Volleyball, as the name may suggest, is a Volleyball game released in Europe in November 1986. You control a team of 6 characters, not all individually but in clusters closest to the ball, in order to return the ball over the net. Get to 15 points and you win the match, winning the respect of your opponents – well in your mind that’s how it feels. In the game you can control one of 8 countries – USA, China, Cuba, Japan, Brazil, South Korea (where was North Korea when they thought of good Volleyball nations?), Tunisia and those all time retro sports game favourites the USSR. On screen there are no statistics showing the difference between each country, not that it makes any difference anyway so it all depends on who your favourite country is. Pick between one or two players, and whether you want the match to be with men or women (again, no difference is play style but aesthetics) and away you go.
The game is played on a sand-coloured court surrounded by a sea of blue, with two officials and the referee in the background, though the referee in Volleyball disappointedly isn’t Mario which makes you wonder if Mario is more of a tennis fan then Volleyball – years later Mario Tennis was released on the Nintendo 64 so maybe these black box sports games were a sign of things to come?… Anywho back to Volleyball, you start off with your player seemingly humping the ball, you press the A button to serve the ball and then the match begins. The ball seems to fly back and forth across the screen at a fast pace and you need to have quick reflexes to just get under the ball. Not only do you need to get under the ball but you need to press the A or B button so that the ball stays in the air, to knock it over the net on the third attempt. This is when you start to realize the problems with Volleyball.
Forget that the ball travels faster than a DeLorian attempting time travel, you only have a small dark shadow flying across the court where you have to try and guide your player and press any button to keep the ball in the air. The shadow is too small to guide your player in a timely manner, and when you get under the ball you have no control as to where the ball will go – if you are directly in the shadow you may have a chance of the ball going in a good location for the next player however the chances of that are slim. Whenever you win a point you get to serve, however the chances of you serving are even slimmer and you will have to get used to the fact the opponent serves and you spending the rest of the match trying to return the ball. Occasionally the ball may land in the opponent’s side however you have to win two points consecutively before it registers that you have won a point, so you’ll have to do repeat all the good work done in winning the first point again before it registers on the score board. It’s been said before and it has been said again, what is lacking in the gameplay is control – control in games cannot be stressed enough. Without control, it doesn’t matter how good the graphics are, or even having a choice of 128 different countries to play as, if you cannot control the return of the ball, everything else is negligible, and this is the biggest criticism of Volleyball. Although you may have good reflexes in order to move yourself under the shadow of the ball, and can press the button to hit the ball, where the ball goes is anybody’s guess, and that cannot be excused.
For what it’s worth, the d-pad controls the character closest to the ball when it is in the air in your own half, though the first 3 players closest to the net all move together if it is closest to them. The A button seems to return the ball whilst the B Button makes your character jump so that you can spike the ball, though good luck in trying to spike the ball! The graphics are bold and simplistic, which is standard for the black box games on the NES at the time. What is good is that you can differentiate between the male and female teams, with the female team having longer hair and, well more curves – maybe it’s through innocent eyes this is noticed however it’s good the graphics reflect this however the background crowd seem to move their heads back and forth even though no action is happening and like other black box games, the crowd have the same haircut and look like they could form a Beatles tribute band. The music is upbeat and is relentless throughout the match, whilst the sound effects are basic and do their job.
Volleyball is a game that on paper sounds good and is a good fit for the NES library, however in reality suffers from one major flaw – control. The ball speeds past the players at a high pace and you have a short amount of time to react and press the button in the hope that the ball may go to another player on your team. Due to this lack of control it ruins the game and ends up the computer continually serving and you hoping to get a sniff of a hope of returning the ball. There is no difficulty setting with the game however with no tournament mode, it’s a series of individual matches that like Soccer on the NES, doesn’t mean much. What is good is the subtle differences between the male and the female players and you can choose your country (though why isn’t the United Kingdom in this game is anyone’s guess) however this is the only redeeming feature of the game. If you have a second player, good luck having a meaningful match – you would have a more meaningful match if you were both blindfolded and a third person generated the electricity to power the console on a exercise bike with the friction at it’s most intense. Copies of the game are rare, rarer than Golf or Soccer on the NES so it’s one for collectors only, so if you want to get into Volleyball and are too lazy to go to your local sports club, pick up Super Spike V’Ball instead. I’m off to sulk that you can’t choose the UK as a country to be in the game, though being the USSR is always tempting…
Rating – 1 out of 5