Ultimate Beach Soccer is an action-oriented sports title released by Dreamcatcher Games and developers Wanadoo for the Xbox. It's not the deepest or most realistic soccer title on the market, but its instantly accessible gameplay makes it at least worth a look. The game offers several modes of play including Friendly, Arcade, Tour and, Practice Modes. Most of these modes should be fairly self-explanatory, though the Practice Mode is played as a series of mini-games, which makes this usually deadly dull part of any game more interesting. Players start with a decent selection of teams and fields and can unlock more by playing through the tour mode. While it doesn't support online play, up to 4 players can duke it out on the sands for soccer supremacy. The game includes a decent selection of beach locales to choose from, and matches can be played either day or night. There are a few international teams to choose from and Ultimate Beach Soccer has a few hidden teams to unlock including an all-star team. Adding to the fun, many professional players from the BSWW (Beach Soccer WorldWide) league are included in the game such as Eric Cantona, Ramiro Amarelle and Valerio Roberto, which lends it a decent level of realism and authenticity.
There are several key differences between the gameplay in Beach Soccer and normal soccer. The matches are divided into 3 periods, and there's only 4 regular players plus a goalie on each team. Between having a smaller number of players on the field, and smaller pitches, the gameplay is faster and higher scoring than normal soccer. These differences make for more exciting matches with more goals. Aside from these changes, it pretty much plays as you'd expect. You can pass the ball between players, and there are the usual penalty and corner kicks. Like regular soccer, there are also penalties for foul play, but there are now blue cards which disable a player for 2 minutes in addition to the usual red and yellow cards, though these occur rarely. You can also make substitutions during the game if you see your players getting tired, you can make unlimited substitutions, but can only change two players at a time.
In addition to these rules changes, the fact that the games are played on sand lends a different strategy with the ball having more life and bouncing around much more than normal. However, you can perform many special moves including bicycle kicks and more, which adds to the game's depth somewhat. There's a decent level of realism but, Ultimate Beach Soccer offers a cool twist on the standard soccer conventions with its unique Power-Up mode. As you play each match, you earn style points for making shots or performing artistic moves. Each time you do, your team's Lion Head icon fills up and when your power gauge is filled. Once it's completely filled, you enter Power Up Mode where your team is granted increased speed and ability for a short time. In addition to their added abilities, your players won't get tired in this mode, either. This definitely makes life easier for your side, but goals aren't automatic and you're not invulnerable when you're powered up, so don't get complacent. The matches themselves move quickly with many goal shots in a compressed time with exciting play. Opponent AI is fairly decent, depending on your level of difficulty selected, and teams definitely play more aggressively when you select the harder difficulty settings.
Ultimate Beach Soccer's intuitive controls are easy to understand, and most players should have no trouble keeping up with the gameplay. Passing the ball, dribbling and shooting are fairly straightforward. You can also set the strength of your kicks by holding down on the kick button. Many of the special moves can be performed by holding the right shift key and are done automatically, making for intuitive gameplay. Tackling players is simple, but be careful not to do so from behind. While the players seem to move slowly in normal mode, you can make the one under your control run by pressing down the shift key. This makes the player sprint, but tires them out faster. The controls don't change that much when you enter the power-up mode, but you're players definitely feel more responsive. While you're in control of the normal players, most of the goalie's actions are automatic, though its usually not a problem. You can however, make the goalie run out of the box to intercept an opponent's attacks. The biggest problem comes in aiming shots, which is a bit hard to do with accuracy at first thanks to the side-view camera angle. Once you get used to the viewpoint, shooting the ball into the goal is a bit easier. Overall, the controls are decent, making Ultimate Beach Soccer something that players of all abilities will be able to play with little effort. It's decent interface makes it easy to perform basic moves while not drowning the player in too many moves and strategies.
From a visual standpoint, UBS does a decent job in recreating the sport. The matches take place in a variety of exotic locales with excellent light sourcing giving the game a pleasantly tropical appearance throughout. From palm trees swinging in the distance, to the roaring crowds, there's to look at. The player models look decent and animate nicely throughout the game, as do the beach soccer cheerleaders who dance around between rounds. Ultimate Beach Soccer's soundtrack is good, with a typically urban feel complimenting the action. The play-by-play commentary effectively conveys the action on the field, but becomes repetitive quickly. Fortunately, those who find it annoying can turn it off if it gets on their nerves. Unfortunately, the game's presentation is undermined somewhat by its limited selection of camera angles. You are limited to a side-view mode and can only zoom in and out in close, middle and far angles. This is a bit annoying, especially since the close angle makes it hard to see where the other players are. It's a bit of a problem, but the small number of players and short length between goals means this problem isn't as bad as it sounds. There are also a few minor glitches here and there, but nothing excessive. While Ultimate Beach Soccer doesn't tax the Xbox hardware as much as it could, Ultimate Beach Soccer is still a decent looking title.
While it lacks the depth of FIFA or Winning Eleven, Ultimate Beach Soccer is a solidly entertaining arcade style sports game. The fast-action gameplay is easy to get into thanks to the intuitive controls that let you perform special moves with flair effortlessly. The gameplay is fast and interesting thanks to the power up mode, which adds to the excitement. Visually, the game is decent, but a lack of camera angles is a bit annoying. Despite some problems with the presentation and a lack of gameplay modes, this is still a solidly entertaining title that's fun to play. It's not a true soccer-sim, but its not trying to be anything more than it is. Had it retailed for the normal price, the game's problems would have seemed more severe. However, at Ultimate Beach Soccer's bargain price, it offers a decent value for the money and plenty of fun for the action-oriented sports fan.