Captain Tsubasa might not be an anime franchise that is on the same levels as juggernauts such as My Hero Academia, Dragon Ball, or One Piece, but this latest video game in the series with Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions definitely leaves its mark and is able to surpass a number of anime entries currently on the market. Creating an arcade-style soccer game that is heavily faithful to the anime while incorporating an in-depth well of mechanics, this title is definitely one that fans of both anime and soccer should check out if you're looking for a breezy way to pass the time.
The game itself comes with a variety of modes that would be standard for most arcade sports games that you would anticipate, with Captain Tsubasa differentiating itself with two story modes that put you into the place of the titular soccer star or has you creating a star that is all your own as you navigate through this anime world. The gameplay differentiates itself from your standard soccer fare thanks to its reliance on special shots and combos that do well in showing off individual characters' unique abilities while on the field.
Captain Tsubasa's reliance on its anime origins is both a weakness and a strength here, in that the gameplay is able to ratchet up the epic moments with players leaping high into the air to deliver a ground-shattering goal or even be accompanied by an eagle made of energy to help deliver a goal, but the story mode is somewhat lacking for newcomers to the series. Before diving into this game, I was hoping to be reminded of a movie like Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer in that it could revel in the sheer outlandishness of its premise, but examples of this are few and far between. The story mode has long cutscenes diced between the matches themselves and during the "season," which were reminiscent of the Ultimate Ninja Storm series for Naruto, but ultimately lacked the energy and animation that made that game series such a hit among fans.
The art style takes a little getting used to, which isn't so much a commentary on the graphics of the game (which are stellar), but more on the design of the characters themselves. Captain Tsubasa first premiered in the early 1980s and has continued the story of this young prodigy as he attempts to overtake the world of soccer through his school's team following a titanic championship run. The character designs can sometimes leave you scratching your head when you'll be introduced to a player that simply has one giant tooth sticking out while they talk, but, again, this is in keeping with the anime franchise itself. While the cutscenes and designs might be lackluster, the movement and fluidity of players when a game is in session is most assuredly top notch.
The gameplay of Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions is really the meat and potatoes of the review here, and while the aforementioned window dressing in its anime aesthetic could use some punching up, the game offers a clever "rock, paper, scissors" mechanic system that will have you sweating as you utilize the power of the "V-Zone" or desperately work to raise your "Spirit Gauge" by performing some well-timed "jukes" against opponents. In this, I was reminded of the likes of NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, where each encounter over the ball is a tug of war and is ultimately determined by split-second decisions. On its surface, the gameplay seems simplistic, but the story mode does a good job of walking you through its tutorial and opening up what you can do with your team.
Online play opens you up to having matches with as many as four players at once and we never encountered too many bugs while matching our team against other Tsubasa enthusiasts around the world. On a technical level, the game has a few minor hiccups when it comes to performance and there were definitely times where I felt that a few touch-ups when it comes to overall control of the ball were needed, but nothing that was ever too noteworthy when all was said and done.
Regardless of whether or not you're familiar with Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions, if you're looking for a breezy arcade-style soccer game that relies heavily on its anime influence and has some strong mechanics, this game is worth a look.
Rating: 3 out of 5