So there I was with a brand-new Steam Deck in hand, ready to finally see what all the fuss was about when it came to PC gaming. Like many a console gamer, I’d heard the stories–that Steam supposedly housed tens of thousands of games, with all manner of quality–and I was ready to discover that for myself. But before I got to the good stuff before I delved into the likes of Neon White, Valheim, or Frostpunk for the first time, I had to know: Does Steam have any good volleyball games?
As it turns out, Steam has a lot of volleyball games. I would not use “good” to describe most of them–horny is probably a better term, which I’ve since learned from my friends who play a lot of PC games is an apt descriptor for a lot of what you can find on Steam. And, granted, horny has its place, but that’s not what I want from a volleyball game right now. No, I want the exhilaration of pulling off a combination attack, the satisfaction of performing a quick that unsettles my opponent, and the joy of reading an attacker well enough to dig up a spike and keep a rally going. When it comes to volleyball, there’s no greater delight than the mind games of it.
And wouldn’t you know, I found it. It was like a dozen games down, but I found it: Spikair Volleyball. It’s an upcoming volleyball simulator set to launch in early access later this year. There’s a free demo on Steam where you can play quick games against a computer-controlled opponent that typically last anywhere between two and six minutes.
I’ve put over 22 hours into the demo as of this writing. It’s easily my most-played game on my Steam Deck.
Developed by Choc Abyss–a studio of two: Clément Chardevel and Joé Chollet–Spikair Volleyball is one of those easy-to-learn-but-difficult-to-master games. “I wanted people to play our game,” Chollet told GameSpot. “We have little mechanics which take longer to learn. But the basics–like setting the ball up–are simple. You just press A.”
In Spikair, each match is four-vs.-four, and you control all four players on your side of the court. Much like real-world volleyball, your goal is to make the ball hit the ground on your opponent’s side of the court with an attack, scoring you a point. An attack can only begin if you manage to receive the ball and successfully pass to your setter, allowing you to then direct your setter to get the ball to the middle blocker, back row receiver, or outside hitter–all of whom can spike the ball.
Merely pressing the required buttons in the right order is enough to play, but correctly timing those button presses can change the speed of the ball, allowing you to pull off more advanced attacks, like a hard-to-block quick spike. You have to be careful, though, because the opposite is true, too–a slight mistiming will lead to a bad pass or weak attack, and completely getting the timing wrong will cause your players to miss the ball entirely.
Chollet and Chardevel looked at plenty of other volleyball games when designing Spikair, with 1992’s Hyper V-Ball being a primary inspiration. “[Volleyball] is a mind game,” Chollet said. “It’s not a game of sport. It’s a game of the mind. And so we were talking about a 6v6 vs 4v4 format, and we chose 4v4 because it was much easier for us to do and because Hyper V-Ball only has four players, and still managed that 6v6 indoor [volleyball] feeling, which is all mind games–the block versus the set and the spiker versus the defender.”
In Spikair, there are three potential attackers you have to watch out for while on defense (four if you count a setter dump, in which the setter just tips the ball over the net themselves instead of passing it to a spiker). But the game makes the process more complex by allowing each spiker to spike in three different ways: There’s a normal spike, a short spike, and a long spike. Plus, the spiker can forgo a spike to instead tip the ball over a block in three different ways: a normal tip, a short tip, and a long tip. The spiker can change the timing of their attack as well, purposely hitting a smidge early or late–not so much that they miss, but enough that the ball is hit at a different speed.
So even though there are only four moves you need to remember on defense–block, short receive, normal receive, and long receive–there are actually dozens of outcomes you have to prepare for. Your middle blocker can block, and then your back row player can stand in place to receive the ball normally, dive for the ball if it’s being spiked straight down or being tipped short, or step back to bump up the ball if it tips off the blocker or is being spiked/tipped long. And once you commit to an action, you have to wait a second before doing something else. So you’re making split-second decisions and hoping for the best. If it looks like the opposing spiker is going short, for instance, diving too early may be the difference between keeping the rally going and your opponent scoring.
This largely means that your job on offense is to use your setter to trick the defense into committing to blocking the wrong spiker and then use your spikers to hit it to a spot that the back row player won’t reach in time. On defense, you’re trying to use your blocker to pressure the opposing setter into rushing into a bad setup to avoid your block and then reading the opposing spiker’s approach to correctly position your back row player to receive the attack. It’s two people trying to one-up one another in back-to-back matches of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and whoever manages to do better (or get lucky) nabs the point.
Spikair also takes heavy inspiration from Haikyu, a very popular shonen volleyball manga/anime (that you should read/watch if you haven’t yet). “The full animation of the spike, the attack of the player in our game, is based on [Haikyu’s] Ushijima,” Chollet said. “I watched frame-by-frame of the anime and I was like, ‘Okay, this is perfect,’ for a side view from Ushijima attacking.”
In Haikyu, the game in which protagonist Shōyō Hinata goes up against Wakatoshi Ushijima can even be somewhat emulated in Spikair as well. In the Spikair demo, you can face off against computer-controlled opponents in five difficulties, each of which sees different teams face off. Normal difficulty sees you play as the United States as you go up against Italy, for example, while playing on Extreme has you play as Brazil and face Poland. If you play on Final difficulty, you’ll play as Hinata’s team, Karasuno High, and your opponent will be Ushijima’s Shiatorizawa. Fully stopping Ushijima with a well-timed block from middle blocker Kei Tsukishima feels as rewarding to do in-game as it is to see in the manga/anime.
Currently, computer-controlled opponents are all you get in Spikair. The full game isn’t out yet, so the demo is the only way to play. Choc Abyss is planning to launch the game in early access later this year, and with its release, a lot more of it will be available, including offline player-vs-player matches. Online multiplayer may come later down the line, but the studio is focusing on other aspects of the game first, like a career mode, player customization (including the option to have female players on your team), and player characteristics.
Characteristics will inform how well each individual player on your team performs, ranging from how effectively they can spike to how much wiggle room they have for pulling off an ideal pass. As of the demo, all players in Spikair control and behave the same, so you don’t have that added consideration to worry about. But when it is finally added, it will certainly create an even greater level of complexity to the mind game of the sport.
Until then, I’m just going to keep playing the Spikair Volleyball demo. I’m sure I’ll get to all the other games on my Steam Deck at some point, but for now, this is enough for me. Maybe I’ll jump back into Switch Sports for a bit though, so I can keep yelling at everyone that they’re playing Switch Sports Volleyball wrong and need to use read blocking.
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