Release Date: 01/11/06
World Soccer Winning Eleven DS is one of the most underwhelming additions to the series so far. It will probably come as no surprise to find it contains little of the subtlety and depth found in the likes of Winning Eleven 10, but in many ways it does reassuringly take you back to the the awkwardly animated polygon players from the 90's PlayStation games. Nevertheless, thanks to a far more rudimentary type of control, this isn’t going to take precedence over its big brother console versions anytime soon.
Perhaps understandably enough, the touch screen is relegated almost entirely from use other than to navigate menus, only coming into play during matches to switch between map types, alter play motivation levels and manipulating camera angles during an instant-replay. Everything else however, from the button layout and controls, are as you'd expect: chips, one-two's and slick passing will open up most defences, delicate use of the power bar is still required when shooting and in general, a considered approach play to will reap rewards.
This familiarity extends to the game modes on offer, with the usual Training and Edit options and cup competitions. There’s no league mode to get stuck into this time though, leaving only the Konami Cup and the new "World Tour” mode, which adds a spin (though not a particularly interesting one) on Master League from previous games. Here, you play as a randomly generated team of nobodies, traveling across the globe playing each and every nation until irrevocably victorious. Along the way, you are awarded silver and gold medals which can be used to purchase international footballers from, um... a touch-screen-manipulated capsule machine. Although battling against 60 nations from around the world is often laborious, the promise of discovering an all-star player to add to your troop in one of these capsules is appealing, as is the ability to customise the colour of kit and badge design. One new addition that also takes advantage of the touch screen is a motivation bar which, crucially, can be altered live during play rather than having to go through an options menu. Set it high and your team will noticeably push up for a last-gasp charge forward, or lower the gauge to send them all back behind the ball for some desperate defending.
Anyone who played the earliest versions of the series on the PlayStation will recognise this edition’s traits. The gameplay the series has become synonymous with over the years since is still here, but compared to the majority of them, player response times here are sluggish and unresponsive, and without an analogue stick the controls feel very rigid. Usually it takes time to score a goal in a new Winning Eleven, but here there are too many “sweet-spots”, and in almost no-time you’ll be repeatedly smashing the ball into the back of the onion bag against even the high-tier teams - boredom swiftly ensues. Seemingly in-line with the newer console versions, scoring from a header is difficult, as the CPU-controlled back line efficiently cut out most crosses. In fact, goals are mostly scored along the ground, but along the way there are pleasant variations, from own-goals and deflections, to cheeky lob shots and volleyed long-range efforts. It's the irregularity of these moments that disappoints, because for all the hours it's possible to put into WE DS, very little comes in the way of reward.
As with almost all Winning Eleven games, CPU matches can become repetitive after a while, and so the addition of Wi-Fi support is excellent news for those looking for a new challenge. Importers beware though: Winning Eleven DS employs a match-making system that only pairs-up players with other (Japanese) copies of the game. This results in a sluggish, almost unplayable match on some connections, due to the physical location of players. It isn’t an annoyance expected to be present in Western translations (known as Pro Evolution Soccer 6 here in the UK), so it’s worth bearing this in mind. Far more solid performances are guaranteed with local matches against people stored in Friend Code lists. Here, play is fluid and, as always, more enjoyable and varied than playing on your own. The opportunity to aggravate an opponent with replays of goals after scoring - using the stylus to view the goal again and again from every possible angle - is particularly sweet. Indeed, it’s in the multiplayer modes that the most fun from the game can be had, whether that’s from a network game or single-cart 2-player match.
There’s enough pocket-sized fun to be had with Konami’s DS footballing debut, but even so, it’s difficult to summarise with anything much more than a simple shrug of the shoulders. Even with the aforementioned online play, it’s hard to recommend, especially in the face of the PSP’s Winning Eleven 2007. It’s still (just about) Winning Eleven, but the transition to Nintendo’s handheld is largely misguided. The gameplay is often too slow to deliver that immediate rush handheld games need, and at the same time avoids any real need to use strategy for those wanting to put in hours of dedicated play. It sits uncomfortably between this lack of immediacy and lack of depth, and the restricted amount of skills at your disposal leaves it feeling more like a 3D update of Sensible Soccer, only without the pace and excitement.