Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 (Nintendo Wii)

Pro Evolution Soccer 2010
Genre: Sports
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: 11/10/2009

I became a fan of soccer, or “football”, as it is called in the majority of the world, a couple of years ago when my local USL team, the Montreal Impact, opened a new stadium 15 minutes away from where I live. I went to see a couple of games and was hooked immediately. Right now, the Impact are USL-1 champions, they are set to move to the MLS in 2011 or 2012, and soccer is now my second favourite sport just behind hockey.

Because of that, I have been searching for a decent soccer game. I have to admit that my experiences with the Wii version of the FIFA franchise were a little bit underwhelming, as they tended to be oversaturated with motion controls and missing some key features. What a convenient surprise it was then when last week I received Pro Evolution Soccer 2010. Maybe it was the soccer game I have been searching for, the one that could satisfy my cravings while North American leagues are in their off-season. Sure, I also follow a little bit of the European Leagues (particularly Manchester United because of two friends of mine, one of which is actually Manchester born and raised), but my heart will always be with my local team.

So, is PES 2010 better than FIFA 10 in terms of features, or is it just another afterthought like so many Wii sports games?

Story/Modes

The core mode with the Wii version is, “My Team.” This mode allows you to import up to 23 Miis from your console in order to place them into your favourite team’s uniform and lead them to eventual glory and even online against the world. This mode is a complete success because it allows a great level of customization, but also because the entire idea of building your team and taking it against the rest of the world becomes extremely addictive. Your players start with base ratings depending on the field position you assign them to, and from there, you can buy them new equipment to raise their stats using money you acquire by simply playing the game.

This is a lot of fun because playing any mode at all will simply add money to your profile, so you don’t have to keep playing the same mode over and over again in order to upgrade your team. Just enjoying the game and everything it has to offer will do the trick. Overall, it is a great idea that is exploited all the way.

The other main mode is the incredibly deep Master League, which in FIFA terms, would be the Manager Mode. In this mode, you manage every aspect of a team, either a real one or one you created from scratch, down to the formation and players transfer. You can also follow your adversaries in order to prepare appropriately for the next match. It truly offers everything I could think of in terms of managing a football club, which also means that the mode can be a bit intimidating with so many things to micromanage. Just look at it as the mode dedicated to hardcore fans who want to take over every aspect of the sport.

The Champions Road mode offers the ability to take the team of your choice into different matches and tournament while picking up players from defeated teams as you go along. It is fun to see the kind of all-star team you can assemble as you keep playing, and is a good alternative for managing-hungry players who cannot be bothered with some of the deeper options offered by the Master League mode.

There’s also a good selection of modes for those who simply like to play the game without the behind-the-scene aspects interfering.

The game has the UEFA Champions League license, and uses it to a great extent. The Champion’s League mode offers all the music and drawn-out introductions of the real thing, making you feel as close to it as possible while you try to take your favourite team to the big honours.

There’s also the possibility of playing a single season in a single league, and a Cup mode which allows customizable tournaments and a wide range of international championships to be put on the line.

Finally, there is the very, very, very deep Edit mode. This edit mode is seriously one of the most extensive I have seen in any sports game. A patient player can create an entire team from scratch, coming up with every facet from players name, ratings and appearance to the team’s colours, emblem and kits. You can also create new cups to be put on the line in Cup Mode, and even modify existing players and teams. If you obsessively follow any league on display in PES 2010, you can keep your game up to date by the minute if you cannot be bothered to wait for the next batch of roster download straight from Konami.

As you can see, the selection of modes is simply remarkable, and there’s enough to keep any soccer fan occupied until the next edition comes along.

Story/Modes Rating: Unparalleled

Graphics

The graphics are decent if unspectacular. The in-game visuals are just good enough so that it all looks good from the normal point of view, but during replays and zoom-ins during play stoppage, the recognizable but crude character models become visible and put a damper on otherwise enjoyable graphics. The rest of the visuals are not so bad, and even pretty good in some aspects. The animations are smooth, with every movement looking life-like, which could actually give the impression of a real game being played as long as the camera stays zoomed out. The menus are also very pretty, being clear and colourful.

Graphical glitches are kept at a minimum, with the only noticeable one being some Miis disappearing when scrolling between the members of your team. Speaking of the Miis, while the idea of a team entirely consisting of them is a great one and arguably my favourite part of the game, the characters design is a little bit peculiar and dare I say creepy. Instead of going all the way with the Miis’ cuteness and using a cartoonish style, your Mii team has the same body as any other player in the game, only with their little cartoon head stuck on top of the neck.

I can understand that an entirely new animation style could have been impractical or downright impossible, but the style used as it is gives us creepy players running around as if they had a big mask on their face, or as if you were playing a sports game of the past with the “big head” cheat enabled. There’s also the problem of female Miis having the athletic but shapeless body of a professional soccer player. Oh well. If that was necessary in order to implement an idea as fun as the “My Team” mode, I can live with it.

Finally, let’s mention the UEFA Champion’s League introduction videos, which are a real beauty and help settle the competition’s atmosphere quite nicely. There were no corners cut here.

Graphics Rating: Decent

Sound

Licensed soundtracks seem to be all the rage in sports games these days, and this game is no different. Objectively, I can commend PES 2010 for offering a diverse soundtrack that will surely offer at least one or two songs that will be recognizable for most people playing this game. On the other hand, such a large selection also means that a lot of the songs will get on your nerves pretty quickly. Thank God, the playlist here is entirely editable, so you don’t have to suffer longer than necessary if some of the songs grind your gears that much.

The sound effects are very realistic and truly add to the atmosphere of the game. Over the thuds the ball makes when hitting various materials and body parts one can still hear the constant crowd chants and songs. With so many different crowd noises going on at the same time, you feel as if you were sitting right there in the stadium. The crowd feels alive, which is something that cannot be said for many sports games.

The downside of this game’s audio department is the commentating team, which is boring, repetitive and often off-topic. They will start each game with a remark that amounts to something like, “This game is down to whoever wants it the most” and they will say it each and every time you play a game. Same goes for a missed kick or ref interventions when a player is on the ground. It seems like every situation has two lines at most attached to it. The result is a commentating team that looks bored and unrealistic, and that even becomes annoying after a while.

Sound Rating: Decent

Control and Gameplay

The game offers two types of controls: the first one is the standard remote and nunchuk configuration while the second one is the classic controller. The classic controller is my configuration of choice here, as it is much more precise and less clunky than the remote/nunchuk combo.

The classic controller has the disadvantage of trying to fit too many actions on a small number of buttons. This means that some of the subtleties of the game are lost in the middle of action. Just dribbling requires a good amount of skill and quick thinking. You can dribble normally by simply using the control stick, dribble quickly by also pressing the R button, or dribble slowly by pressing the Z button. Same goes for the strikes, which can be hard and imprecise or quick and precise depending on the button you press at the same time as the kick button. Passing, on the other hand, uses three different buttons depending on the type and strength of pass you are looking for. The controls are not overly complicated once you learn what each button does, it’s just that a game like soccer requires such a large amount of subtleties that properly learning every technique can take a while to memorize.

The classic controller also offers the possibility to kick the ball via the right thumbstick, which takes a little bit of time getting used to. The right thumbstick controls the strength of the kick, while the left thumbstick controls the direction. Precise coordination is a must, and I found using the buttons to be much more efficient.

The remote/nunchuk combo simplifies most of the actions, such as shooting, passing and tackling by relying on the remote’s pointing ability to target players and the net. While it makes the game much simpler, it also requires a little bit of coordination between pointing and moving the player in opposite directions. There’s also defending from corner kicks which is done by shaking the nunchuk at the right time. While I am a bigger fan of the classic controller as it offers more possibilities in terms of plays, I cannot fault the motion controls here, which are perfect for most casual player. The controls also register shakes and pointing accurately, and work flawlessly according to their mapped functions.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

Replayability

This game will easily keep you occupied until its update comes out next year. The Master League mode by itself is deep enough to warrant daily sessions for a long time. The Champions Road mode is another winner that is fun enough to start over and over again, just to see which player you will end up acquiring from other teams. The thing with these two modes is that you will get an entirely different game each time, depending on the team you choose. Starting with Manchester United or Barcelona won’t be the same as starting with Kiev. Depending on your idea of a good time, you can either blast through the modes or slowly build up your own team of champions.

Still, the part of the game that will keep me coming back for a long time is the sheer level of customization that is possible here. The “My Team” mode, with your own Mii players and the RPG-like inventory upgrade is a brilliant mode where you can get a lot of mileage. Same goes for the Edi Mode which lets you create a real team, with real-looking players and edit everything about them, from stats to look.

Replayability Rating: Classic

Balance

The game starts with a tutorial for first time Wii players, which shows you the basics of the motion controls. It helps ease the difficulty curve, but that doesn’t mean that this is an easy game. In fact, even at the default difficulty, I lost my first ten games or so, and didn’t even score until the fifth one. This is not a soccer game for a casual market. The stats-tracking and the realistic physics mean that this is mostly aimed at a crowd of hardcore soccer fanatics, the kind of people who might send me hate mail for using “soccer” instead of “football” in this review. Therefore, I couldn’t win any game until I stopped playing this like an arcade sports game where I was only trying to run straight to the net and actually played this like a real soccer game, passing the ball back and forth until an opportunity came in.

So be prepared: I found this to be much more difficult than FIFA 10, and outside of a short tutorial at the start of the game, PES 2010 does nothing to ease you in. You need to know the sport, and even then, it will take a while for you to get decent. Unless you are already a veteran of the franchise, patience is required here. Still, once you get good, then the game becomes fair and will not unjustly punish you with unbeatable AI like some EA Sports games were known to do in the past.

Balance Rating: Above Average

Originality

Pro Evolution Soccer series has been going on for a long time now, so of course it becomes harder to find original things within it. After all, how does one reinvent a sport like soccer? Still, Konami found a couple of ways to make things fresh and interesting.

The first and most obvious one is obviously the “My Team” mode, which in my humble opinion, is worth the price of admission by itself. If you have any interest in online play at all, building your own team and taking it against the rest of the world is very satisfying.

The other updates and innovations are more about the engine and the way the game is played, such as new ways to customize your strategy and new player animations. Sure, it’s not much, like I said, with each passing year, being original becomes hard when it comes to sports games.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

Addictiveness

This game will be to soccer fans what NHL 10 is to hockey fan: an obsession. Winning every cup, winning every league, making sure that your Mii team becomes just a tad bit better so you don’t lose another game… these will all become time-sink that will make hours feel like minutes. You can spend a long time tweaking your team in Master League without realizing how much time has passed, and the same goes for the My Team mode.

Addictiveness Rating: Classic

Appeal Factor

We’re talking about the most popular sport in the world here. Sure, it might not have the same status in North America as it does in the rest of the world, but even here, it is slowly but surely gaining a better status. The problem here is that the game may not be a very accessible one, with its incredibly deep team configuration and necessary knowledge of many of the sport’s subtleties in order to just be competitive against the computer. Sure, you can jump right in with the Match Mode, but that’s about it. The rest will require knowledge of the sport that even casual viewers might not possess. Still, the UEFA Champion’s League license might be enough to influence a few hesitant customers.

Appeal Factor Rating: Enjoyable

Miscellaneous

My main complaint here is that not all of the teams present here are completely licensed. Sure, they are named in a way that makes it possible to know who’s who (Manchester City becomes Man Blue, Arsenal becomes North London, etc.) but it’s not like the real thing. Still, these names are editable, so not all is lost here, but it just require a lot of free time to do. At least, the opportunity is there.

Compared to other games I have played in the past, I found the ref’s calls to be much more balanced, with a lot of time simply being signaled to calm down a little bit instead of immediately being sentenced with a yellow card. This is a huge improvement that gives you some time to adjust your game as you go along.

Finally, the game has a menu selection available for downloadable rosters and equipment, and while I got nothing to this date, we have been promised new rosters as well as new cleats and balls. Keep your eyes open for these.

Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average

The Scores

Story/Modes: Unparalleled
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Decent
Control/Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Above Average
Final Score: Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 is a realistic soccer simulation that offers a lot in terms of modes and that guarantees you will not have to play another soccer game until next year. The Master League and the My Team modes are enough by themselves to justify the purchase, but the superb Edit Mode and the Champions Road are both extras that will also be worth your time. More licensed team would have been nice, but other than that, the UEFA Champions League license is used to the fullest extent, with game intros and movies that make you feel as if you were watching the real thing. This is highly recommended, if you like your soccer to be as realistic as possible.

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