Back in the late ’80s, the long-running anime soccer soap opera that is Captain Tsubasa made its gaming debut with a string of Tecmo turn-based strategy games for the Famicom system. Since then, the franchise has had its presence known on nearly every console generation thereafter. Tamesoft’s Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions is the latest to join the Nankatsu F.C trophy cabinet. The question is, does it do enough to stand out or will it get booted into the Third Division?
You could be forgiven for thinking that the far-fetched dynamics of Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions would sit in a similar ilk to the likes of Virtua Striker and Mario Strikers Charged. After all, we are talking about a game where you can volley a ball so hard, it causes a sonic boom that summons a giant tiger. With that said, the technical depth and finger gymnastics involved not only blurs the boundaries between arcade and sports sim, it scribbles all over the centreline like a toddler clutching a Sharpie.
Merging together a quick arcade adrenaline fix with the tactical pace of FIFA certainly has its ups and downs as players across the pitch desperately scramble their way towards a golden opportunity. Along with the usual pass, shoot, through ball and long pass actions, the player in possession has access to two separate evasive skills which can be trumped by a tackling opponent if they happen to match the correct input. If the player with the ball perfectly reads the intentions of several incoming tackles, the anime flair that the series is known for will then drive a combo-attack thrill to the art of dribbling.
The primary key to success here is to break the spirit of the opposing team. Each player on the field has a spirit meter (i.e. stamina) while the goalkeeper’s own spirit acts more like the health bar of a fighting game. Simply working through the opposition and landing potshots on target will merely chip away at the goalkeeper’s confidence. Max out powerful shots with the right teammates and you will tear the wind from his soul.
Finding the space to shoot is far easier said than done though, due to some rather specific demands that are required. For starters, only certain players are capable of setting up and causing a dramatic finish, which, depending on their positioning, amount of spirit and the time it actually takes to charge a kick, will determine whether or not a shot will land effectively.
If you’re going in expecting to master the basics in five minutes then the chances of seeing the back of the net will be left to the luck of a penalty shootout. This may lead to issues if you’re planning on introducing friends to some couch rivalry. Which is unfortunate really, because on paper the controls seem fairly accessible for anyone to get to grips with.
When the planets do finally align, hitting the right notes leading to a sensational goal can be an incredibly rewarding and often spectacular experience. Especially after successfully managing the formation of your team’s tactical position with the directional pad, to then activate the morale-boosting V-Zone which allows for a second wind that either the attacking team can spend or as a last-ditch save effort for a crumbling goalie.
Ironically, the biggest issue that Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions faces is how the formula runs the risk of repetitive fatigue once the mechanics finally become second nature. Witnessing the same flashy animations, robotic movement and tactical loops could potentially result in little more than a fancy version of tug of war rather than an intriguing game of virtual football. That’s not to say that Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions lacks the intensity and anxiety of competition because it certainly doesn’t. It just loses some of the organic feels that modern sports sims can often be accustomed to.
The additional content that wraps around the gameplay is both as generous and predictable as you would expect for an anime game published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. The long-winded Journey Mode pretty much rehashes story elements in an inferior way to the original source material, while the added New Hero Plus takes the player on a more personal and customisable journey. As for online, in my experience the interface seemed clean and simple with matches coming in thick and fast across a seasonal division-based structure to help aid longevity. I personally had a lot of fun online and could definitely see a dedicated following flourish here as a result.
Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions creates a fun and unique twist on a well-grounded genre. While it can often suffer from an identity crisis on exactly what gameplay style it’s trying to achieve, there’s still a whole lot to love once the dust finally settles. Those who fancy some over-the-top otaku action with their half time oranges will revel in the combustion of far-fetched fantasy football. As for the soccer purist? You’re maybe best off just sticking with FIFA.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment