Winning Eleven 9 PSP Review

I'm going to level with you here: although I enjoy watching the World Cup every four years, I'm not the world's biggest soccer fan. In the past I'd be more apt to pick up and enjoy Sega Soccer Slam than a Winning Eleven or FIFA title. At first I thought that was going to make this Winning Eleven 9 review a chore, but after paying my dues in the game's training mode, I came away pleasantly surprised. There's now one more Winning Eleven fan in the world.

A warning for the uninitiated: Winning Eleven 9's control scheme, while elegant, is also quite dense (in a good, albeit complicated, way). It's possible to achieve victory on the lower difficulties by learning basic shooting, passing, and defending techniques, but the more you play, the more subtleties you will uncover.

Pressing "X" on defense to "pressure" the ball carrier sounds straightforward enough, but after a while you begin to develop a feel for when and where to apply pressure more effectively. After practice, that (seemingly) identical pressure becomes much more effective, thanks to the subtlety of the game engine. The same goes for passing, shooting, and crossing the ball. Everything is filled with its own context, and successfully sold to the player via the game's excellent animation.

Advanced techniques such as pass and shot feints, sudden ball-stops, and back-heel passes are also available, and quite necessary on higher difficulty levels. The game's AI range is impressive. On the lowest level I thought I had the game paused, looked down after a full minute to discover otherwise, yet hadn't been scored against. On the highest level the AI handily outperformed the best of my ability.

That level of density continues off the pitch as well. A wide range of parameters are adjustable before matches begin, including formation, and defensive/offensive strategy. You can micromanage down to the individual level if you so choose, setting parameters for how each player should act during attack and defense, have them mark a specific player, etc.

This level of control is essentially unnecessary for all but the most enthusiastic WE fans, but its inclusion certainly doesn't hurt a more casual soccer audience such as myself. Setting the difficulty on 2-3 stars and then running through a league without worrying too much about these finer points still proved to be both fun and satisfying.

Unfortunately, the PSP transition caused some of Winning Eleven 9's console features to be dropped. Most notably there is no online play, and no Master League (career mode). Both omissions significantly hurt the game's longevity, and there isn't much excuse for their exclusion. PSP games have been online since launch 12 months ago.

A portable Winning Eleven with online play and a robust career mode would be a difficult prospect to turn down. The PSP release may contain all the gameplay depth of its console cousins, but fans essentially have to decide which is more important to them- portability, or online and career play. Hopefully future PSP iterations will be more feature-rich.

Once I was able to get over WE's learning curve I discovered how compelling the experience could be. I was playing the game in a coffee shop and literally thrust my fist into the air in victory after scoring a goal during stoppage time of a tied (and very important) league match. It's a shame the somewhat barebones package doesn't give gamers more of an excuse to come back to the excellent soccer engine.

What's Hot: Excellent animation, depth, and control scheme

What's Not: No online play or career mode limits value