Kings of the Beach (NES) Review

The Short

Pros

– Excellent two on two volleyball game from Ultra, the guys who did Skate or Die

– Up to four players can play if you have a splitter, but it’s a perfect two player co-op game

– Ability to bump, set, and spike keep the game simple enough to pick up quick, but complex enough to keep you playing

– Variable difficulty levels and options make the game very customizable

– Tons of awesome small touches (fighting with the ref, hitting people in the face with the ball, etc.)

– In game tutorials

– Good music and graphics

Cons

– Can take a bit to fully understand how to play

– If you play without a friend, the game is considerably less enjoyable

– If you play with a friend, he or she had better be good or else you’ll easily get frustrated

– The box/cartridge art is hideous

You know it’s professional; it says so right on the title screen.

The Long

Oh, Ultra Games. Some games you make are awesome. Some games you make are Ninja Turtles. Some say you are Konami (because you are). But I will say this: you can make some pretty good sports games. Skate or Die is an excellent skating game before Tony Hawk came along and just took over everything. It’s sequel/spiritual successor Ski or Die wasn’t that bad, either. But out of all the games Ultra Games has made, my absolute favorite has to be Kings of the Beach, hands down. Get it, hands? Because in volleyball you use your hands…ok, I got nothin’.

Anyway, Kings of the Beach is a two-on-two volleyball game, of which there were a hefty amount on the NES (the other main one being Super Spike V-Ball). At it’s core it’s a pretty basic volleyball experience, but once you start playing this exceptionally volleyball simulator (did I just called it a “simulator?” This blog is really going downhill…) you’ll find it hard to quit. Ever. Until you are the KING OF THE BEACH!

Ok, this has been the worst intro paragraphs for a review in a long time. Let’s just get down to it.

Ah, in game advertising. Ultra games, Electronic Arts, and…”Cola.” Alright.

Kings of the Beach is exactly what it says it is: a “Professional” Beach Volleyball game. It’s basic stuff: serving, spiking, bumping, and setting. This isn’t Mario Volleyball or anything here. There are no powerups, no crazy attacks, and no slo-mo balls catching on fire. It’s just volleyball. That’s it.

And it’s amazing.

If you’ve played Skate or Die (or Ski or Die), this layout for the main menu looks very familiar.

Despite having a lot of options in the above menu, Kings of the Beach really only has two game modes: a single Match or a multi-stage Tournament competition. The three other options above (“Bump,” “Set,” and “Spike”) are actually tutorials on how to play the game. They aren’t particularly fleshed out, but they at least give you the basics of how to best approach the game (though I found turning the game on “easy” and just mashing your way through it until you figured it out works just as well).

You can also change your settings at the registration tent, and oh boy are there a lot of ’em. From difficulty to multiplayer options, it’s got you covered. One of the coolest things about this game is the fact that you can have four people playing at once, though I’ve never actually done that since I don’t own a splitter. However, that doesn’t really matter, because the absolute best way to play this game is co-op with a friend against the computer. Which I will now write the rest of my review as if you were playing the game that way, because playing by yourself is boring.

Excellent volleyball pickup line: “Would you like to be the queen of the beach?” Also an excellent way to get slapped.

Co-op is where this game truly shines. As you really only have three options when playing (again: bump, set, and spike) you’ll have to master all three in order to score (as well as learning to not serve horribly, which was a handicap that took us several games to overcome). Figuring up how to best set up your partner for a spike is tricky, but extremely rewarding when you pull it off. Failing to block a pass or bump a scoring point can cause friendships to be strained, but the game is so fast and matches so easy to burn through you can’t stay mad for long. Plus, the game is so much fun you’ll forget your partner totally sucks at the game and instead devise strategies for how to best beat those dang pink-shirted jerks.

The game controls well. Unlike Super Spike V-Ball, where it will show an indicator on the ground were the ball will land on your side, Kings of the Beach you have to rely on the shadow to catch the ball. If it’s going to land near where your character already is, the game will “nudge” you in the right direction, meaning it’s important to not stand next to your partner. It can be tricky to judge when the game is going to auto-move you and when you’ll have to manually line up, but after a few games you’ll have it figured out. The question is: will your partner?

He’d better, if he wants to keep his head.

There really isn’t much more to say about Kings of the Beach in terms of gameplay. If I made it sound extremely boring I apologize, because this game is a freaking blast with a friend. On multiple times (with multiple people) we’ve booted the game up, learned it together (or re-learned it, in my case) and played for well over an hour. There’s a sense of elation the first time you actually line up a spike and score a point together, and that is only trumped when you win your first match. Then you think you are ready for the tournament, and get completely crushed, but together you know you can rise up and become the King of the Beach.

Yes, this game is simple, but it is also incredibly well crafted. I think I’ve said enough…just know this game is fun. Certainly more fun than the volleyball mode in Kinect Sports, which is the most unrewarding and physically exhausting thing I’ve done in a video game in years.

Not pictured: me having to jump in front of my tv. Oh wait, it’s not a stupid Kinect game, so I can just USE BUTTONS.

Graphically, Kings of the Beach doesn’t have the visual punch it’s competitor Super Spike does, but honestly I think it looks better. The animations are very fluid and everything is easily distinguishable. It also has a lot of nifty touches, from basic stuff like the ads and the giant inflated cola can, to guys kicking the sand in frustration when they just miss a pass and being able to spike a ball into a dude so hard he gets knocked over into the sand. Bonus when the computer players go up to the ref to fight over a point, only to get a red card. Ha! Suck it, pinkshirts!

There is only one real song in the game, and I like it. I can’t for the life of me remember what it sounds like when I’m not actually playing the game, but it’s good background noise and completely inoffensive, so we’ll take it.

Tournament mode: taking all your hopes and dreams and punching them in the face.

As it stands, Kings of the Beach might be my favorite sports game. As in ever. It’s an extremely rewarding co-op experience, has perfect controls and excellent graphics, and a punishing difficulty curve that is still entirely manageable. As a learning experience with a friend it’s an absolute hoot, and playing four players competitive is unbelievably rewarding. Screw your modern games; get three pals over and play some 8-bit beach volleyball!

This is an extremely common and extremely cheap NES game (you’re looking at $3-5), so if you have an NES and friends you absolutely must pick it up. Five out of five stars.

20+ years and oodles of technology later, and it still can’t compete.

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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1 Comment

  1. Seeing how the news of Dead or Alive Xtreme Volleyball 3 is currently making waves, it seems like now’s the time for Ultra Games to strike while it’s hot and get out that long-anticipated Kings of the Beach 2! Think of all that gaming demographic that’s been waiting for a new volleyball game full of shirtless dudes.

    Also, maybe I ought to practice KotB a bit in case we ever have a rematch… I’m not sure I ever managed to hit the ball last time I tried it.

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