Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 has finally made its way to the Wii, straggling in after versions on other consoles were met with merely satisfactory reviews. As usual for the series though, the gameplay makes this one worth a look even if you already have an opinion on the other versions. It features not a translation to Wii-waggling, but a robust, wholly new control scheme.
Shooting, heading and clearing are now tied to a shake of the Nunchuk, and doing any of them well is an issue of timing instead of direction and button press. Yet it has more than buttons that are simply replaced with motion-sensing commands. The Wii edition takes advantage of the IR pointing of the Wiimote to allow control of multiple players simultaneously. Players' runs are directed by drawing arrows, while passes are sent to specific targets (people or space) by pointing and dragging on them-as easily done as it is with a mouse.
The Nunchuk controls whoever possesses the ball while running to goal or stalling while other players are sent to better positions. And though dribbling won't feel quite as intimate as in previous versions, passing is intuitive and powerful. Timing the release of a pass until just when someone has moved into position, or sending the ball to exact points in space to picked up in stride and the like, are all done with ease.
The result is the sort of teamwork that has only been possible in cooperative play is achievable in single player. Video game soccer has always been reducible to single player heroics, but now one-twos and other plays are not reliant on the whims of artificial intelligence. Offence is now much more open to the orchestration of plays than simply waiting for serendipity.
Oddly though, direct control of a player is ceded while playing defence. Defenders can be assigned to mark specific opposing players, priority can be stacked on particular opponents, and a shake of Nunchuk will set off a sliding tackle, but no one is individually controlled.
Even if defenders can be told to play the offside trap or cover passing lanes, the result of open control on offence, and the lack thereof in defence, is that goals are far easier to create than to stop. You are the manager on the touchline screaming instructions to obedient but forgetful players while defending and everytime possession of the ball changes, assignments are cleared.
Still, although the graphics are predictably limited and online play is hampered by lag; the Wii version of PES 2008 also has the Champion's Road, an enjoyable mode where a team is groomed through a grand tour of mini-European leagues and the game has its substantial new gameplay in its favor.
Grasping the new scheme is easier than the presence of short tutorials (a mandatory set appears before play) and this wordy description suggests. The tactical play, is already fun despite the growing pains, and hopefully is a sign of more to come.