You might have noticed how Pro Evo no longer commands the kudos of yesteryear. We can only imagine how PES producer Seabass Takatsuka must grimace every time he catches sight of Wayne Rooney proclaiming 'We are 11' or some other EA marketing banality.
The once mocked FIFA not only commands a seat at the virtual footy table these days, it wolfs down all the tastiest grub too. Surprisingly, EA haven't been as fleet-footed as Konami when it comes to 3DS though, so this is a chance for at least temporary redemption for Seabass and co.
It's intriguing that whenever we've played PES 3D during the preview stage, it was always via the over-the-shoulder 'Player' cam. It's obvious why: it's patently designed to bring the best out of 3DS's three-dimensional jiggery-pokery.
It's both aesthetically awesome and gob-smackingly effective, whether you're thumping a clearance off the line, breaking the back of the *cough* 'old onion bag' with one of PES 3D's frequent 30-yard howitzers or shimmying past your marker while dribbling upfield. Footballing casuals will lap it up, but we're concerned as to how it'll sit with the PES hardcore weaned on a decade or more of side-to-side action.
Konami obviously have their doubts about Player cam, too. The default setting is 'NormalClose', a zoomed-in version of the traditional left-to-right cam. It's crap, and before long we'd reverted to our regular PES 'Wide' angle mode because, well, that's what works for us. Sadly, it renders the 3D effect perfunctory at best, irksome at worst - so it was off with the slider before long and a bit of a kick in the crown jewels for the Player cam hype. Still, we guess choice is a good thing.
Whatever camera angle you eventually plump for, there's no doubt PES 3D is a technical beauty, with 3DS proving it's definitely got some power in its left foot. Animation is fluid, the frame rate silky, the stadia and entrance scenes are gorgeous, star players instantly identifiable - imagine PES on PS2 but waaay smoother and you're in the right ballpark. There's even some (sparse) commentary to help with the match day atmosphere, which genuinely impresses when you're in a middle of contesting a hard fought match.
The intricacies that tight dribbling and slick passing require offer the most fearsome test for 3DS's new analogue nubbin, and - in the main - it passes muster. The same can't be said for the ickle D-pad. Unless you've got thumbs like, er, Tom Thumb, coaxing regular diagonals out of the overly tactile plastic quickly proves infuriating. Overall, while a full-size pad will seemingly always trump a handheld when it comes to controllers, 3DS proves singularly more impressive than both DS and PSP when it comes to thwacking a ball around a pitch.
The touch screen deals with tactics, so you can adjust basic fare like counter-attacking and high-pressure strategies on the fly - even if you still disappointingly have to wade through traditional formation settings if you fancy switching from, say, 3-5-2 to 4-4-2. Delving into the on-pitch action, there's an obviously more immediate, arcadey feel to PES 3DS than its increasingly pernickety, sim-obsessed console brethren.
The likes of Ronaldo and Messi, with their pace and trickery, are capable of jinking past several players at a time, while - at last! - you can finally skin a sluggish full back if you're in control of a speedy winger. This, plus a glut of long-range scorchers, makes for more adventurous, attacking matches.
End to end
It's not easy to fashion chances though - forget unrealistic pinball passing, you'll need to work feverishly hard to find space, and any sub-par passes will be picked off by an intelligent opposition AI. It's a weird mix in truth, sim-like in the middle of the park, arcade-like in and around the box - and almost comical at times in defence. You certainly can't complain that PES 3D isn't action-packed, but these niggles spoil it slightly, like a 12-man brawl towards the end of a thrilling match.