After the disappointing Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (360 and PS3) gave us a grazing kick to the ball bags, we've been hoping that the Wii translation would finally give us something to smile about, especially after last year's version proved to be the only genuinely innovative offering from the otherwise ailing series.
Kicking things off are some much-needed improvements to defending. If you played last year's version you'll recall that pilfering the ball from an opponent was about as easy as tackling Ronaldo with your left ankle taped to your forehead, resulting in the kind of bloated scorelines usually reserved for an under-7's football tournament.
That's all changed. When an opposition player has the ball, your nearest player automatically closes in, though you're still able to fine-tune their approach with the control stick. Once your player is close enough you can suck them towards the ball and begin jostling for possession by holding down 'Z'. You can also drag a second defender into the action in order to double up on an opponent. These additions make tight marking and combative defending far easier than they were twelve months ago.
Another nifty skill is the ability to intercept passes. By first man-marking an opponent and then pressing the desired direction on the d-pad, you can make your defender run forward and cut out a pass to a front man. It's certainly a useful trick, though the necessity to shift your grip up the Wiimote with perfect timing to jab the d-pad, coupled with the necessity for a near-precognitive anticipation of the opposition's pass suggests that this is one feature still in need of refinement before release. Pressing the d-pad even a split second after the pass has been made currently results in your player failing to intercept the ball.
For any Wii PES virgins, a word of warning: you're going to need to spend some time learning how the controls work before you can start playing in earnest, because this is a very different experience to 360 and PS3. While you can navigate individual players with the control stick, you can also use the Wiimote to point to the team-mate or area of the pitch you want to pass to. You can also control off-the-ball runs of other players in a similar manner. Thankfully newcomers will be able to turn to the five excellent training camps, which teach you the majority of tricks and skills you need to master if you're to stand any chance of outfoxing the AI, which itself is looking slightly sharper. Players on both sides also seem to embark on more intelligent runs without requiring as much direct prompting from your darting Wiimote.
Another change is PES 2009's refined shooting system. Once you see the whites of a keeper's eyes you now have two options: use a five-knuckle nunchuk shuffle to make your player fire in on goal, or pick a spot with the Wiimote and then hold down 'B' to determine the power of the shot, which is far more satisfying. Showboaters will be happy to know that you can also draw out the goalkeeper and then attempt to dink the ball over his flailing limbs.