What’s your favourite major sport? If you answered “volleyball,” there’s a good chance that you’re among a minority of sports fans. That’s not to say that volleyball is a lesser game than the titanic football – European or American, your choice – or any other major sport, but it does make one wonder why Nintendo would choose to fast track this entry in the NES Sports Series onto the Wii U Virtual Console. It’s not a particularly good game, and we’d be surprised if demand for it was high.
After selecting your team's gender — a factor that determines ball speed — and country of origin, you are immediately thrust into the game. Following basic volleyball rules, the first team to reach 15 points wins the game, and the first team with three games wins the match. If you know how a volleyball match works, then you know exactly what to expect. There are no special moves or extra enhancements to be found here; the entire game is a straightforward and unabashed 8-bit version of the titular sport.
Gameplay consists mostly of running around on your side of the court and hoping to successfully knock the ball back to your opponent’s half. The ball is easily visible on screen, but what you’re really looking for is its shadow to stand underneath. Without the shadow present, it would be nearly impossible to tell whether or not you’re standing in the correct spot in this otherwise flat looking game, and it’s already difficult to master even with the dark spot. Beyond following the shadow, it’s equally as important to figure out the timing involved in making contact with the dropping ball. While frustrating at first, once you’ve grown accustomed to the drop pattern and speed, returning volleys becomes much easier; yet at no point does it become fun. The entire game is repetitive and lacks any sense of variety, making the already lengthy matches feel even longer than they need to be. There’s also the option to play multiplayer, pitting you and a local player against one another, but again, even sharing the experience can’t salvage the dull gameplay.
Working in its favour are Volleyball's incredibly simplistic controls. The D-Pad moves your character, A serves and sets your ball, B lets you spike, and the power button allows you to turn your Wii U off so you can go do something worthwhile. Showing signs of being a very early precursor to Wii Sports Club: Tennis, only certain players on your team can be moved at any given point. The players will not move towards the incoming ball on their own, but only your nearest team members to the ball's eventual drop point will be controllable, with the others moving to presumably advantageous positions on their own. This method makes for a less complicated experience in terms of controls, belaying the need to switch between players in the already fast-paced game, but it can cause some confusion when you’re not entirely sure which cohort of players you’re currently in control of.
As with all Wii U Virtual Console games, the GamePad's screen displays an exact replica of what is happening on the television screen, along with providing access to a touch-enabled VC menu.
It’s not entirely fair to pick apart a game that was made nearly 30 years ago, but at points Volleyball feels unfinished. The environment is bland and empty looking, employing a palette consisting of about five different colours, and the soundtrack is comprised of one song. There is no music in the title menu, and the one featured track repeats the same 35-second loop until it’s permanently lodged itself deep into your brain. The sound effects are also completely lacking any poise, often producing sounds not unlike a fork stuck in a garbage disposal. Volleyball is an ugly game through and through.
It’s a shame that there aren’t yet more sports simulators on the Wii U Virtual Console, and the ones that are available have been less than admirable. With its unattractive aesthetic, boring gameplay and frustrating mechanics, it’s very apparent that Volleyball has not aged well at all, if it was ever any good to begin with. If you’re looking to get your net-based sports fix, you might want to set your serve towards the slightly less terrible Tennis, but this one should be left out of bounds.