FIFA might be grabbing all the headlines, but let's not forget that Konami's game never got any less beautiful as it slipped into the shade. A new piece of host hardware serves as a reminder of that, and while EA has moved the goalposts with its precision play and pursuit of authenticity, PES still has the power to enchant.
The new hardware helps, for sure, but underneath that dazzle there's a football game that harks back to PES's glory days. That's probably down to the fact that Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D leans so heavily on them – this game has its foundations firmly in the PlayStation 2 era, thanks no doubt to the fact that it's seemingly a port of the more recent PSP efforts.
This means that some of the more recent additions in the series' mainstream – total control, for instance – have been lost, but it still plays an extremely refined game of football. Goals, when they come, are well worth celebrating, and they're often at the end of the kind of fluid passing that the game's robust ball physics enable.
While Nintendo's hardware does a good job of bringing some visual flair, it struggles a little in delivering the intricacy of control that its bigger brothers can. The analogue nub does a fine job, but the loss of a pair of shoulder buttons is felt and it's a shame that some of the control innovations of the Wii's PES games didn't find their way on to the touch screen.
Instead, the touch screen is dedicated to doling out snap tactics and housing the radar, and it's here that an unexpected fault of Nintendo's new hardware comes to light. The thick column of plastic that separates the two screens makes it hard to dart a glance from one to the other, a real problem when the reduced real estate of the 3DS's screen necessitates a certain amount of reliance on the radar.
Thankfully it's a problem that soon gets lost in the rhythm of the game, and after having to endure Konami's more recent efforts on Nintendo's handhelds, it's a delight to play something that's so faithful to the source – and the end-to-end, flair-led football it deals in is perhaps as good as it's ever been.
THE 3D EFFECT
The 3D helps that impression, certainly, as does the fact that Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D goes further than most of its fellow launch tiles in showing not only what Nintendo's handheld is capable of but also what it can bring to existing genres.
It does so aggressively at first, the default camera being a dynamic one that swoops across the pitch. As a technical showcase it's supreme, though as a means of keeping atop of a game it's next to useless. It's efficient enough in keeping the ball in view, as well as the player in control, but setting up shots or picking out teammates to pass to is a much tougher exercise.
You can't fault Konami's enthusiasm, but it's still a game that's best played in the traditional, side-on view. The 3D effect might be less pronounced, but it's still useful – the added depth and sense of perception unsurprisingly help in a sport where precision placement is king.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D is as fully featured as you could hope for a handheld game, for the solo player at least. The licenses it has are made to do some heavy lifting, with a full Champion's League mode coming complete with all the pomp and ceremony of the real thing, although, sadly, the Copa Santander Libertadores hasn't made the cut. Master League is back and is as horrendously moreish as ever, and even in its understandably watered-down state it's enough to turn one quick game into an entire night spent chasing the signature of that one player you're convinced can turn your fortunes.
Indeed, it only really falls short in its multiplayer offerings, with local play and a cute if uninvolving StreetPass feature not enough to compensate for the lack of online play. It's a missed trick that's perhaps indicative of the game's rush to accompany the launch of the 3DS rather than any oversight at Konami, but it still leaves a hole in the heart of an otherwise commendable outing for the series.