Yes, it’s another Great Sports title, and yes, it’s also another clone of a NES sports cart (Nintendo’s Volleyball, if you hadn’t guessed already). Granted, being the only volleyball cart on the SMS gives it the title of ‘best volleyball game’ by default, but unlike Sega’s other ‘Great’ games, this sole representation of indoor volleyball on the Master System is actually pretty competent and even outclasses its NES counterpart.
Once you boot up the cartridge you can choose from one or two players, both of which have a couple of options each. In the single-player mode you can play a goodwill match which is a simple best-of-five exhibition game, or you can take on the tournament where eight international teams try to claim the championship by competing in a single-elimination tourney. You get to choose from the eight teams differentiated only by colors and skin tone, and for once you’re not forced to play as the U.S. team if you choose not to. In either mode once the ball is served it’s standard six-on-six volleyball action with you controling three players at once on your team as you try to bump, set and spike your way to 15 points. Most of the rules you expect are in effect but there’s no option for rally-scoring so you can only score on your serve. The action unfolds at a nice exctiing pace and does a good job representing the real-life verson on the screen, including having the players rotate after a side-out. Handling three players at once can seem a bit daunting at times but the controls work well enough, and after a bit of time you’ll be able to pull off some cool moves. The cart also includes a helpful practice mode which enables you to get the hang of serving and spiking as your coach looks on and critiques you. However you’ll need those moves since the CPU can be a beast at times, especially in the tournament mode where you have to win three matches, one in each tier, to capture the trophy. In the two-player mode both players can either play a quick match or can even compete in the tournament, though they start on separate ends of the bracket and only go head-to-head in the final match. Still the fact that the tourney mode is available for either option is a step up from the quick ‘one-and-done’ gameplay found in the NES cart.
As far as the visuals and audio go, they aren’t really special since there isn’t much to do outside the basic idea, but what’s there work well enough. Even though the players on each of the teams all look the same, they have some fluid animation and their color schemes mostly fit with their respective nation. The court looks nice with some okay colors and the referee and linemen on the sideline react appropriately to what goes on. A pleasant background tune plays during each match and doesn’t really intrude while the sound effects for each bump and spike are functional enough.
So the bottom line is Sega finally provides a decent sports cart for its system, even if it is indoor volleyball. The action is well done for the most part and it provides a nice arena for two-player competiton, and for one a Sega sports cart lives up to the promise of humbling its cousin on the other 8-bit system. Even with its high difficulty during solo gameplay, Great Volleyball is a very enjoyable game and gets a solid reccomendation, even if you’re not a afficianado of the sport. At least one ‘Great’ sports title nearly lives up to the series’ name.