You wouldn't be wrong in thinking that the art in Super Strike Beach Volleyball looks familiar. You also wouldn't be wrong in thinking that the art looks like it was ripped completely from games such as Family Tennis 3D or Family Fishing. Make no mistake, this latest all-ages outdoor sport title is part of the Arc System Works Family series, but it falls slightly outside of the usual moniker due to a change in publisher. While other entries in the series were developed and published by Arc or Aksys Games, Harvest Moon veteran Natsume handled publishing duties for Super Strike Beach Volleyball.
For those of you who have already fallen in love with the recurring clan from the previous games, Super Strike Beach Volleyball (from here forward referred to simply as SSBV) should feel like a welcome addition to the family. Taking beats from the Tennis and Table Tennis titles, SSBV provides its players with an engaging arcade-style volleyball experience with some surprising depth. While it may start off as an easy introduction to the sport, it soon becomes apparent that it's not all just a day on the beach.
SSBV offers several different game modes, but the bulk of it lies in the campaign. Here, you get to choose your player and your teammate, then play through volleyball matches as you work your way up to becoming the best team on the beach. Though each of the eight characters has his or her own stats and special abilities, playing through matches in the campaign earns you additional skill points that can be attributed to either your own character or your partner. Skill levels may not seem to make much of a difference early on, but as the matches grow more and more difficult, the need to increase one skill over another becomes paramount. As the difficulty increases, strategy becomes key, helping to define whether it's more valuable to raise your own strength or maybe your partner's accuracy.
Beyond the campaign, the two other main modes are Free Play and Survivor. Free Play allows you to select the parameters of your match, such as how many games are played and on which court, while Survivor pits you against a series of opponents, testing how many consecutive matches you can win. Both of these additional modes allow you to use the characters whose stats you've boosted in the Campaign, loaning a sense of personalization to the otherwise straightforward alternate modes. The gameplay remains the same across all three modes, and the fourth Quick Start option that simply drops you into a match, but the slight variety helps save the whole experience from feeling stale.
Though it doesn't take advantage of the 3DS specific interface options, such as the touchscreen or gyroscope, SSBV controls just as well as one might expect. Using the Circle Pad to move your character and the A, B, X, and Y buttons to serve and swing at the ball, the controls here are as straightforward as they come. Not unlike a tennis game, different face buttons offer up various types of hits, such as a curve or spike, and timing is key to nailing the perfect shot. Each character also has a special ability known as a Super Shot that can be triggered by simultaneously pressing the L and R buttons when the character's Super Shot Gauge is full. Combined with the stat dispersal, the variety of shots that you can make allow for quite a bit of depth in SSBV's gameplay.
The art style is borrowed from the previous games in the series, so there isn't much that hasn't been said already. The character models and environments look good, and the console's 3D effect is used well to add depth to the beach. There are some visual disparities that mostly involve the ball clipping through a character's hands when it was, in fact, hit, but this doesn't affect gameplay and is mostly noticeable when watching replays. The upbeat soundtrack, while limited, is catchy and appropriately fitting for the setting, graciously avoiding repetition and providing a fitting backdrop. Overall, the presentation works well and pulls the gameplay together.
Super Strike Beach Volleyball does well to bring together engaging gameplay and charming visuals to provide a family-friendly experience on the digital beaches of the 3DS. While the gameplay may be limited to several modes of what is essentially the same game, there is enough challenge and strategy involved to make it worth pursuing and returning to for repeat plays through. It's not without its faults, but Super Strike Beach Volleyball is a fun and worthy addition to any family of games.