World Soccer: Winning Eleven 9 Updated Hands-On

We score some time with Konami's upcoming soccer game at its annual Gamers' Day in San Francisco.

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Earlier today, at Konami's annual Gamers' Day event in San Francisco, we had an opportunity to spend some time with the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable versions of World Soccer: Winning Eleven 9. Already released in Europe as Pro Evolution Soccer 5, Winning Eleven 9 is the latest in a long line of annually improving soccer games from Konami's Tokyo-based development team. Like other games in the series, Winning Eleven 9 promises to improve upon its predecessor quite significantly, even though many of the tweaks and changes being implemented can be difficult to sum up with mere words.

Having gone back and spent some quality time with Winning Eleven 8 recently, the PS2 version of Winning Eleven 9--which we last played just a few weeks ago--feels quite different. Opposing players being controlled by the CPU are far more intelligent this time out, as evidenced not only by their skills on the ball, but also by the surging off-the-ball runs that strikers like Arsenal's Henry were beating our Chelsea defense with today. When you've got the ball, you'll also find that opposing players are much quicker to close in, forcing you either to take them on using sidesteps and such, or pass the ball to one of the teammates trying to make themselves available.

While it's always been possible in Winning Eleven games to beat opposing players in one-on-one situations without resorting to the "special moves" button to perform tricks, Winning Eleven 9 takes this one step further by letting you sidestep opponents using only the left analog stick. The gameplay ramifications of this aren't terribly significant, but once you get used to the new system you'll most likely wonder how you ever managed to beat opponents using the previous game's control setup. That one change aside, Winning Eleven 9's controls will feel very familiar, both to fans of the series and to any of you who have been playing FIFA 06 using the "new" (as opposed to the "classic") control scheme.

It's a testament to just how close to the PS2 game the PSP version of Winning Eleven 9 is that Konami didn't feel the need to produce separate fact sheets for the two games for today's press event. There are some differences between the games, though, the most disappointing of which is undoubtedly the PSP game's lack of a "master league" career mode. The good news on that front, however, is that you'll be able to import your master league team from the PS2 game to the PSP, and then pit them against your friends' teams wirelessly. The other most noticeable differences between the two games at this point are their respective controls, not because Konami has seen fit to change them for the PSP, but simply because Sony's handheld doesn't have as many buttons or analog sticks as a PS2 controller. The PSP's analog stick also feels quite different to that of a DualShock 2 pad, and we think it might take a while to get used to how sensitive it is when attempting to run in a straight line. Using the directional pad instead of the analog stick is an option, of course.

Although we didn't get to spend nearly as much time with World Soccer: Winning Eleven 9 as we would've liked today, we're now more excited than ever to get our hands on the finished game when it ships just a couple of weeks from now. Expect a full review soon.

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