If you’ve never heard of Captain Tsubasa, then don’t worry. Before its announcement on Tuesday, I had absolutely no clue what the hell it was, and it seems like the majority of the Western hemisphere wouldn’t either. The manga series has sold a combined 80 million copies worldwide, but 70 million of those have originated in Japan.
Tsubasa is a cultural icon, and has been cited as a reason why current professional players took up football, but the franchise is still somewhat unknown. Bring up the name Captain Tsubasa and you might receive blank stares and questions along the lines of “what the hell are you on about?”
Bandai Namco decided that they wanted to try and change that, as they’re creating a huge Captain Tsubasa game, titled Rise of New Champions, in order to raise the Western profile of one of Japan’s most recognisable figures. Will it work? It’s too early to say, but as a game, Captain Tsubasa might fill a hole that’s been lacking in the past few years: the arcade football game.
Currently, the football game genre is dominated by the two big titans of FIFA and PES, and while that’s been the natural order since the PS2 days, it felt like there were more “fun” offerings making the rounds back then. Sure, they never enjoyed the same level of success, but they were always good for a laugh if you had friends to play with. These days, your best hope is to mess about with the rulesets on FIFA, but that still doesn’t quite cut it.
Captain Tsubasa takes the genre in the opposite direction. At its core, it’s a normal football game, with 11 players a side, two halves, goalkeepers, formations and the like, along with the ability to switch tactics mid-game in order to dictate or counter the flow of the match. It’s football; do we really need to explain more about the beautiful game? However, it’s the arcade and anime influences that give the game its unique edge.
First things first, the rules are a bit lax as players get decked on the regular and the referee just doesn’t care. Seriously, you can go for two-footed sliding tackles from behind and you’ll never even hear a whistle. The sight of a six foot eight defender shoulder barging a would-be attacker like Keith Lee bashing Adam Cole into the middle of next week gives Tsubasa that sense of fun that could make the game a hit with friends. There’s still an offside rule though, because of course. We’re not savages.
Secondly, Tsubasa leans quite heavily on its anime and manga influences to create a match experience that’s filled with drama. Shots on goal become these cinematic cutscenes where the sky darkens, animal spirits give the player additional power and the ball literally catches fire. Goalie saves are these tense coin flip moments where they could either block the ball or go flying into the back of the net with it. Defenders try and block incoming shots like bodyguards in a life or death moments. It’s absolutely bonkers, and I love it.
While the idea of cutscenes for every powered up shot might get old after a while, it’s something new that we haven’t seen in the genre in a long time. Could you imagine a version of FIFA where Messi summons the spirit of a tiger to imbue him with the strength to score a 30 yard screamer? It’d be unique, that’s for sure.
On another note, it’s genuinely great to see a game based on a classic anime/manga series that isn’t some kind of fighting game, or a brawler/adventure game. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Dragon Ball titles and games of that ilk, but Captain Tsubasa offers a refreshing change of pace from the norm, and it could perhaps open the door to more experimental takes from sports based anime in the future.
As for the gameplay itself, it’s a little bit rigid and could use some extra work, but the core gameplay has potential and we obviously played an in-progress build. Players tend to stop dead as soon as they receive the ball, which makes through ball plays feel a bit off, and the game doesn’t do a good job of conveying which player you’re actually controlling, especially as it tends to switch on a whim. More often than not, you’ll end up guiding your players to the dugout as opposed to the attacking player.
Speaking of attacking, the game demands that you press the advantage and attack the other team. You can use spirit, the game’s equivalent of stamina, to dash past defenders, with your player moving so fast it looks like they’re teleporting around the hapless fool. There’s even the occasional cinematic to showcase how much you’ve embarrassed this inept defender. Again, it adds to the overall drama of the game, but your player also receives a buff to their stats, allowing them to take on more players or make that killer shot.
Some players also have certain shot types that can be activated by holding down the appropriate button to charge the skill, so long as you have the required amount of spirit. These skills are extremely powerful and will allow you to score from practically any angle as the ball homes in on goal. While these skills might seem like instant win buttons, the goalie can still make the save, particularly with shots from distance. These skills give Captain Tsubasa the same flair as the likes of Super Mario Strikers, though you won’t be scored 3 goals by activating one power-up.
Captain Tsubasa will likely be a faithful recreation of the franchise that’ll appease fans of the series, and it might just raise awareness and attract new fans to the series. That said, the potential is there for Rise of New Champions to become a legitimate, fresh take on the football game genre. Some work will have to be done on the passing game, but aside from that, Tsubasa could be a winner. We’ll have to see when it launches later this year on PC, PS4 and the Nintendo Switch.
Our impressions on Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions and the footage were obtained via a PR event. Thanks to Bandai Namco for the opportunity.
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