UK REVIEW--Last year's Pro Evolution Soccer made a poor first showing on the DS, with the simplistic gameplay failing to provide any depth at all. While the 2008 edition plays a slightly better game of football than its predecessor, the rest of the package feels like a mishmash of ideas that once again struggles to capture the essence of the series. The game does offer online multiplayer support and a number of cups and competitions, but the poor team roster, the lackluster graphics, and the average gameplay mean that they fail to be much fun.
On the DS, PES 2008 is undeniably ugly, meaning that it's difficult to recognise individual players on the pitch. However, the animation system now bears greater resemblance to the console versions, so players move in a more believable manner than before. Although this means you feel more in control of your players this year, the control system remains simplistic due to the limitations of the hardware. For example, the different running speeds that Pro Evolution veterans will be used to are squeezed onto the one shoulder button on the DS. To sprint, you have to hold down the right shoulder button and tap in the direction you're running. It's also more difficult to perform tricks than in the console versions, although a limited number of moves can be performed by tapping the left shoulder button.
Like in last year's game, you can use the DS's touch-screen controls to adjust tactics midgame. By moving your thumbs to the bottom of the touch screen, you can quickly make your teammates play in a more offensive or defensive formation, something that can be quite useful if you need to change the run of play. You can also use the touch screen to control the camera angles and replay speed after scoring a goal, when the game goes into movie mode. Unfortunately, there's still no option to save edited replays.
There are a reasonable number of game modes in PES 2008, including friendly matches, cups, and training. The one thing that's missing is the series' much-loved Master League mode, which lets you both manage and play as your favourite team in other versions of the game. In its place is the World Tour, where you're assigned a random selection of players that you must take through the various tiered cups until you're eventually playing the best teams in the world. While playing with random players is arguably less satisfying than taking control of your favourite team, adapting to an unfamiliar squad does provide an interesting challenge.
You can upgrade your team thanks to a strange system of gambling credits. Gold, silver, and blue credits are dished out depending on your performance in each game, and you can then spend these in the game's Gatcha-Get toy machines or traditional fruit machines. Different coins win you different classes of players. Gold coins give you access to the best players, blue coins let you pick from second-tier players, and silver coins get you random players. Once you have players in your squad, you can increase their passing, moving, and tackling abilities in the PES shop. Ultimately, though, it all feels a bit unrealistic and leaves you with very little feeling of attachment to your team.
This gambling feature is also completely at odds with the youth-oriented presentation of this year's game. For whatever reason, Konami decided to include a very brightly coloured menu system that features a child mascot explaining the various game modes. There's also a Pokemon-esque collection element to acquiring players, as you can pore over photos and statistics almost as you would with an old-fashioned sticker album. The audio doesn't fare much better. It lacks commentary, and the repetitive, cheesy music does nothing to help the overall presentation.
One thing the DS version has in its favour is that, unlike in other versions of the game, the club teams are all officially licensed, meaning that player names and team kits are as they should be. The list is extremely limited, however, with only two teams per major football nation. This means that you get Newcastle and Tottenham from England and Inter and A.C. Milan from Italy, but not Manchester United or Arsenal. On the national side, 57 of the current top-ranked sides are present, and you can unlock classic teams, such as Brazil and England, from the PES shop by winning matches in the world tour. Strangely, the option to edit teams is only available for certain nations. You can keep the United States' team roster updated but not England's, for example.
Konami has catered to multiplayer fans with quite a few game modes. With one cartridge, you can play against a friend using wireless game sharing. If you have friends who also own the game, then that number goes up to four players, with two players per team. You can also trade the players you've acquired in World Tour using the DS's wireless connection. PES 2008 also supports online play for two players, and while this is definitely more fun than playing against the AI, it's difficult to find people to play with. You can choose to filter players by location or skill, or by whether they're on your friends list, and if you can find people to play with, performance is solid.
Pro Evolution Soccer has improved in some minor ways since its last outing on the DS, but Konami has once again failed to take the game forward in any meaningful way. Although the animation system has been tweaked to make it more realistic, the developers are still focussed on re-creating the same Pro Evolution Soccer without adapting the control system to fit the DS hardware. The game needs a serious overhaul, because it suffers from a muddled visual design, poor graphics, and a very small roster of official teams. Fans of the series willing to put up with the simplistic controls may get something out of this version, but most people will find little to love in this muddled handheld port.