PES on 3DS is a welcome step backwards from the current-gen versions which have lost a lot of their sparkle compared to the glory days of PS2 PES 6 and its close relatives. On 3DS, the action is much more like the PES we know and love on PS2. It's fast, it's slick and the result of some ten years of tweaking the formula. Is this then the ultimate version of PES on any system?
From the first whistle at kick-off, it's plain to see that the PSP versions have met their match as 3DS serves up fluid action with full commentary and swift loading times. There's not the nagging sense of compromise that Sony's portable version always comes with.
The football itself flows beautifully, and games have an impressively organic feeling as you attempt to break down the opposition with clever passing as opposed to cheap exploitation of sweet spots. It's also harder to shield the ball than, for instance, current-gen FIFA offerings – stand with your back to a player and they'll more often than not barge through and snatch the ball away, which means you have to keep it moving a lot more.
Above: Running with the ball will bring plenty of success, especially if you turn a defender with your first touch
Goalkeepers are fallible - perhaps more so than they should be. While they never reach the calamitous levels of keeping that Sega Worldwide Soccer's goaltenders used to back in the day (where a simple shimmy would ghost straight past them), they do like to make a hash of things. Mine even made a fantastic save from a long shot an inch behind the line, counting as a goal and losing me the match.
Defenders, too, seem to make more mistakes – my Champions League season was brought to an abrupt halt by a slew of own goals, none of which were caused by my own clumsiness. Also, PES' obstinate inclusion of auto-clearances is still in full effect and conceding a penalty because the computer thought it should slide in on someone six yards into the penalty area is infuriating in the extreme. Just stay on your feet!
Above: The keepers are brilliantly animated, but what if you didn't ask that defender to jump in, studs first?
But this sort of thing's always happened in PES and perhaps I'm only noticing it more because the UK Radar team plays PS3 FIFA every lunchtime. Fans of the series will already be conditioned to put up with this sort of thing. That's not to say it should still be here, mind – these things have to be deliberately programmed into the game to happen. Surely it's time to unprogram them.
The license is still sub-standard, with only the Champions League teams fully named and kitted out. The Champions League TV intro is there, though, complete with that splendid music, which gives even the menu screens a feeling of pomp and importance. It would be nice to have another 'cup' mode outside of Master League, as there's no arcade-style World Cup substitute that you can just pick a team and have a go at.
Above: You can often get some good power on headers, though it's still easy to shoot over the bar in general
The touch screen wasn't available for use in the preview code, but now the retail version is here, it isn't much different. DS PES' touch screen control is absent, leaving us with four selectable options for left/right-sided attack, counter attack and anything else that specific teams have up their tactical sleeves. Some teams have only one special option, which leaves the lower screen acting as a radar and little else. A missed opportunity, really.
Technically, the 3D and frame rate is fine while you're playing, but it does cut up a bit in close-ups of the players. Also, while the 3D looks nice, I ended up switching it off completely after the first few minutes. I can watch Pilotwings and Super Street Fighter IV in 3D for prolonged periods with no ill effects, but something about the side-on view in PES is hard to look at with the slider anywhere higher than 10% on. I appreciate use of the 3D feature in any game is very much down to personal taste, but there's no way I'd pick this over Pilotwings Resort to show off 3DS' biggest new trick.
The new 'player cam' does a good job of showing off the 3D effect, but you often find that the ball moves too fast for it, leaving you looking at a football game without a football. More of a novelty, then, especially as the Be a Legend single-man play mode isn't present in PES 2011 3D. A pity - that could've made it amazing.
Above: Cambiasso's through on goal, but Sneijder's more interested in the PS3 advertising in this 3DS game
The game only has local wireless play, so you can forget about taking on the world (unless you really like travelling). The PSP versions always suffered from control lag as each player would host one half of the match, putting up with awful control lag for the other. The good news here is that the lag is completely gone. In fact, the connection over Wi-Fi is so good, you can easily play the game looking over your opponent's shoulder, which is exactly as it should be.
While existing features like replay saving and the Be a Legend mode have been omitted, Streetpass is thankfully more than an afterthought, pitting your Master League data against other players' teams, unlocking hidden and classic players as you rack up the victories. These can then be used in Master League and therefore your Streetpass team. Don't worry, you can also choose not to use them if you want to keep it as realistic as the license will allow.
PES' first outing on 3DS is a great benchmark for future footie games to beat. The full commentary, slick graphics and deep Master League make this a console quality game and by far the best handheld footie experience you can buy. But, like many past football games at the launch of a new system, it's lacking a few features and the series' usual idiosyncrasies are more grating than ever. It's clearly a very good handheld game, but there's a lot of room for improvement.
29 Mar, 2011