One of the most frustrating bits in soccer simulation titles that I’ve had to deal with over the years is that friendly A.I. never knows where to run. In fact, I’ve tailored my virtual game to practically do away with the tactics, one-two combos, and runs into space I put into practice on the pitch in real-life. That’s right; when playing video game soccer, I always try to master dribbling, occassionally changing up that direct approach with long, searching balls toward the corner flags.
While playing the long ball and samba-stepping may have worked for England and Brazil in the 60s, the modern, continental European game is far more attractive and deadly efficient. Unfortunately, mimicking this style in video games has always been nearly impossible… until now. PES 2009: Pro Evolution Soccer has introduced IR camera controls via the Wii Remote that make running off the ball a joy. On top of that, all the standard PES goodies such as play modes, a comprehensive team editor, solid multiplayer connectivity, and even the Champions League license have been included for good measure. PES 2009 for Wii may be my favorite footie title to hit home consoles in 2009.
Just because I said the controls were a joy doesn’t mean they don’t take some getting used to. Taking the simple tutorial is a great way to get a feel for the new controls, but it only teaches you the basics. Of course, the basics are what revolutionize the gameplay. What I mean by IR controls is that players will use the Wii-mote’s onscreen pointer to direct their squad in action. Instead of just cruising along with the analog stick (though it can also be used), players will either tap or hold the A button. Tapping sends the player to the appropriate area, while “pulling” the player into space with the A button held allows for more precise control. However, getting too caught up in hands-on dribbling will make you miss out on creating chances through off the ball running – this is where the true genius of the title shines. You can actually manipulate the defense by making dummy runs and delivering pinpoint, deftly weighted diagonal balls. This is achieved by pointing at players off the ball and holding the A button to shape their runs into space. By holding the B button, you’ll not only shape their run, you’ll also deliver that cutting pass to get in behind the defense. What a revelation! Instead of trying to weasel my way through the defense with haphazard feints, I was turning their defensive shape into Swiss cheese with just a few targeted sweeps of the hand.
This is the basis upon which the rest of the game is built. Pulling off such advanced tactical moves as passing the ball then running into space is sweetly executed by holding A and B and pointing at space. Additionally, aiming exactly where you want to place the ball while shooting on goal is also no longer a muscle memory guessing game. Oh, and going to the endline and crossing the ball back- it’s utterly dreamy! Heck, even on the defensive side, the woes that plagued defending and tackling are also ameliorated by these controls. Getting back on defense, taking the proper angle to the ball, and scooping the ball away with the Z button is sweet.
There are really only two downsides to these IR controls: no specific control over feint selection and a cluttered game screen. Instead of pulling off roulettes and flip-flaps on demand via an analog stick, players simply hold the Z button and wave the Nunchuk while pull dribbling with the A button. This may sound complicated, but it’s really not. Actually, it’s a little too easy, but not perfectly administered by the CPU. As a result, pulling off feints can often lead to dismal results. That means the finely-tuned dribbling game I had crafted over the years is no longer put into play with the IR controls. Of course, that doesn’t bother me too much. I found the change refreshing. On the other hand, using the Wii Remote’s IR camera does make the screen far too busy for my liking. Constantly pulling at players and directing traffic makes the screen look like a cross between John Madden’s replays and the puck-trail from 90s hockey – definitely an eye soar.
Of course, if you simply can’t adjust to the new controls – shame on you – you can always use the Classic Controller or flip the Wii Remote on its side. While these controls may feel initially more comfortable, I found them to be more difficult to pull off advanced moves, my game was regressing tactically, and the title completely lost its charm. That being said, I think some players will be grateful for the inclusion of standard controls, and I’m glad Konami decided not to completely alienate them.
That was probably the longest control section I’ve ever written, but really, that’s what PES 2009 for Wii is all about. Thankfully, all the game modes the PES faithful have become accustomed to are here. The Master League (career mode) is as tight as ever. You can play tournaments, one-off matches, standard leagues, cup competitions, there’s the training pitch, an enhanced Champions Road mode that even allows you to develop a team of Miis, and the oft-touted Champions League license, all of which is available for players to run through.
The team editor is also remarkably complex. Since Konami doesn’t have nearly as expansive licensing rights as EA does, players are forced to create teams, players, kits, emblems, logos, etc. PES 2009 for Wii lets you do all that, but I find fiddling around with it to be tedious and tiresome. Still, I suppose it’s an important option for diehard fans. Nevertheless, the lack of licensing is something with which Konami still struggles. As such, picking up PC versions of PES and downloading the community patches is, for me, always the way to go.
Players can also try their hand at four-player, local co-op. However, due to the new controls, I actually find single-player action to be far more compelling. Like last year, a deep online component is available through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. While there, you can set up friend lists, make friend requests, manage black lists, filter by network connection quality, and stay current with the most recent updates to licensed team rosters. Being able to play matches against competitors around the world is certainly enjoyable, giving the title a lot of longevity. The only problem players may encounter is freezing due to sporadic yet persistent lag issues.
On the presentation front, PES 2009 looks pretty tight for a Wii title. The stadiums, while plagued by aliasing issues, are still nice to look at. The licensed players look good, though not nearly as realistic as they do on the Xbox 360 or PS3. In terms of audio, the commentary is very professional though by no means stands out. Nevertheless, I found the action to be well captured by the English-speaking duo. On a side note, players that speak other languages, such as Spanish, French, or Portuguese will find that PES 2009 can be tailored to their native tongue – a nice touch considering the demographic.
All in all, PES 2009 is one of the best sports titles to release this calendar year. In fact, I would say it definitely rivals FIFA 2009 and even NHL 2009. What a surprise! Now I can’t wait for the 2010 version to come out to see how this title matures on the system.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
The visuals are very tight for a Wii Sports title. Of course, aliasing issues and lack of details are persistent. 4.7 Control
The new controls are nearly perfect. They have completely revolutionized the series. However, they fall short of perfection due to the way they clutter the screen and take precision feinting control away from the user. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The commentary is very professional, though not exceptional. 4.2
There are a lot of modes, including Champions League and online multiplayer, that help this title shine. The extensive lack of licensing will always be a knock against the franchise.
4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.