Pro Evolution Soccer (or PES, to its mates) has a long, colourful history. From the outset, this Japanese-developed series has given EA's mega-budget FIFA series a run for its money - even back when it didn't have any licenses. It doesn't have them all in this latest incarnation, but it's got a lot of them and it also has it where it counts the most: the gameplay.
Where it doesn't have it is probably a good place to start, so we can get it out of the way early. Pretty much everything that happens on the bottom screen is disappointing. The interface itself, for example. It's horrible. The kind of horrible that incompetent powerpoint tinkerers can only hope to achieve. The kind of truly ugly that even two-bit flash developers that make their assets in MS Paint would exceed in every regard without even trying. It's geocities or myspace levels of awful. Brushed metal, hard to read fonts and crude 3D renders do not a successful interface make. Ugh.
It's also pretty light on features, with no online modes and only a basic wireless multiplayer mode for those that want to duke it out with their mates. It does sport a basic StreetPass feature, with Street Fighter-like virtual competitions taking place without player input when randomly encountering other PES 3D players in the street.
The football itself is a well-appointed affair, particularly in the difficulty-levels department. The most basic level allows even completely incompetent players to string plays together and, once the controls are learned, actually score some goals. The most difficult, however, will challenge even PES pros - making this title suitable for the full gamut of football-mad gamers (except, perhaps, those who turn green seeing the beautiful game referred to as "soccer").
The game plays a good game of football, with deft passing rewarded and idiotic kicks to no-one invariably turning over possession. Many real-world tactics can be employed, and, once the controls are mastered, the result is a satisfying combination of skill, luck, planning and finesse. Action tends towards the arcade, rather than the simulation, but in so doing it elevates the activity into the "just one more" compulsive category.
Master league is present, as hoped, allowing you to take the reigns of your favorite team (well - not quite; there's no Wellington Phoenix) and play both in and out of matches as you attempt to win the league and balance the books. It's from here that you can populate your StreetPass team, too, so play hard or you'll get your but whipped by strangers on the train. It's great fun and will likely be the place most owners of PES 3D spend their time.
Visually the game is, aside from the aforementioned interface, a solid package. Players are well animated and the marquee, licensed individuals look remarkably lifelike. The location of the ball, for once, is actually (and completely) intuitive when playing in 3D thanks to the depth afforded by the technology. There are a bunch of interesting cameras that better exploit the 3D but, perhaps, are injurious to the enjoyability of the game itself (your mileage may vary; we definitely encourage you to try them out, regardless). Being able to see what's going on at ground level is amazing - especially in 3D - but, perhaps in part thanks to years of ingrained expectation, it frustrates when you don't have at-a-glance ability to tell where everyone else is when making a pass or deciding on your next move.
The sound is present and doesn't do anything to upset but doesn't do anything to stand out in anyway whatsoever, which is how many people will like it.
It's a competent first pass 3D pocket football game, of that there's no question. It's fun to play and the 3D genuinely aids in comprehension of the proceedings. All they need is online play, extended modes and a competent interface designer, and the sequel will be knocking on the door of a 9 at least. Now to see what EA has to say when FIFA hits Nintendo's new toy...