After playing Madden NFL on the 3DS and being sorely disappointed with the result, we ended up with the perhaps irrational fear that it was going to be impossible for a developer to put together a fun, exciting, enjoyable sports title on the system. Sports titles on handhelds are notoriously difficult to execute anyway, and heck, if Madden couldn’t put out an enjoyable version of the premiere football franchise, what chance did anyone else have?
As we said though, that was something of an irrational fear, but one we harbored nonetheless. We won’t say that the new Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D has completely assuaged our worries, but it certainly has mitigated them.
If you’re like us and have the same sort of fear, you definitely won’t be convinced of your wrongness when you pop in the PES 2011 cartridge and start up a match. While the graphics are good—not great, but definitely good—the default camera view that game provides is far too zoomed in and almost wholly useless. Sure, it highlights the 3D-ness and the characters and field, but it doesn’t actually give you any sense of scope, where other players are, and how a set piece may be developing.
That is exactly when your fear will take hold of you – why would they bother with that viewpoint? Does PES 2011 on the 3DS have so little to offer that they’re going to give you a bad default camera choice just so you don’t notice the number of other issues? No, as it turns out, that was just a single really bad decision. We won’t go so far as to say that the rest of the game is utterly brilliant—it assuredly isn’t—but it’s better than you’re first led to believe.
The basic problem the game has is the lack of control it imparts to the player. Rather than really being able to turn in 360 degrees (one would have thought that possible with the analog controls the 3DS sports), you’re still only able to go in eight possible directions. That makes it awfully hard to control where passes and shots end up, and you’ll find that you routinely fire off a pas to a covered player instead of going to the open guy just a hair to the left or right of where the pass actually went.
The game does sport some real players and teams, and most of the gameplay you’ll do will take place either in the Master League or Champions League. In Champions, you can do a competition setup which features round robin matches and then a knockout stage, whereas in Master League your more running a team. I say “more” because while you can sign players, make them like your team, and tweak odds and ends, you never really feel as though you can get into the nitty-gritty details of it all.
In short, that’s really the sort of thing which, for better or worse, we’ve come to expect from a handheld sports title. On the 3DS, PES 2011 has pretty good graphics, stilted but enjoyable in-game action, and not quite as robust a set of modes as you might actually want. One of the more interesting and better additions to the title is the in-game utilization of a portion of the bottom screen which allows you to setup various team strategies in advance and then simply tap one to implement them. It is a really good use of the bottom screen without having to make you constantly raise and lower your eyes during a game.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D has all those hallmarks of a launch title that make it fun and frustrating at the same time. From the poor default camera angle which highlights the graphics and 3D-ness at the expense of playability to the lack of precise controls for your players, one can almost see where the next iteration of the franchise on the system will head. The current title is good and is a better football game than the equivalent version of American football we’ve gotten on the 3DS, but it’s not spectacular. Next year’s version, however, might be (and maybe it will include online play as well).
If nothing else, the game has shown us that a great 3D sports title is certainly viable and something we should, without a doubt, be expecting to see on Nintendo’s latest handheld.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.