It’s not often that a new Nintendo platform launches that isn’t accompanied by some form of major first party release. The Wii had The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The original Nintendo DS had an update of Super Mario 64. Hell, even the Virtual Boy had Mario Tennis. What was Nintendo’s big AAA title for their 3DS? I can’t think of one. At least, not one that will surface for another few months.
So with an expensive new piece of hardware in my hands, I can think of two actions to take. I can continue to play my regular DS games until Zelda or Kid Icarus comes along, or I can step out of my comfort zone and experiment. I don’t mean the kinky kind of experiment either. No, it’s time for Sean to play a sports game.
As a bit of a disclaimer, I have never played a PES game before, much less a soccer game in general (unless you count the Mario ones), so I’m going to be doing this review from the perspective of a newbie who just wants a fun 3DS game to play. So if you’re looking for an in-depth comparison between this and its console counterparts, aside from a little research I’ve done, I can’t help you too much there. Now that I got that out of the way, let’s get this party started.
One of the primary modes of play in this game is the UEFA Champions League. When you select this from the main menu, it branches off into Competition or Exhibition. Beginning a new Competition allows you to select a team of your choice and are then dumped into a pool with thirty-one others, which are divided into eight groups of four to play against one another in double round robin. From there, the top two teams in each group compete in a knockout round where the team with the greater aggregate score is the victor. Trust me when I say this all sounds way less confusing in practice.
The other major mode is the Master League, which is basically like a franchise mode where you have more control over who is apart of your team of choice. You can sign new players or negotiate deals with the current ones all while trying to keep the entire crew happy. Your players’ loyalty to the team is measured by “affection”Â which either increases or decreases depending on how much they appear in a game. They also command a popularity rating which dictates how difficult they are to negotiate new deals with. It’s all very intuitive and failure to manage your team well will lead to a game over in this mode. You can also use your Master League team for StreetPass matches if you happen to encounter someone else with this game.
The rest of your play options are rounded out by Exhibition, which allows you to pick your team, your opponent’s team and play, as well as WiFi Match which is your multiplayer mode. Unfortunately, each player needs a copy of the game to play the latter, which is a shame if they are on the fence about it. It should also be noted that the multiplayer is local only, so there is no online infrastructure to connect to and play. Overall though, for a sports franchise’s first foray into a new platform, there is a very solid lineup of options here and plenty to do.
Story/Modes Rating: Good
The visuals are definitely the highlight for this title, as the folks at Konami were able to take advantage of the enhanced graphical prowess of the 3DS. Granted, I haven’t played much of the other launch titles, but the visuals took me by surprise. Each of the players look very realistic and move about the field in a very lifelike manner. It’s not quite to the level of the high definition consoles on the market, but it’s not too far off.
One criticism I have of the visuals that was jarring enough to undo my immersion a little bit was the audience in the background. From a distance, they don’t look too bad. Zoom up close though, and people look like pixelated cardboard cutouts. Fortunately, the only time you’ll really notice is during replays, as you will find there’s not much time to stand around and stare at the audience anyhow.
Graphics Rating: Incredible
Like many other sports titles, firing up the main menu subjects you to an onslaught of licensed music. Not that the soundtrack is particularly bad mind you, but a game that has menus buried within menus has the tendency to expose you to the same looping tracks over and over again. This gets old fast. On the plus side, the score does an excellent job of getting you pumped up right before a game as the introduction plays and the players storm the field.
During the matches, much of what you will hear consists of the crowd cheering and the various thuds and thumps of the ball getting knocked around. There is some commentary involved, but it’s very sparse and sounds so stilted that it rarely lends itself to the experience.
Sound Rating: Above Average
To be blunt, PES is a soccer newbie’s nightmare, as evidenced by my inability to score for several games. That said, the game does allow total control over the ball, although it takes a little practice to get used to. You use the analog stick to move the player that you have control over (although the D pad works too if you prefer), and the face buttons to shoot and perform passes of various strength when you have the ball. If you’re on defense, they are used to slide tackle or apply pressure to your opponents. The shoulder buttons are reserved for swapping between your teammates or dashing.
The entire bottom screen is dedicated to strategy and seeing a layout of the field. You can see where both your opponents and your teammates are located on the lefthand side. On the right, you’ll have a set of strategies for your teammates that you can enable and disable as you please during the match such as “pressure”Â or “counter attack.”Â There’s also a start menu that lets you modify your formation and viewing angle as you see fit.
These are just the bare basics. There is a plethora of moves that you have at your disposal, such as dribbling the ball at varying speeds, applying pressure using your player or your teammates, and various feints and kicks. It’s a lot to take in, and there wasn’t a tutorial that I could find buried in the all of the menus. Even the simple act of trying to make a goal had its own nuances due to a meter that determines how hard you kick the ball.
The bottom line: the gameplay is incredibly deep and if you’re not prepared, it will kick your ass. I can’t speak for the console versions of PES, as I’ve never played them, but they may be a better entry point than this is. That said, it is impressive on a technical level and offered more than I expected a portable sports title to ever have.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable
As much as PES tries to mimic its console counterparts, it’s still missing a key feature that would contribute much to this department: online play. Sure, it is compatible with StreetPass, but that is something that would only be useful to a small sect of 3DS owners. Not only do you have to encounter someone out in the wild that has a 3DS, but they also have to have a copy of this game and be willing to play a match with you. If this game had its own infrastructure, you would be able to log on to any Wi-Fi location and play a match with anyone, anywhere regardless of proximity. Such a glaring oversight limits players to the main single player modes unless you happen to have a friend with this title.
As an added footnote, since I didn’t know anyone else with this title, I wasn’t able to sample the local wireless method of play. According to the manual, there is a StreetPass ranking system in place if you just so happen to frequent a place where a lot of people have PES 2011 and their 3DS on standby.
Replayability Rating: Mediocre
There are five different difficulty levels in this game, which is great for newcomers and veterans alike. Unfortunately, this just dictates the opposing players’ behavior and does nothing in terms of assisting in your ability to make goals. As I mentioned above, even on the easiest setting, it is very challenging to grasp the nuances of making goals. As a result I played several games where neither side was able to score a goal. As of this writing I still don’t have it mastered and most of my scoring has been a result of sheer dumb luck. Once you get the hang of it, then you can comfortably move on to mastering some of the more difficult maneuvers or upping the challenge of your opponents. Even so, a simple tutorial or training mode would’ve gone a long way to making this a bit more accessible.
Balance Rating: Mediocre
What can I say? It’s an annual sports franchise. Granted, it’s the first and only soccer title to be found on the Nintendo 3DS thus far, but there are certain to be more. Aside from being able to play this title in 3D though, there doesn’t appear to be any features that set this apart from the console entries to the franchise, so if you already own this game on a different system, there’s no reason to buy it again. The lack of online play gives you even less reason.
Originality Rating: Bad
I can tell this is a very well made game from a technical standpoint. It looks good, it wasn’t buggy at all, and if you’re willing to put in the time, you have complete control over every aspect of your team and individual ball handling. However, as someone that’s not already a fan of the genre, it was something that I could only play a game or two of at a time. PES fans that love the console versions may enjoy investing some hours into this while on the road, but for everyone else, not so much.
Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre
Fans of the PES series will certainly enjoy the gameplay in this title and if they don’t have a portable variation already, this is a solid place to start. However, due to the lack of online play and features found in the other versions of the game, it may just be a fleeting interest. For those not already interested in soccer titles and simply looking for a worthwhile 3DS title, its sheer complexity and lack of a tutorial will be off putting for all but the most dedicated of players.
Appeal Rating: Mediocre
I was slightly taken aback when I first fired up this title because I just assumed the various assortment of menus would be in 3D. “What the hell?”Â I thought. “This game isn’t in 3D.”Â Well, actually it is, but you don’t notice it until the match starts.
The 3D is pretty decent when viewed from the default camera angle (the over the shoulder view). Unfortunately, this is not the optimal way to play as it’s far too difficult to keep track of the other players on the field. The game offers a number of other angles that give you a better look at the field, but these make the 3D effect almost indistinguishable. I had to crank the slider all the way up just to get even the slightest effect and even then it just looks like I’m watching people play a match inside of a box. In short, this is not the game to show off to your friends what the system is capable of.
On a completely unrelated note, I found it humorous and strangely ironic that there were advertisements for the Playstation 3 in this game.
Miscellaneous Rating: Decent
Sounds: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Final Score: Decent Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D is a technically impressive launch title, even if it requires you to play using a less than ideal camera angle in order to appreciate the 3D effect. The 3DS’s new thumbstick lends itself well to the controls, and the ability to modify your strategy using the bottom screen does wonders for the strategic aspect of the game. There’s also an impressive level of depth for a portable sports title, though the lack of any sort of tutorial creates a noticeable barrier of entry for newcomers. Series veterans should be able to dive right in, but the lack of online play limits the mileage this game carries. If you already own one of the console versions of this game, there’s little reason to pick this one up also.