Review: Captain Tsubasa – Rise of New Champions

We expected an arcade-themed football game in anime costume. One of those expectations came true.

In a gaming climate where EA Sports FIFAfranchise and Konami’s increasingly scarred PES (eFootball) is still fighting for the fans, so it was fun to get football from a completely unexpected direction. Japanese Tamsoft are best known for their “anime-erotic” creations but provide via Bandai Namco now out a strong anime-emphasized, very Japanese football game with accompanying exclamations, visual crackers and celshading graphics (which we love). But Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions was not at all what we expected…

Nice, but echoing plot. Photo: Bandai Namco

You dress in the role of Captain Tsubasa, an androgynous youngster with dreams of becoming the world’s best football player (yes, a bit like The Journey in FIFA, in Japanese). Long sequences of anime drama, friends and enemies, take place (everything can be skipped, thank goodness) and then we are offered a football game that we do not really get wise to. You have a kind of control, but still not. The characters seem to live their own lives, all the rules are thrown out the window (assault from behind? Yeah, even encouraged!) – but the off-side rule remains! You should dribble and pass the opponents with the right push of a button at the right time, and preferably let Tsubasa himself go on all finishes on goal. The more, hard shots you fire at the goalkeeper, the more his energy is ground down and he finally lets through the “burning ball” that he, literally, gets against him…

Whats happening here? Photo: Bandai Namco

Where to start? Most of it Captain Tsubasa is a game mechanics crash. You control “all” teammates on the field and can switch between them, as usual. In theory. In practice, this is more of a pure game of chance, the players do not just look very similar (with few exceptions) – it is unreasonably difficult to get control of the right player, the closest ball to defend. The whole game has a huge jerk and runs bumpy in some way, in several cases it felt like a nicely drawn QTE game (Quick time event, right button at the right moment) that you played. It’s a kind of football, but it’s more about building up energy bars and activating super-attacks and super-defenses than actually having strategy and technical skill with control. If you have a full stack, you can burn off shots from half the field that goes in (through a usual over-pumped Dragonball-anime sequence, which also soon becomes tiring). If not, it’s pure luck if you manage to poke a target from time to time from close range.

It could have been so good, if you just made it into real arcade football. Photo: Bandai Namco

The most frustrating thing about Captain Tsubasa is that it is neither chopped nor ground. It is not a football simulator like FIFA / PES. And that’s all right, we did not expect that either. But it is also not crazy, nice arcade football with lots of adrenaline and no rules, something we can also love. We can dust off the old Xbox just to run a few games in Acclaim’s crazy NHL / NFL Blitz with burning figures, who shoot fire and make each other flat. But here is just a tight frame that provides the impression because it’s a free, celshade: at arcade football – when it’s really something completely different.

Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions therefore becomes an overly odd bird. Maybe it’s a cultural niche product, and wrong expectations of what the game would (gave the impression) of being (even though the Japanese created some of the world’s best, widest and most beloved games of all time)? Maybe it’s simply an animated, Japanese youth comic book that has kicked in a bit of football to become a “game”? No matter what the intention, it’s not fun. Just frustrating.