Pro Evolution Soccer is not the supreme football game it once was. We've come to accept that FIFA, regardless of its flaws, is the best football simulator on the market. Poor old Mr. Seabass just hasn't been able to keep up with the pace, resulting in an exodus of fans flocking towards EA's annual money churner. While it mightn't have the deep gameplay, Pro Evolution Soccer still has a name worthy of respect. It also has character and nostalgia, and it will always be an important player in video games because of that. In Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D, we have the first football game for Nintendo's 3DS console, and surprisingly, it's not a complete failure.
Where it lacks in complexity, PES 3D attempts to compensate with fun. That's not to say it's free of problems though, because there are plenty. As is the case with almost every 3DS release so far, PES 3D isn't exactly bursting with content. The English Premier League is mostly unlicensed, although you do have a few other full European leagues packed in, La Liga being the most important, but you also have the Dutch and the Italians to fiddle around with. The franchise is well behind FIFA in relation to official football, and even the Champions League mode is quite underwhelming when you're lining up as 'North London' instead of Arsenal. So there's nothing new there, as expected. But it's in 3D! Yeah, about that...
It's not all three dimensional. The menus have barely been touched, neither have the animated cut-scenes; they've just been downgraded to fit a portable screen. One of the biggest weaknesses here is the gimmick of playing football in 3D, because without it, PES is a more enjoyable experience. As soon as you move the slider, colour loss is immediately noticeable. Otherwise, you've actually got a really decent looking game. The on-pitch detail is good, player likenesses are respectable and it all comes together nicely. 3D is most beneficial during the opening sequence where you're given panoramic views of the stadium, it also works well for set pieces, i.e. free kicks and corner kicks. Apart from that, the effect is disappointing and matters little unless you want to see the scoreboard floating off the grass. There's also a mirror image even in the 'sweet spot', it's easy to ignore but just as easy to get distracted by. This mightn't affect everyone, but PES 3D really is a temperamental old sod when dealing with new technology.
Most long serving football fans will immediately switch to standard wide camera angle, and this is why the 3D has little or no impact. While using the default camera option (placed behind the player and close to the pitch), it's a wonderful thing to look at, but the gameplay suffers. Passing becomes a guessing game because you can't see your supporting players. The terrific system from the console version has been removed, so there's no longer a power meter, which makes the build-up play feel like ping pong. Dribbling has also suffered because you're forced back into the confines of only being able to move in eight directions, as opposed to the full three-sixty degree dribbling on consoles. Then you have the goalkeepers, those infamous clowns who have been the cause of many a broken controller. PES 3D still suffers from poor AI in that area of the pitch, leading to comedic errors and a serious drop in realism.
As a way of making your commute fly past, PES 3D still does a sound job overall. It captures the atmosphere with cheering crowds, almost destroys it with dire commentary, and can be a lot of fun to play. What you need to remember is that PES 3D only concerns itself with basic, bare bones football and nothing else. It's all presented neatly with no major delays in terms of loading, easy to navigate menus and nothing too complicated. The action is obviously displayed on the top screen, leaving the bottom screen for a few tactical options and a small radar. Trying to watch both screens isn't even worth attempting because the radar is small and ineffective, if anything, the radar should fill the bottom screen fully to help with passing. In fairness to Konami, they have tried and in many ways they have succeeded. To their credit, PES 3D controls beautifully with the circle pad. The face buttons are used just like every other football game, while the shoulder buttons are for sprinting and changing players, and you can even pull off tricks.
The best part of the Pro Evolution Soccer franchise will always be the Master League mode. Thankfully, it's here and provides one of the most rewarding experiences in the genre. Even with all its licenses and fancy new additions, FIFA has never been able to offer something on a par with the Master League, despite many attempts. Essentially, you're building a club to your specifications, deciding on which direction to take and how to balance the books at the end of the season. It's addictive and time consuming, almost too addictive, but that's a good thing. Master League personalises PES 3D into the type of football game that you want to play, and for that reason alone, it has to be one of the better early releases for Nintendo's new platform. Then you have the editing options, and we could keep on yapping but there are more pressing issues.
Konami has also incorporated Street Pass, so if you walk past somebody else with PES 3D, both of your Master League teams will face off. All of these statistics are tracked and assuming you can notch up a few wins, rewards will start coming your way. But then, after all of that good work, PES 3D takes one final and unforgivable self inflicted wound. Multiplayer - there is none. Not online, at least. Local rivalries can be established in the same house, but PES 3D does not support global online play even though the system is fully kitted out to challenge the world. At its core, football is competitive and what is more satisfying than destroying a biased Red Devil supporter living in Manchester? Hmm? Nothing, that's what. If you look at football games on the PlayStation Portable, even FIFA 2006 had a full multiplayer component. Why? Because it's vital and without it, PES 3D is only half of the game it should have been.
For everything that PES 3D does well, it counters it by doing something stupid. Something that's just plain dumb. Visually, everything is really pleasing if you don't mind having a 3D effect that ranges between good and bloody awkward. As an offline experience, there's depth and drama. As an online experience, there may as well be nothing. As a football experience; it's competent, often enjoyable but never goes beyond the minimum expectations. Compacting a console game onto a portable platform is fine, you just need to make sure that you bring all of the important bits. Konami forgot one too many.