Konami's flagship Pro Evolution Soccer (Winning Eleven in other territories) series really caught the gaming world's attention with its fourth release, a beautifully playable and engrossing take on football. Since then it's become even more popular, and now rivals EA's FIFA brand in the sales stakes. However, each year brings the typical range of minor improvements with new teams, moves and animations the only reasons to purchase each update, rendering the previous version obsolete (as witnessed by PES6 on sale for less than a fiver brand new!). PES2008 on Wii takes the barebones of the sport and sculpts it around the Wii's original control scheme, resulting in a completely new take on football games. The question really is though: does it work?
Key to PES is the use of the Wii pointer, which takes care of passing, dribbling and defending. Firstly, and most gratifying, is the new "free run" system, which lets you select any player on your team, regardless of whether they have the ball or not, and drag them to the desired position. After a few matches it becomes second nature to drag a winger or striker into a key position without them being anywhere near the ball, eradicating the frustrations of poor teammate AI from other games. It's not always necessary, though: aiming a pass into open space will highlight the receiving player and his run, allowing you to weigh up your options more clearly. Every movement is clearly demarcated with an arrow, and each destination with an arrow, which lends the game an instnatly striking visual style, rather like a coach's training blackboard might look. It's all very appealing.
Once you've got used to the controls it becomes an instinctive and satisfying game of football; dragging players into position and placing the ball perfectly is so straightforward you'll be scoring amazing goals in no time, and although the shooting system - shake the Nunchuk to shoot - is extremely simplistic, with such overall control in every other area it's hard to complain. The attacking game flows beautifully, and you really do feel as though you have unlimited options, as opposed to traditional PES games which often rely on a through ball or late cross.
Of course, there has to be more than simple controls to make it worth playing, and just as the controls are simplified so is PES's main single player feature, with the Master League mode becoming Champion's Road. Starting on a map you take part in quick leagues, and as you progress you open up more difficult tournaments and special training camps for advanced moves. After each match your players gain experience points in one of six areas, and once they've reached a certain level you can invest those points into basic, special and advanced skills. These can range from simple statistical increases to enhanced abilities in finding good positions, improved accuracy in one-on-one situations and more. Even with these skills though, some of your players will never become world-class, which is why it's so great you can take players from your opponents after each match. What's most frustrating about this system is that you never know who you're picking or how good they are; instead you're forced to rely on a vague description such as "will never get tired" or "relishes the physical game", which refer to statistics you can't see. There's also no telling their quality, so you'll pick a fair few donkeys before you sign a decent player, which I suppose is only realistic.
Aside from Champions Road there's the usual options of League, Cup and Edit modes, although the latter is pretty pared-down from its big console brothers; an opportunity missed until you unlock the ability to use your Mii characters for players. Big head modes may have gone out of fashion years ago, but Konami keeps the flame burning bright with this hilarious addition. I wouldn't be surprised to see a roaring trade develop in exchanging Mii Ronaldinhos and Rooneys. The online play is limited to one-on-one, but you can send your Champions Road team across to a friend to play every day, and even take players to trade in your Wii Remote's memory, in case you fancy a little swapsies. It's also worth mentioning that the Wii version features all the players and teams from the 360 and PS3 versions; it may seem stripped-down in some regards, but it is still Pro Evolution Soccer 2008.
This game does its job very well - it's a new and refreshing way of looking at the football game, and Konami deserve huge praise for trying something truly different with a brand that, it could be argued, has been stagnating since the breakthrough PES4. Highly enjoyable, unique and absorbing, PES isn't just the best ever football game on a Nintendo platform, it's a beacon to other third-party developers that should reawaken their imagination in approaching old formulae with fresh ideas.