While Pro Evolution Soccer has suffered from a lack of inspiration on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 recently, last year's Wii debut proved that the series isn't afraid to innovate. Its new control system was a revelation, allowing you to use the Wii Remote to draw out tactics onscreen, and it offered an entirely new way of playing an established franchise. This year's Wii version improves on this great debut by refining the controls and offering even more options, while the introduction of the UEFA Champions League and Master League modes adds a lot more depth.
PES 2009's default control scheme can take some getting used to because it incorporates a cursor rather than direct player control. However, with some practice you can direct the action like a bona fide football conductor. When your player is in possession, you point to where you want him to go and hold the A button to drag him to that spot. The passing system works in the same way: select the player you want to pass to and then press B to kick the ball to him. This is where the brilliance of the control system becomes apparent, because you can perform through balls and crosses with a single button just by altering the position of your cursor. The final basic move is shooting, which you perform by shaking the nunchuk, though advanced players can also perform feints and free runs, which you can practice in the excellent tutorials.
This year, the control system has been improved to make one-two passes easier. You can easily pass to a player and then run on to receive the ball back, using the cursor to point out the pass rather than dragging your player there. Attacking is still easier than defending, though, and there haven't been any major improvements to the latter--shaking the nunchuk for sliding tackles still isn't precise enough. Also, the depth of the controls requires a decent amount of dexterity if you want to master the default control system.If you don't fancy using the remote and nunchuk combo, there are two alternatives: you can plug in a Classic Controller or you can hold the remote sideways. It's great to see alternate control schemes included in this year's game, because while the remote/nunchuk option works well, not everybody is going to prefer it over a more traditional controller. The Classic Controller is the more preferable option, simply because the remote has fewer buttons.
Thankfully the winning formula in last year's gameplay hasn't been tampered with. Pro Evo 2009 delivers a great game of football no matter which control system you're using, and playing matches against AI or human players is constantly rewarding thanks to responsive controls. This is combined with logical AI that's both challenging and realistic, immersive gameplay, and highly responsive controls. That said, the default difficulty level is rather easy, especially if you're a veteran of the series, so if you're up for a challenge you may need to knock it up a notch.
PES 2009 offers an excellent selection of game modes, including standard matches, free training, and create-your-own leagues and cups. One of the biggest additions this year is the Champions League mode, which has been brought over from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game. It's based on Europe's top club competition and lets you take your favourite European team from the group stages to the Champions League Final. All of the TV-style presentation and official sponsors are featured throughout, which is a boon for a series that's usually all but devoid of official licences. It's not all good news, however, because the game still lacks seven of the 2009 qualifying teams, so Arsenal and Chelsea are known as North London and London FC respectively.
The real long-term challenge comes from the Master League mode, which makes its first appearance on the Wii. Your goal is to win a league championship while developing, buying, and selling players throughout the season. You still play matches, but you have the added demands of managing your team as well as your business throughout the week. While it doesn't rival the depth of a dedicated football management game, Master League is a fun combination of traditional gameplay and light management duties.
While the Champions League and Master League additions bring Pro Evo for the Wii close to the other versions of the game in terms of features, it should be noted that Become a Legend mode, where you control a single player through his career, hasn't been included. In its stead is Champions Road, which lets you participate in tournaments across the globe, rather than a single domestic league competition. You can purchase new players, and use your winnings to develop your club's facilities and by purchasing extra facilities in your clubhouse you can recruit higher-ranked players to your team. It's a fun distraction and adds extra variety to the game, however it feels lightweight next to Master League as it doesn't offer the same depth of team management.
PES 2009 offers a good multiplayer package, with an offline mode for up to four players and an online mode for two players. When four players are playing offline, two can use the remote and nunchuk, but the other two have to use either a Wii Remote on its side or a Classic Controller. That might sound limited, but it has a sound practical reason: four cursors onscreen would result in mayhem for everyone involved. The online multiplayer is well designed--you can add people to a friends or rivals roster and then track your win/loss record through the year. Online games were lag free in our experience and usually as smooth as playing offline multiplayer. You can also download the latest team data, which updates the existing rosters to match real-life transfers as the season progresses.
The graphics in the Wii version of Pro Evo are decent, and the players and stadiums look quite realistic. However, the players look worse when shown close-up during replays, where animations are awkward and stilted. The commentary from Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson is accurate and delivered in an enthusiastic manner, but they occasionally comment on something completely unrelated to what's happening onscreen. The crowd chants, ball sounds, and other ambient effects all sound authentic, but the generic soundtrack is cheesy and instantly forgettable.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 offers improvements and more variation to what was already a great control scheme and adds authenticity and longevity thanks to the inclusion of the Champions League and Master League modes. Combine this with a strong suite of existing offline and online game modes, and it makes a compelling package for any football fan. This year's instalment raises the bar for football games on the Wii, and regardless of whether or not you played last year's version, it's well worth checking out.