The Nintendo Entertainment System had its fair share of sports games, and even offered players a few choices just for beach volleyball. When Technos unleashed Super Spike V’Ball onto the 8-bit world, however, they just could not resist putting their own brand of over-the-top goofiness into the equation. Fortunately, they were always good at that sort of stuff.
Super Spike V’Ball is a sports simulation video game, with the “V’Ball” in the title meaning “volleyball.” One or two players can play, either against each other or on a team. There are a few different play modes available: Exercise, which is a simple one-game match; the American Circuit, which is a tournament taking place against opposition from various U.S. cities; and the World Cup, which has more difficult competition than the American Circuit, as teams from all over the globe compete against the player(s) on a beach in Hawaii.
There are fairly in-depth options for altering the rules, too. For example, the Rally Point option means that every play will result in a point going to a team, whereas the traditional alternative is that only the serving team can score. A match can go up to 5, 10, 15, or 20 points. For teams with one human player, the player can choose the “Auto-Set” option to automatically switch to the other athlete on the beach after each hit, ensuring that the human is always controlling the athlete about to make a play on the ball. Alternately, the human plays with a fully A.I. teammate.
Whichever match mode is selected, the game allows the team to choose the American state that they are from. More significant to actual gameplay differences, however, is the team select. There are four different teams available, each comprised of two men, and each with a respective skill strength: An all-around duo, a muscular team that moves slowly but spikes the hardest, an appearance from the Double Dragon brothers as the most defensively talented squad, and two guys who can move the fastest on the court. The choice of team actually makes a difference in this game.
Sure, Super Spike presents many options, but how’s the actual gameplay? The answer: Tight and right. The mechanics are expertly honed to precision, and play proceeds smoothly. The controls are very intuitive, with the B button used for jumps, and the A button used for hits, whether standing, moving into a diving dig, or in mid-air for a spike.
The primary appeal of V’Ball, and the functionality that puts the “Super Spike” in the title, is a the unique ability to transform normal spikes and blocks into Super versions by pressing the B button as much as possible before hitting the A button. What this translates into, from a tactical view, is that a jump-blocking player most hope to tap the B button more times than a spiking opponent. Conversely, a spiking player is going to try and get as much juice into the move to narrowly get the hit off before risking hitting the net instead.
What follows is occasionally violent interplay, much like the throws seen in Super Dodge Ball, though without permanent deaths. Upon letting loose with a Super Spike, if a defender comes into contact by jump-blocking or dive-digging, that defending player is spectacularly launched backwards, hit by the streaking ball. Hopefully for the defending team, the other player can quickly recover and get a hit off in time for the teammate to return to playable status and finish the volley.
Against a human opponent, this becomes an incredibly tense button-mashing contest, where the smallest errors result in point-measurable consequences. Against the computer, this means hoping that human skills are up to par against automated moves. The computer will even engage in some tricky maneuvers, such as jumping to spike the ball on its way up from a set, rather than waiting for its fall back down on its trajectory. Human players can engage in similar trickery, like punishing passive servers by spiking their serve right back at them immediately.
What is given in Super Spike V’Ball is a serviceable beach volleyball simulation sports game with high-octaine arcade-style flourishes. The Technos signature is all over this beast, much to the delight of many.
Technos devotees will recognize the distinctive art style of the characters in all their stylized, characterized glory. In the World Cup, different countrties produce very different-looking athletes, although the exaggerated anatomy is toned down compared to titles such as Crash ‘n’ the Boys Street Challenge. The varying levels are nice, even featuring a nightttime stage in Las Vegas. While the action maintains a fast-and-furious pace, there are definitely flickering problems. The good news is that the game follows such a consistent strategic rhythm that eventually players overcome the brief flickering with pattern recognition and reflexes, as moves like digs do not demand precision aiming, only a timely press of the A button.
Not to bang the brand drum again, but Technos’ signature soundtrack stylings are on full display in Super Spike V’Ball, with very satisfying, meaty sound effects, and singularly rich, resonant background music. The tunes are hoppin’, boppin’, and perfectly accommodate the on-screen goings-on, including an intense track that drops when there are only two points needed to win, which remains until the match concludes. This is not a video game that will offend the ears, even if no particular piece of audio is especially memorable either. The soundtrack for this cartridge is like high-quality special effects in a movie: Hardly noticed, only serving to facilitate the narrative.
This game is good, as good as any other beach volleyball cart for the NES console, and a solid addition to any collection of old-school sports games. With its varied play moves, options for one or two players, different teams, and just-plain-fun mood, there is even a very respectable amount of replay value. The eventual harsh difficulty of the World Cup is actually a perfect complement, resulting in a summertime splash rating of four stars out of five.
Overall score: 4/5 stars.