We love it when developers listen to criticism. Most of the time it doesn't happen. People complain that a game's missing a feature or there's a problem with an element of the control system and come the sequel nothing's been done about it. It's almost a case of "well, we can't be bothered fixing it, so deal with it." Not so with Konami and Pro Evolution Soccer 2009. Every single aspect of last year's game that we had a problem with has been fixed. It's one of the most impressive yearly updates we've seen in a sports game.
So what exactly's new? First and foremost, the control system has undergone a much-needed revamp. Whereas last year's PES was clearly an experimental (and mostly successful) attempt at using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk to play a football game, this year the controls have been refined to provide a much better experience, particularly when defending.
Good Ball Control
The problem we had last year was that while using the Remote's pointer for attacking play felt like a huge step forward for football gaming, it felt like defending had taken a similarly huge step back. You could no longer control defenders; only point at them and hope they put a tackle in. This year you can fully control defenders with the analogue stick on the Nunchuk, giving you much more control when it comes to taking on opposing players.
The control improvements aren't limited to defending though. There are also a couple of minor improvements to attacking play. Most notable of these is the ability to now shoot exactly where you want by pointing at the goal and pressing the B button. Naturally, it's not quite as simple as that. The accuracy of the shot depends on your player's shooting ability - but at least you can choose what side of the goal to aim for now; ideal for easily slipping it past the keeper instead of shouting in frustration when your player whacks it straight at him.
Ironically, perhaps the most important control change for us is the addition of Classic Controller support. Much as we love playing the game with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk sometimes we just crave some proper, traditional PES action. Last year this wasn't possible but now every single game mode can be played using the Classic Controller. Ironically, this makes the Wii version of PES 09 the best way of playing PES traditionally this generation, because the Classic Controller's D-pad is
sturdy and comfortable, unlike other consoles' control pads.
So that's the controls sorted but how can they be put to use? Not only does PES have the usual Match, League and Cup modes from the previous edition of the game as well as a modified version of the addictive Champions Road mode (in which you can now build up your team's clubhouse as you progress through the leagues), there's also a new, fully licensed Champions League mode. To all extents and purposes this is really just another tournament with a bit of a makeover to make it look like the Champions League broadcasts you see on TV, but it's still quite exhilarating to hear that music as your players walk onto the pitch.
A League Of Its Own
Most important of all however is the Nintendo debut of the famous Master League mode. It's basically a player-manager mode where you choose a team filled with no-hopers who are struggling at the bottom division and try to turn them into champions. You do this by winning matches, which in turn earns you points. You can then use these points to buy better players, or can obviously sell your old players for points. There's no better feeling than breaking the bank to buy your first 'proper' player (even if he's someone a bit cheap and past it like Dean Windass), then scoring a goal with them in their debut. We've had some pretty epic Master League campaigns in PES over the years on PS2 (one in particular going as far as the 2032-33 season!) and it's just as addictive on the Wii. To put it simply, PES 2009 has regained Konami the football crown after FIFA '09 All-Play nicked it from under their noses last year. Every niggle and omission from last year's game has been accounted for and dealt with and we really can't think of anything more (other than more licensed teams) that could have been improved on. Online multiplayer is still present, the Edit mode is full and complete this time, players can download the latest transfer information to keep the game up-to-date and there's a nifty co-op mode where one player uses the Remote while the other uses a Classic Controller. It's rare that we say this, but even if you have last year's version of the game this is worth getting anyway. Well done Konami.