[28 April 2009]
While soccer may never catch on as much here as it has internationally, one thing that is for sure is that the game industry at least has the sport figured out. EA’s FIFA series had probably it’s best iteration late last year with the release of FIFA ‘09. The Winning Eleven series – long regarded as the best and most consistent soccer video game series, however, is no more in the U.S., morphing instead into the Pro Evolution Soccer in 2008.
After spending some time with PES 2009, it becomes abundantly clear that soccer games and the Wii are a perfect match. While still good on the 360 and PS3, the control that the player has over all 11 players on the pitch when playing on the Wii is unparalleled and almost doesn’t even feel like the same game when played on other systems. The Wii version of PES 09 was released in mid-March, some five months after releases on those other platforms. This delay is forgivable when one considers the title’s overhauled controls and various other gameplay tweaks. The point and click system Konami has implemented shows a lot of promise, not only for this game but for those that could follow it, be those games sports or otherwise.
This new system works something like this: you don’t so much take on the role of one (or many) of the 11 footballers so much as you command all of them. By clicking on a player, you can click to a point on the pitch and he will run there. Or you can drag the remote, and he will sprint. Similarly, on defense you can click on an opponent and your player will man-up on him. As you sometimes madly point and click all over the field, the game sometimes takes on a somewhat manic feel, but it also feels like a live-action game of chess with you in control of all the pieces. The great thing about the control scheme is the level of actual control that it gives to the player. You can pass exactly where you want to (be it in front of or directly to a player) easily. This level of control is marked improvement over “this button is pass, and it’s going to the closest guy” system that has been known to frustrate many a hardcore football fan. However, while the game’s tutorial does an okay job of explaining and showing you how to perform such commands in the game, unfortunately, it can also at times be overwhelming and sometimes unnecessarily so. A simple give-and-go requires too many presses and holds to be intuitive at least for casual players.
For the most part though, PES ‘09 controls great, yet the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Playing far too much into the Wii’s kid-friendly reputation, PES decided to go with a look that is a poor match with the depth of the game itself. For example, when subbing in a player during a game, the players are represented with big heads akin to bobble head dolls. Why, you ask? I have no idea. It looks foolish and has no clear purpose. I am not saying that the game has to be deadly serious, but I don’t know how much of the PES demographic will be entertained by Ronaldinho sporting a huge noggin. Other weaknesses include that some of the set-up menus in the game are rather convoluted, requiring multiple clicks and some backtracking to get the settings right.
PES ‘09 may not have the sleekest presentation, but it makes up for that with a myriad of modes and gameplay tweaks. From the traditional exhibition mode, to UEFA Champions League, to cup games, to online and dynasty modes, there is more than enough variety to keep players coming back even if they likely won’t play all of them. On top of that, ther game offers team editing, playable Miis in exhibition games, and teams spanning the various leagues across the globe, including MLS.
The game’s online mode is particularly well done and an example of how future Wii games should execute internet play. There’s a chat interface where you can select “good luck!” and various other canned responses. It’s rudimentary, but it works while the player waits for Wii speak to integrate with their entire catalog. Also, as you can on Xbox Live, you can avoid players, friend them, and play online with your friends locally. If it weren’t for some dirty cheaters—using un-tackleable goalies capable of streaking down the field causing the ball warp around—the online would be very enjoyable.
Although the name has changed, the result is the same—Pro Evolution Soccer continues Winning Eleven‘s strong track record with this year’s version. It shows that soccer games have found a home on the Wii and you’ll have a hard time going back to more traditional soccer games after diving into this. If you are a soccer fan and lover of the FIFA games, this is a definite buy. If you have grown tired of traditional soccer games, than this is a must-buy now. If you own a Wii and have interest in the “beautiful game” than by all means rent this. It’s one of the more unique and solid sports titles out there.