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Great Volleyball Review

Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1987 Also On: None

Oh my god yes! Yes!! Yes!!! Hmm, bit suggestive, isn’t it? Well it should be! After playing through the sludge of the great series for the Sega Master System, it’s wonderful to finally come across a good one, not to mention the best of all. In fact, this game is so damn good I have to say it’s one of the best sports titles I’ve ever played, easily rivaling some of the most famous for the NES. Strangely enough, it’s one of the least popular, well back then maybe, sports games they could have picked. Volleyball was never really popular for video games back then, though one of the best, Super Spike V’ Ball, made a few waves. Unfortunately for Sega, since Nintendo had pretty much started to devastate them at this point in history, their final title in the great series was overlooked. In fact, even today, people tend to skip it because of the rest of the series and I even have a friend who thinks I’m an idiot for liking it so much, referring to it in his British tongue as “rubbish.” Well, he’s wrong, this is one of the best sports games of all time and one of the best, hands down, for the Master System. It almost rivals the greatest of them, Tennis Ace. Ending on a high note for once, here we go folks, Great Volleyball time.

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Right off the bat we’re given what we need, good graphics. Great Volleyball opens with a short but sweet cinematic intro where a player runs, jumps up, spikes the ball, it bounces and then crashes off the middle of the screen, exposing the title with a blinking lightening bolt running through the first G. Nice range of colors and spectacular detail, some of the best I’ve seen and definitely a beauty for its day. In the game proper, after the team selection screen with the flags you should be used to from the other games, you’re treated to an excellent rendition of the court with this great cartoony feel to it. The programmers used an excellent color scheme for the floor, added detail to nearly everything including the people in the stands and a ton of little features to make it well-rounded. Unlike many early titles, especially for the SMS, depending on the country you pick your players actually look like they came from their representative country. The Russians look Russian and the Brazilians look Brazilian. Thank god. Character animations are fluid, for the most part, and I’m happy to say they’ve programmed as much as possible here so you don’t have players magically disappearing and changing position. If they have to move somewhere, it’s been programmed in, nothing’s been removed. Even the referee moves his arms depending on who misses the ball. In general they did a great job with everything in the graphics category. The characters seem like they could have been detailed some more, but overall a great job.

To further add to my excitement, they threw in some excellent sound in Great Volleyball. Yet again, like most of the great titles, you have well-programmed country anthems. Thankfully, however, it doesn’t stop there in this particular game. You’re first treated to a cheery, upbeat opening theme that plays up until you select your team’s flag. After this, in the game proper, you’re given another cheery tune, but one that I find fits the action while sticking with the generally cartoon-like appearance of the game itself. During the win/lose screen you’re given one of two excellent tunes. In addition, they’ve done a great job at programming sound effects here. Hits sounds like hits, spikes sound like spikes, the whistle sounds like a whistle, and, thank the gods, the crowd sounds like a crowd. Seems that this was possibly the last title in the great series because they appear to have gotten everything right at this point. But, hold on, the major factor is yet to come. What about the gameplay?

Thankfully, unlike all of the others, Great Volleyball has all the best aspects in terms of gameplay. Sega finally threw it all together and got it right, making it quite a shame that not more peope know about this title. All the rules of volleyball apply here. The matches are set up in the same fashion with the same number of players and everything you’d expect. The basic arrangement is that you first select either the one or two-player mode and then have the option of playing for practice, a goodwill match or the tournament mode. The practice mode is essential, because this game requires you to really learn how to move and set up plays, otherwise you’ll get destroyed. After you learn the basic maneuvers, you can then go on to a goodwill match, where you can select your team and then any of the other seven to play against. The goodwill match is much, much easier than the tournament mode, so it’s essentially the “normal” setting for this game and you could consider practice the “easy” setting. Once you’re good enough, you can then move on to the tournament mode, where you play against three teams in all. If you lose the first match, your game is over, but if you lose the second you get to play for third place, otherwise you go for the championship title.

The real beauty of this game is that it plays very well. You control two groups of three players each, pressing the direction the ball is going to land and then Button 2 and the player closest to the ball goes for it. Learning how to set up spikes and dinks is key to winning, but you can also pull off fakes and a few other moves. The button combinations are pretty complex, even for this time period, and it takes some getting used to before you learn to accurately pull moves off well enough to even have a chance at making it through the first round of the tournament. That’s the only problem I really have with Great Volleyball. It’s pretty dang hard. Younger and less experienced gamers may find it a little too difficult at first, because it’s not very intuitive. You can’t simply jump right into it to play, you need to learn the basic moves and then how to use them. However, Sega has thankfully set up a nice difficulty curve for you to get accustomed to the speed of play, so it’s not really that much of a fault. Experienced players should have a blast with this title, because the difficulty in the tournament mode goes from fairly difficult to Satan’s army of evil by the third round, if you make it that far the first time around. Chances are you’ll be putting in an hour or so before you have a chance. Though the manual doesn’t specify, it also seems that certain teams have certain ways of playing and are easier than others. Watch out for Russia (well, the USSR then).

For a volleyball game, I suppose there isn’t much one can do with the idea. You play volleyball, what else is there to add? I feel that Sega did a nice job of making it look a little different than something like NES Volleyball, giving it more of a cartoony feel. Plus, they added a tournament mode and made the game a lot more involving. In the other, you simply press the button because the ball is served straight to your players. Here, you need to be ready to move, adjust your serve and move your players up to block, which is totally absent on the NES. Considering that this game would be its equal, I have to say Sega improved a lot. They didn’t add much, but for the time period I don’t think it’s fair to really assume there was much to do, programmers were just then learning how to milk these systems. What’s here is good.

I can say I’ve personally come back to Great Volleyball several times. First, I wanted to learn how to properly play, then I finally won a goodwill match and then, after a ton of practice, I was able to capture third place. It took a lot of work, but I had a lot of fun in the process and I’m surprised to say I was actually thinking about this game throughout the day I wanted to complete it so badly. It definitely has replay value. I’m sure it’s fun with a friend, but alone the game length is perfect. You only have to play three matches in all, if you make it far enough, and each lasts no more than twenty minutes, so you have a good hour to sit down and go through this. Had it been longer, they would have had to throw in a password/save feature, so what they did was put just at the proper length. The matches run normally with no time, they’re simply based on who reaches fifteen first or is at least two points ahead of the other after getting fifteen. I’ll play this again and I won’t waste too much time doing so, enough said.

It gladdens me to finish off (well almost, still have a PAL title I’ll do later) the great series with a game that finally proves how a sports title should look, sound and function. Great Volleyball is a lot of fun and a definite title to add to the Master System library. If you’re looking for a good sports game to introduce yourself to the console, this is a good one and one of the earliest. Those of you who may be surprised at the scores I gave this are totally biased, that’s all I have to say. You either disregarded this title because of the stigma of the greats, or you simply didn’t put in enough time to learn how to play. New players may be a bit discouraged at first, but take your time and you’ll be happy with what you find here. Very rarely have I seen a sports game from the 8-Bit era that plays as well as this, so check it out when you get a chance.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 8.6
Written by Stan Review Guide