It’s been nearly a decade since gaming icon Tomonobu Itagaki of Team Ninja sprung his mad vision of an all-female Dead or Alive spin-off where the main is earning increasingly skimpy swimsuits to leer at on the world. Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball raised a few eyebrows back in the day, and caused full eyerolls with its sequel -in which the ladies engaged in butt battles- but the awkwardness soon passed. Recently the now Itagaki-less Team Ninja announced a third entry and we’re left pondering the eternal question: WHYYYYYYY?! For anyone who needs a refresher on the las game, enjoy this trailer:
Yeah, move over Fallout 4, this is what REAL gamers want.
DOA has always been the red-headed stepchild of fighting game franchises due to the attractiveness of its female characters and their infamous breast physics. But the truth of the matter is that it sports one of the slickest, most thoughtful, and balanced fighting engines in the genre on top of being just plain fun as hell. The media’s focus on bouncing bosoms is unfortunate, considering the quality of the game itself, but hey, if nothing else, Dead or Alive is Japan at its Japaniest.
My personal feeling on the new Team Ninja’s output can be summed up with petulant rage and indignation over my headache-inducing experience with DOA 5, so rest assured that I’m not looking forward to seeing what they come up with here. But let’s just say for a second that they are striving to make a game that was really worth our while this time, even if the first two were shallow ogle-fests with gameplay that got old in a few hours. What would that look like? Here are five ways that DOAX 3 could (but probably won’t) surprise us.
Better Character Interaction
In spite of its cringey premise, the truth is that there is a decent game hiding in the Dead or Alive Xtreme concept. It just hasn’t been made yet. There was a relaxation factor and enjoyability to the original game as well as a competent volleyball engine beyond the T&A. Being a DOA fanboy, I actually really loved the idea of taking the characters we love and taking them out of their element. What is Ayane like when she’s not kicking all of the ass? Inquiring minds want to know.
The first two games actually had some pretty sophisticated hidden features regarding interpersonal relationships and the way certain combinations of characters interact together. For instance, Hitomi and Lei Fang are BFFs and work exceedingly well together as a team. Ayane and Kasumi, not so much as I found out. That is to say if you choose a volleyball partner your character doesn’t get along with, they won’t perform well. This is good stuff.
The problem is that the game doesn’t really inform you of this upfront, you just kind of have to “read the room” and work on building your relationships. And as far as working on relationships go, all you can really do is buy gifts for the characters you want to like you (90% of the time they just return them). The second game had some character specific dialogue during card games, but no ways to really involve the player beyond the game itself.
To make a real game out of the most interesting aspect of DOAX, they need to go full social sim and flesh out the girls’ personalities as well as make the player instrumental in building and maintaining relationships with more social and dialogue options as well as benefits and consequences beyond the quality of your volleyball partner.
Genuinely Worthwhile Challenges
The first game was pretty much limited to a decent volleyball game in terms of things to do that weren’t having your virtual waifu model swimsuits for you. It was fun for a while, but to tell the truth, I had way more fun with Kings of the Beach on the original NES in terms of gameplay. That is to say that volleyball games hadn’t progressed much since the 8-bit era.
The second game added in a pretty sweet jetski race that brought back fond memories of Wave Race 64, but again with the comparisons to much older games. The only thing Dead or Alive Xtreme was really adding to the mix was boobs. I love boobs, but they aren’t the reason I play video games. And no, the ridiculous butt-battle minigame was not a worthwhile addition. At all. Ditto pool-hopping. Both were just plain not fun or rewarding and took up a massive amount of precious in-game time.
I’d recommend adding better incentives for the various mini-games like special discount coupons for stores or rare winnable items and some more interesting challenges like swimming or a virtual arcade where you could challenge other characters head-to-head for high scores on some old-school inspired classics. And there really needs to be more to buy. As it is, the swimsuits are tremendously costly and once you put them on it’s like “big deal”. More variety in items, gifts, and customization options (an in-game beauty salon?) would make it more worthwhile to slog through the various mini-games.
The base games like v-ball and jet-ski races could benefit from occasional tournaments with entry fees and great prizes to keep players incentivized to keep getting better and improve their relationships with their partners to stay at the top of their game. Little things like these would be simple to add and would greatly enhance the experience and keep it fresh beyond those first few of hours of “this is kinda fun, I guess”.
Bring on the Men
Obviously, the biggest factor in the general disdain for this series is the fact that the entire premise is pretty much “OMG BOOOOOBS!!!!!”. And that’s a fair point. Take the ladies’ loveliness out and nobody buys this game. Ever. But then the idea of a male leering simulator is kind of creepy and ticks just about every sexism box.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the female body or anything unnatural about enjoying the site of it so much as that creating an entire game about it is kind of excessive and exclusionary towards those who may be fans of DOA but may not be as impressed by cutting edge jiggle physics. Some women may have somehow found a way to enjoy the game (Gamemoir co-founder Yesika Reyes among them) but the fact that this notion is a little baffling to almost anyone who hears it highlights the problem here.
The most obvious answer is to add male characters. Why exclude them in the first place? The main series has a great mix of male and female characters to appeal to all tastes and there’s no good reason it can’t be the same in the spin-off. A general leering simulator is significantly less creepy than one made only for males and where there’s equality, there isn’t sexism. Everything that applies to the female characters could be applied to the males and I’m sure there are some women out there who wouldn’t mind a gander at Hayate’s rippling muscles as he busts a spike in a speedo. You’re welcome for that mental image.
Two Words: Multiplayer Options
There is some multiplayer in the first two games, but this aspect is really limited. Pretty much just one-on-one volleyball matches between you and your AI partner and an opponent and their partner. And the sequel removed local play even as it added jet skiing. But they were kind of going about it all wrong. First off: four player volleyball with co-op. Come on, man. The option to team up with other players should be a mandatory feature. Playing with a friend is why Kings of the Beach was so memorable for me. Ditto local co-op.
Secondly, the focus should be less on finding individual matches and more of a kind of open-world experience like GTA Online. Players should be able to navigate the island freely and join up in any activity with other players as game lobbies get created. We can probably skip the “relaxation” options since a bunch of male gamers with female avatars rubbing lotion on each other adds a whole new layer of mockability, but then again if you could play as male characters (see above) that’s another issue solved.
Tell us a Story
Now let’s just say for a second that nobody has any problems with a game where the premise is checking out mostly-nude chicks. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. Even at its most male-centric, gaming should still be about gameplay and fun. Attractive character models are a plus for sure, but it’s icing on the cake. Nobody over a certain age wants to eat a whole can of frosting. The biggest problem with Dead or Alive Xtreme is that it’s all icing and no cake.
<With the gameplay being as shallow as it is, being limited to beach-themed games, the obvious answer after beefing up the social sim aspect is to add a story. After all, gaming is quickly rising to the top of the entertainment industry largely on the back of interactive fiction elements that have helped legitimize it as a true storytelling art form with infinite potential. The main games have often had interesting stories surrounding the Dead or Alive Tournament and its surrounding intrigues, so why not incorporate this intoDOAX
I know it’s supposed to be just the girls relaxing, and that should still be an option, I guess, but as I stated before the whole thing gets old FAST and there should be more to hold players’ interest once they’ve already seen all of the canned jiggle animations a hundred times. Mysteries to explore and problems to solve could keep the tone light while still giving the player something interesting to do beyond grinding for swimsuit and gift money all the time. Individual stories for each character involving friends, rivals, and mini-games would go a long way in making the game interesting for everybody instead of just a shallow excuse to droll over digital bikini babes. Do that, and maybe, just maybe, the world can stop laughing at Dead or Alive Xtreme and actually enjoy it as a worthwhile video game.