccer and extreme sports!" one can only hope that this effort will ultimately remain the ONLY such attempt. Granted, in a market where most mainstream sports are flooded with competing titles an attempt has to be made in breaking new ground with a niche sport, but there are about 20 things I'd rather do on a beach in Rio than play soccer (although the desire for an 'E' rating would exclude 18 of them) such as Extreme Nude Sandcastle Building or even The World Team Nude Suntan Lotion Application Rally. That said, we're here to review the game, not the sport it's based on. So...
First, there are in fact chicks in bikinis. They're cheerleaders. They do funky little dances before the game and between periods. Not worth the price of admission. Moving on.
I'll admit that the idea of soccer on a smaller playing field was initially intriguing because it seemed like it would speed the game up a little. I forgot that running through the sand would slow it right back down again. The players move very lethargically, so there is a tendency to play a more aerial game. Problem is, an aerial game in a small arena requires quick reactions, but the controls seem very mushy and unpredictable. On defense, I never seemed to have positive control over which player I was controlling. I'd be running along with one guy, and next thing I knew I was controlling someone else. On offense, I had a great deal of trouble with passing. I could use the A button to make a general pass down field (beach?) but those invariably went to an opposing player who kicked it right back. It was more like Extreme Beach Pong. You can press the Y key to select a specific player to pass to, but the screen is too small to see the other players. There are just 'letter baloons' on the edge of the screen. By the time I could decide which letter I wanted to pass to, the game had dropped out of pass mode. I made lots of accidental shots on goal that way.
Speaking of which, when I did get in position to take a shot, I seemed to have very little control as to where in the net I was aiming. Most goals I made were accidental.
Then, out of the blue, aliens tried to beam up the opposing team!! No, really! The entire team dropped to their knees and blinding blue light came from above and attempted to beam them up. It didn't work, though, and simply left their team with these funky blue auras. This was apparently a nod to the 'Extreme' aspect of the game as defined by Midway. The blue light was them becoming 'ON FIRE' ala NBA Showtime. I couldn't tell whether it made them play any better or not. Since I was relegated to random button smashing and beat them anyway, it seems to have been more of a penalty than a blessing.
One more little rant: I know time flies on the beach, but this is ridiculous. The game clock on this thing runs at about 5 game seconds for every real second. You look at the clock and see 2 minutes left to play and figure you have plenty of time, but BAM! it's gone and game over! Are our attention spans so short that we can't be expected to play a 10 minute period in real time???
I could review the visual and music aspects of this game, but really, what would be the point? The game isn't fun. It wouldn't be any more fun if the announcers had more than three extremely repetitive observations, or even if these weren't randomly played and had anything at all to do with events on the field. The game just isn't fun. Whether that's because Beach Soccer itself is lame or because this implementation of it is weak is moot. It just ain't fun. 'Nuff said.
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