Somehow the over the top wannabe lothario Zack has another island, or has reconstructed his; I’m not quite clear on that. Let’s face it though, nobody is too interested in how Zack Island got here, just that it exists and that it has Dead or Alive beauties on it to play with. Well, it does exist and they are there, well some of them but more on that later.
Most of your favorite things are here and in this generation it all amounts to a couple of really good aspects and a lot of old things that have not been improved in any way. It was easy to discover why this game simply cannot ever come to American shores in its current recognizable form. That in itself is something that you will have to decide for yourself whether or not is a really good aspect or just a stupid idea. As a reviewer I’ll only be focusing on how well it works and scoring it. There’s the setup, now the serve:
Let’s start with one of the nice things and a high point of the game: the graphics and overall visual presentation. They are just gorgeous from start to finish. This Soft Engine 2.0 is a beaut’. Sadly the island does not have a great many places to it, but the ones that are there are well rendered for the most part (though the rocks you climb can look low on the poly count), the fact that everything carries a certain softness throughout is pleasing without being distracting. By that I mean some games are so soft they look almost like a constant motion blur. That is not the case here. Character models are crisp and clean. The high poly count makes them very agile with their moving parts, and amazingly they are not as overly squishy and swishy as their DOA5 Last Round counterparts which often stretched the believability of even fictionalized oversexualized anime-ized then de-anime-ized women. What does that actually mean? It means there’s nothing weird going on here with the visuals that will take you out of the experience. The water is extra watery and the skies are just so clear and free of pollution you have to see it to believe it.
Again, I think at this stage (hello, it’s a PS4 game) we should have a LOT more places to be (there really just seems to be a handful), but for what we do have the game’s graphical prowess impresses and bleeds into part of the other great bit about this experience: it’s very calming. What you see exudes relaxation, which goes along with the tone of most of the rest of the game. The sand is puffy; the trees are looking both entreating and soft as they sway in the distant breeze. The ladies are looking very alive and lively as they do activities and the island breeze catches their swimsuits in a realistic way.
It’s pleasing, appealing, and puts you in the island vacation mood.
There aren't as many wonderful things to say about the audio presentation. It isn't that there are glaring errors in the available audio but that little effort has been made to improve or add anything. This presentation feels identical in nearly every way to the game I am familiar with from 2003, perhaps with some things missing that could have stayed there. The girls don't say much and Zack is straight up annoying. To the actors' credit, when a girl turns you down you can really feel the rejection in their voice. When they are excited you can tell that too, so that's good however brief.
The music is suitably calm and enjoyable around the relaxation areas and activities while being just the right amount of congo bongo fun for the volleyball games. There doesn't seem to have been any special care put into the sounds in the casino, which is the kind of thing you might want to build up by the third console entry but okay I suppose the casino isn't the big draw here. All in all, again it sounds like we have a repeat of the 2003 game.
However unimpressive, once again the sound comes around to add to the general relaxing atmosphere. There is no doubt about the fact that much more could have been done and some sounds seem to be missing from the mix where frankly there ought to be something.
The gameplay for this “extreme” volleyball adventure is so tame it practically takes care of itself. I understand that the premise of the game stands partly on being understated so that the player can just lose themselves and not be bothered by in-depth mechanics but they are just often too simple to even be given credence as passable for entertainment for a neanderthal. And no, these games are not just for neanderthals. Some of us would like to have a little fun with the mini-games you know? Well, don't look for much outside of the volleyball.
You can butt battle at the pool, where you and another girl try to knock each other off a pool pad with your butts. Sounds kind of sexy but takes all of 20 seconds and you can either butt bash or try to dodge. Doing it comes down to the timing of luck. Strafe, or butt bash, or super butt bash by dodging then hitting O right away. This was not as fun as the old pool hopping game and it is simpler. Thankfully pool hopping is back! Race to the other side of the pool on foam blocks to win. Why is this one fun? Well, it's simple and has a sense of responsibility to it. Your path will be a set of face buttons, but it's not just QTE. You'll devise and maintain focus to cross the pool by tapping or holding the requisite button based on whether you want to lift off and skip a block or two, or try to balance your stride based on how close the cushions are. Mess up and you fall, go too slow and you lose.
There is also capture the flag, which is a very silly affair. Your girl challenges another at one of the available locations for the day. You both start out lying face down on the sand and have to reach the flag and grab it before the other. You mash the X button to run and tap another O to dive for the flag. Distances are hard to judge, it's not quite clear if the game wants you to be consistent with your mashing or fast or timely; in any case it again feels like a bit of luck and tapping like a maniac may not to a darn thing if the game just doesn't want you to win. That's not so bad though, some girls like it when you let them win 🙂
How about some rock climbing! Sounds fun right? Kind of a hard game to mess up. You can fuse tension with fun and let the gamer play with a few mechanics to get to the top. Or you can just have some cheaply done quick-time button presses to climb and that's it. At worst you may have to press two buttons at the same time.
Tug of war comes back with just one perk. Pull with the left d-pad, feint with the right, and pull back into position with X. That's it. What's the upshot? Wardrobe malfunctions are imminent.
Finally on to the volleyball. It hasn't changed much and thankfully, while simple has a bit more to it. Honestly the lack of change is okay with me, this kind of volleyball was always almost like a semi-automatic experience. X spikes or sends the ball over, O sends the ball to your partner, the right stick controls your partner, and Square sets up your partner for a spike or hit. When serving you can do a sure-fire underhand with a down+X which will always go over the net and likely be sent back or an overhand spike with up+X which you have to then strike with X at the sweet spot or risk hitting it into your own net and losing a point. If you get good at this you can exploit it on weak players. The game will tell you how good each girl is at the game when you are deciding who to take on in the sand.
No doubt about it, the volleyball is the heart and highlight of the fun. Sinking back into my chair felt like sinking back into the chill days I spent with the original game. I kid you not, I even used it to my advantage to calm me down before a stressful medical procedure. Yes, the appeal of this otherwise flawed game has a certain something to it that people pop pills to get. Unofficially you can possibly "finesse" the ball with the d-pad on contact according to some players but the game offers no mention in the controls.
Right here before I go onto the other entertainments I'd like to lodge my complaint that for a game that is supposed to be a beach volleyball girl ogle-fest at worst, it is lacking in the girl department. You won't even see all of the female characters from DOA5 here. You get 9 out of 15 and they were selected in a silly way I don't have space to waste talking about. In any case It seems odd for one thing, and to not have your favorites that you like to fight with to take on vacation in this day and age is perplexing. Okay, rant aside, let's move on.
The rest of the gameplay encapsulates what you'll be up to when not playing with the gals. Sadly, this too has not changed much. You can shop at the sports shop for bikinis and Zack of all Trades for general gifts. It's up to you to sort of guess what each character is into, or you can of course use an online guide. The game will tell you which wrapping paper each character likes, but you can't just get someone their favorite thing and hope they will love to be your partner. In fact they may cruelly reject you outright, so build your inroads slowly with small gifts and little contests. Once somebody has something, you'll have insight into how they feel about the item or swimsuit once you play as them. If you've played the other DOAX games or the fighting games you may have some idea of what gifts or swimsuits the gals will enjoy as you give them as gifts to woo them to your side.
You can win your money doing activities and winning volleyball games and taking on Zack's challenges (which are basically just instructional). There is normal money and Zack tickets. And guess what? You can buy Zack tickets online with real money! (insert grumbling here). If you're insane, you can try to win more at the Casino, which hasn't changed from a lame set of screens with blackjack, poker, and roulette. Honestly, they could have had a glitzy, attractive casino here with the ladies present. Or even Rio, the card dealer who was so popular she even got her own anime show spinoff. If you are a big spender at the casino apparently there's a VIP status that will entitle you to see a special dance. Though I can't say I'm in the VIP club yet as the in-game casino seems just as rigged as the real ones like we have in my home state of Minnesota, not even as kind as the Vegas ones which let you win from time to time to keep it going.
So I suppose we should move on to the seamy underbelly of this operation. Or, the totally benign aspect that anybody could have fun with if they didn't read every piece of overly sensitive facebook garbage into it. In truth, how this function goes is up to you. That said, it is obviously meant to be exquisitely perverted by the people who made it. That is the selling point and that is why we will never see the game in its current state in the west. And honestly, without that, there's almost no reason to bring it here anyway.
So heads up, here comes owner mode. With the click of a button you can move from controlling your girl to being the owner. It's your job to show the girls a good time. That means buying them gifts, which is extra hard to do with few ways to make money. You even get an Owner Shop where extra special swimsuits are sold from time to time. Thing is, they often take those pesky Zack tickets you will probably need to buy if you aren't willing to put tons of time into the game.
The other thing about owner mode is that it flips the script on an old favorite. There's a thing in Japan called “gravure.” You buy a video of a beauty in one or several outfits posing in one or several locations. Non-nude and not blatantly sexual. The original DOAX had such a mode, where for something like 20 or 30 seconds you could watch your gal do a few stretches and poses at one of the locations. Well things have taken a turn which you can either make dark, or you can just have fun with.
To have fun with it, just hit R1 and at any time in the hotel as your girl poses sexily on her bed or while relaxing in and around the pool you can bring up a camera to take and save pictures. You can also set up volleyball games, butt battles, flag captures, and rock climbing where all you do is take pictures of the girl or girls in their finery. Pretty fun stuff if you act like a photographer from Sports Illustrated for the Swimsuit Edition. If you want to take the more perverted path you certainly can. That's what it's there for. You can take pictures of any of the girls doing anything they do from any angle, position, or zoom location you can imagine. I seriously mean that. If you want you can swing your viewpoint inside/beneath the rock wall a girl is climbing to zoom up into areas that only her fictional 3D modeled boyfriend should have access to. And that, ladies and gentlemen is how DOAX3 suddenly became a voyeur game.
This is not an understated ability, some of Zack's challenges really push you to stay on top of your voyeurism. Before you know it you'll have hundreds of lewd photographs to share with your friends. It's clear that this ability is meant to make up for the fact that the rest of the game is missing just about everything it needs except that wonderful chillaxed feeling. The biggest problem with this ability as I see it is actually the controls. They are pitiful and make no intuitive sense, making it hard to get the great action shots or whatever it is you're actually after in the first place. Still, it's a DOAX game so if you just start shooting you will get something good.
While no pixelated women are harmed in the making or playing of this game, it has to leave you wondering what made them think this turn was a better idea than expanding the gameplay and appeal of the first (I know the second didn't go over well) in order to make a fun vacation volleyball game where everyone can have a little guilty pleasure fun rather than a smaller number of gamers having a lot of NC-17 rated fun.
When it comes to replay value it's all over the place. You've got all 9 girls to take on vacation as much or as little as you want, tons of stuff to buy, relationships to build, and preferences to learn. I mentioned before that the relaxed feel of goofing off on the island was like popping a pill, well as you know pills can be addicting. So too can the chill you get from beach volleyball and maybe even some of the other activities if you don't mind the utter simplicity to them.
The good: It's gorgeous and relaxing. And a "6" is considered a "Good" game by the way. Barely, but it is.
The bad : It has restrictive controls, lacks locations and does little to engage the player's interest beyond the sexual.
The ugly : Well, nobody is ugly here but many would say that what you are allowed to do can be.