I’ve always been a Pro Evo man. I was first enthralled by its particular brand of footballing brilliance when its first incarnation (under that moniker) appeared on the PS2. FIFA titles offered up a typical arcade football game whereas with Pro Evo, what you got was simulation heaven.
As the series progressed, it just got better and better. Fully customisable tactics, amazing gameplay and, of course, the genius that is the Master League. It was the best footballing series on the planet.
Until last year that is, when Pro Evo 2008 managed to spectacularly cock things up. Opting for a more arcade-style approach, it forgot about what made it so great in the first place and became a thoroughly disengaging experience.
The Wii version of Pro Evo 2008 was a different matter entirely of course. Here it was all about the tactics – perhaps a little too much in fact. Controlling everything on the pitch made for an extremely complex game. Instructing your players where to run, pass, shoot and defend all at the same time turned many gamers off, myself included. While there were some aspects of that point and click gameplay that were to be applauded, as a whole it just didn’t work.
The reason I mention last year’s Pro Evo in this review is because, to be blunt, FIFA 09 All-Play has nicked the good things about the control system in Pro Evo 2008 and showed them how it should have been done in the first place. The All-Play control system referred to in the title makes it easy for anyone to pick up and play the game, as EA have tried to make all their sports titles this year. Using this, you control key aspects such as passing and shooting while the AI does everything else. However, for serious football gamers this will be quickly dismissed. That brings us to the Advanced Play system and here’s where FIFA owes an awful lot to Konami.
Passing on FIFA 09 All-Play is done by pointing your Wii remote at the player you want to pass to and pressing the A button, just like in Pro Evo 2008. Shooting is carried out by flicking the Wii remote, just like in Pro Evo 2008. Controlling players is done via the control joystick on the Nunchuck, just like in Pro Evo 2008. However, there is one massive difference between the two that turns FIFA 09 into what is the best football game on the console, and one of the best footy games I’ve ever played full stop. Whereas in Pro Evo you controlled where all the players moved on the pitch, in FIFA 09 this is all looked after by the game’s AI engine. You can instruct players to make forward runs and point them in the right direction to run by passing the ball into space for someone to pick it up but other than that the player AI looks after everything.
The control system also works well when it comes to defending as you can select any one of your defenders by pointing your Wii remote at the screen and then moving them with the Nunchuck’s control stick. It can occasionally take longer than you’d like for the game to register the exact player you want to control, especially if they’re all close too each other, but this isn’t a major problem.
The whole control mechanism makes for a far simpler gaming experience than last year’s Pro Evo and for a much more compelling one that last year’s FIFA, and it’s one that’s so much fun to boot. You can also choose to use your classic controller or a GameCube controller but it’s surprising how hollow that feels once you’ve played it using the Wii remote.
As expected with any FIFA game the attention to visual detail is pretty impressive with a host of players and stadiums having been reproduced and while the graphics won’t stand up against other consoles they’re pretty good for the Wii. Commentary however is, as is often the case with footy sims, a mixed bag. Clive Tyldesley’s familiar tones make for a great atmosphere but poor old Andy Gray must have only recorded a few lines as they regularly crop up time and time again, often in a somewhat nonsensical fashion. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard him say someone’s got to come off after they injured themselves during a slide tackle, when clearly no-one even challenged for the ball.
Every football league you’d ever want to play in is present, including all four English leagues. You can also compete in one of a boatload of league and cup tournaments or create your own, although the apparent lack of an international tournament is a bit of a surprise here. Best of all is the inclusion of the Manager Mode, similar to Pro Evo’s Master League, where you get to play full seasons through a career as well as managing the team off and on the pitch, making decisions from ticket pricing to employing new medical staff.
The Wii also comes with a bunch of games specific to the console. The 8v8 Footii match is a pared down version of the full game with your Mii characters taking on various nations all captained by a Mii version of a famous footballer, such as Ronaldinho. Like the All-Play feature, it’s a good addition to get beginners or youngsters interested in playing the game but for serious gamers such as myself it tires fairly quickly.
The Wii mini-games are also just plain rubbish. Table football in particular is quite awful. That, alongside Juggling and Boot it were also included in FIFA 08 so anyone who’s played them will know what I mean.
The game’s online play mode is pretty good, giving you a chance to play single games or join an online tournament. I have noticed some lag when playing some games but you’ll soon ignore that once you get into it.
The one big disappointment with the Wii version of FIFA 09 is the lack of a No Be A Pro feature that other versions of the game include. Allowing you to control one player through a career this sounds like it would be a great feature and I was a bit fed up when I realised Wii users were missing out on this.
It’s testament to FIFA 09 All-Play then that despite the rubbish mini-games, so-so Footii match feature, slightly jerky online play and lack of one of the game’s killer features that it still stands out as not only the best footy game on the Wii by a country mile, but also the most exciting and absorbing football game I can remember playing since I first picked up Pro Evo all those years back. At its core is a brilliantly playable, fast and exciting simulation of the beautiful game, one that you won’t be able to put down (I’m already three quarters of the way through a season and I only bought it a week back).
For now, FIFA is the King of footy games. Konami has got to come up with something pretty special to gain back its crown now.
FIFA 09 All-Play Wii is out now.