The Ball Is My Friend

HIGH A great tutorial.

LOW A long-winded story.

WTF 6’8” and 250 lbs. is not a middle schooler.

Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions is an anime soccer game following title character Tsubasa in his rise to glory and fame through multiple soccer leagues, eventually going into a world cup against teams from all over the world.

Tsubasa‘s main mode is “The Journey” which has players select one of two stories. Tsubasa’s story follows the title character taking his school to win a national championship. Alternatively, there’s a “Hero” story which allows players to create their own character and play for a rival school. Playing Tsubasa’s campaign first not only serves as a good intro to the mechanics, but the end rolls right into the Hero half.

While Tsubasa’s narrative is linear and eye-wateringly cliché, even for anime, the story completes in a couple of hours and Hero is where things get more interesting.

Each match gives the player a goal — normally to get a high-ranking performance in something specific like passing, shooting, or dribbling. The better the player does, the higher their stats raise. Players will also get dialogue trees at moments that can raise friendship with characters and unlock special moves to use in a match. Once the hero story is completed, players can register their character for online play.

Mechanically, Tsubasa fits into an interesting niche. Games like FIFA and PES focus on realism. Games like FIFA Street focus more on flashy moves. Tsubasa lands somewhere in the middle — there are technical aspects, but it’s highly stylized in a way that compares to how something like Punch Out! relates to a traditional boxing game.

Take the act of dribbling the ball downfield, for example. Players have a dribble move which lets them fake out opponents to get past them, but there’s a rhythm to it that makes it feel almost like a fighting game. Press the dribble button too soon or too late, and the opposing team will still steal the ball. On the other hand, getting the timing correct gives players a boost to their stats so that it’s easier to pass or to have a better shot on goal.

One thing that always tripped me up playing something like FIFA or PES was shooting. Players must generally hold a button down long enough to get the ball in the right area of the net without going over. Shots in Tsubasa always go for the direct center of the goal, it’s just a matter of how much power behind the player’s shot — and for some characters, this may also trigger a cutscene and special effect.

While I am sad that there isn’t a traditional career mode going through a season, the Hero story gives players the option to go through it multiple times to train players in different positions, eventually creating an entire dream team of characters they’ve built from the ground up.

Online play has a league with an interesting quirk — if the servers can’t find a player online, it will put players against PC opponents until they hit a certain ranking. That said, it will eventually only look for players, so depending on the online lobbies, it may be a while to get into a match.

While the anime story grated on me, Tsubasa‘s gameplay kept me hooked since the animations are smooth and flashy, and it’s easy to pick up and play. Those who want a sim may not get the same joy out of this arcade-style soccer interpretation, but for me, it scratched a very specific itch that I didn’t realize needed to be scratched.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Tamsoft Corporation and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment.  It is currently available on PC, PS4 and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. About 2 hours were dedicated to multiplayer mode.

Parents: According to the  ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Mild Blood, Mild Language, and Mild Violence. The tackles in this game look and feel more like fighting moves than real soccer tackles, and some of the bonus scenes deal with violent scenarios. One scene does have blood coming out of a player’s head, and the game has a couple of instances of “hell” and “damn”.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All information is text and icon based, but there is no option for resizing text. Text boxes are fairly large, and there’s not much text needed for gameplay (see examples above and below). There are no audio cues needed for gameplay. This title is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The game has fully remappable controls.

Eugene Sax
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