Regular readers probably know that I'm not the biggest fan of certain genres, sports games being one of the biggest ones. So it was with great hesitation that I popped Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D into my trusty 3DS. And it was with great surprise that I actually found myself enjoying it!
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D is a surprisingly in-depth experience for a handheld, and while many of the teams had to be renamed, the player names are the same, and the likenesses are surprisingly good. You can play a quick match with Exhibition mode, take on Europe's Elite Clubs in the UEFA Champions League mode, or develop a team over the course of a 52-week season by trading players and managing your finances in Master League mode. You can also take your Master League team and trade them in Street Pass to compare yours against others. Unfortunately, not knowing anyone else who owns a copy of the game, I was unable to try out the multiplayer or Street Pass modes. Although as it's local multiplayer (sorry, no online play), I would expect it to run smoothly.
Graphics are very impressive. The players animate fluidly, and certain ones seem to have specific victory animations unique to them. And when in close-up, they really do look like their real-life counterparts. A handful of inoffensive Euro-pop songs play over menus, and during matches, you'll only hear the roar of the crowd (and the occasional fight song chant) along with the play-by-play. At first, I was really impressed with the commentary, but I have to admit that after a while, you do hear some repetition. It's not so often that it gets irritating though, and their comments are often startlingly specific. You can also switch the look of the ball, although I have to admit I never really noticed much of a difference between the stadiums (Who pays attention to the surroundings? Keep your eye on the ball!).
There's plenty to tweak as far as the gameplay goes so you can get the game right where you want it. Difficulty can be adjusted to anywhere from Beginner to Top Player, and you can customize the camera. If following the players gets a little dizzying, you can always switch to a fixed overhead perspective. (The 3D effect helps add depth to the field and judge your shots, but when the camera whips around it can be a bit disorienting.) After a goal, you see replays from a couple different angles, then you're given complete control over the camera and animation to relive the play as many times as you want and from any angle you can steer the camera into. (Shame you can't save the really good ones, though) The basic controls are easy to grasp, and then there are special moves that you can learn as you perfect your skills.
To be fair, my own skills were admittedly lacking, so I was playing on the easier difficulty levels and never tried learning the advanced control techniques, but they're there if you're good enough to put them into practice. (I wasn't.) And you could certainly make an all-star team for Master League mode by trading for all your favorite players, but as I'm not a fan of the sport, I wouldn't even know where to begin to do such a thing!
So while I'd say that more than half of the game was so foreign to me that I wasn't really able to enjoy it to its fullest, I was surprised to find myself having a lot of fun anyway. There's a nice pick-up-and-play quality to Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D that I honestly wasn't expecting. (So I'm not just saying it's good because it's in 3D!) Even not knowing who the players were, I still had a blast picking a random team and playing a quick match. And I know I must have looked a pillock on the subway when I got so into it that I would make faces and curse a missed shot or cheer a goal. (Also loved the way that the teams would occasionally celebrate a goal with a pile-on orgy...)
Look, I'm as surprised as anyone to be giving a positive review to a sports game. But if you'd told me that I would actually have enjoyed playing Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D and would continue to play it even after the review was written, I would've said you were a crazy person. Can someone check outside and see if there are airborne swine?
The reviewer played a copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D provided by Konami for the purposes of this review. Multiple random matches were played, and Master League mode was attempted, but as it's quite extensive, was not fully completed by the writing of this review. According to the Activity Log on the 3DS, all of this has taken just over seven hours.