The PSP might not be winning the handheld war at the moment - or even getting anywhere near to the DS - but the little handheld that could has certainly delivered on its promise of console-quality games. Plenty of the big guns are here, with the likes of GTA, Ridge Racer, Metal Gear Solid, and FIFA all offering more or less the kind of gameplay you'd expect while sitting in front of a PlayStation 2. For many gamers though, particularly in the UK, Pro Evolution Soccer is the big one, and PES 5 didn't quite cut it.
Amongst other things the PSP game suffered from slowdown, horrific loading times, a lack of key features, and it forced players to use a rather too zoomed-in camera angle. But it was PES on the PSP - a system European gamers had already waited an eternity to get hold of - so no one was complaining too much. Thankfully, PES 6 on the PSP is much closer to its PlayStation 2 counterpart than PES 5 was to its, and the majority of those problems that we tried to ignore last year have been sorted out.
Things didn't start as well as I'd hoped though. Those load times from last year have certainly been cut down, but not by as much as I'd hoped. You'll get into a game before you start pulling your hair out, but you can't hop into a game in a matter of seconds, making a slight mockery of the 'quick start' option in the Match menu. Still, at least we get a Master League mode this year, along with League, Cup and Training modes. There's still no online play or Game Sharing, which is more than a little disappointing, but local Ad Hoc wireless play is available.
Some effort has also gone into making the PSP game more handheld friendly. Hidden in the options menu is the option to preserve battery life by disabling certain sound effects, cheering and music. There's also the option to import Edit data over from the PlayStation 2 game, assuming you own that, have made some edits and can link your PS2 to your PSP using a USB cable. Sadly, you can't import and export Master League data, so anyone hoping to continue their save while away for Christmas is out of luck.
On the pitch things play more or less as you'd expect if you've been playing PES 6 on home consoles or PC. Due to a few less buttons on the PSP a few control changes have had to be made, so, for example, 'fast run' is simply the right shoulder button, while tapping it performs a step-over. The tweaked controls aren't a fault of the game, being something forced on the developers due to the PSP's design, but they do make the game a little more awkward to play than the PS2 and Xbox 360 versions.
The main problem you'll have, though, is scoring. Just as in the console and PC versions, the shooting system has been tweaked since PES 5, and requires better timing and the use of attacking players if you want to ensure your shots hit the target. Newcomers to the series might well find this a little too fiddly, especially on a handheld, but experienced PES players will learn how to play using the new system, and the game becomes a lot more enjoyable once the initial hump has been crossed.
Although clearly visually downgraded from the PlayStation 2 version, most notably in player model detail, from the most distant camera angle the game looks great. The crisp widescreen display gives you a wider view of the action, too, which is something even the PlayStation 2 game doesn't offer. The big blemish on the visual presentation is the slowdown. For the most part the game runs smoothly, but when the box is full, things really start to chug, making timing headers and volleys particularly tricky.
Crowd noise and general sound effects are all fine, but once again there's no real commentary. Commentary in the PES series has never been great, but unless you usually play with it turned off you'll notice it missing from the PSP game. When you score you'll hear a few words, but that's it. While saving battery life was clearly high on the list of priorities, hopefully Konami will figure out a way to give us a few more words in next year's game. Something PSP owners get, which Xbox 360 owners don't, is the ability to save replays. It would have been a surprise had it not been included, but stranger things have happened.
PES fans disappointed by last year's PSP game should be a lot happier with PES 6. Until a handheld is released with a full complement of buttons it's unlikely that we'll receive a 100% accurate console to handheld port, but PES 6 plays a great game of football in its own right. Lengthy loading times and some slowdown stick out as areas in need of improvement, but this year's game should keep PES fans busy while away from their beloved home systems.