For some, Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions is just another Inazuma anime soccer-style game while for others, it is just another Bandai Namco anime game. For old fans like me though, this might be one of the most exciting ways to enjoy a fresh experience with a beloved classic from our youth. This game brings together the nostalgia, the moves, the spectacle, and cheesiness of the beloved long-running, clash-based anime with a brand new story that would give old and new fans alike hope that this series might get more recognition and game releases down the road.
The Past Meets The Present
Many new players might ask what is Captain Tsubasa? I would always answer that with “I can explain but, how long do you have?” The short version is that this manga is a Shonen Jump franchise that dates back to 1981, with its creator Yoichi Takahashi still hashing-out new chapters every now and then. This manga tells the story of Oozora Tsubasa, a child soccer prodigy who, with his amazing abilities and plucky attitude, faces and befriends his rivals on the pitch as he develops his skills to become the top player in the world. Saying anything else might spoil the first two main story arcs present in this game.
This manga has had several animated versions that had stopped at different points of its story as the shows have always caught up with the manga, with the 2018 version being the exception. This last anime version has been placed to be a fresh point for the franchise to go international. This game seems to use that version as a springboard to unify all of its products as it can be seen how the makers use the same style and modern approach to retell this originally-80s-themed story in a more internationally appealing way.
Although this franchise might be new to most Americans, at some point, it was licensed in the USA as Flash Kickers and it has a worldwide following that counts among its ranked professional players like Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. Through the years, many games have appeared on consoles, all the way to the PS2, Nintendo DS, and GameCube. Interestingly enough, some of these games also have had unique storylines that weren’t caught up with the manga at times.
The original Famicon games, being the first for many fans, are some of the most beloved games in the franchise in South America. Furthermore, the first Famicon game was brought to the USA as “Tecmo Cup” with most of the franchise mainstays and references being removed, just like they did with Dragonball but sadly they never adapted the much better second game. This series would go on to have some classic games on the Super Famicon as well as the first one in that console, Part 3 overall, which became the game that dethroned the mythological Street Fighter 2.
Most of these games were soccer-themed RPGs just like the recent smartphone offering from a couple of years ago. Yet among those old classics, the third Captain Tsubasa for Super Famicon (or Part 5), was the one that stuck out from the previous ones at that point as it was more of a traditional soccer game that also allowed for some super moves. This idea of being a contemporary enhanced soccer game has been worked on a couple of times, as console generations got more powerful and allowed for that to happen.
Eventually, one of the PS One games actually came close to having a full-on, more classic soccer game feel on the pitch while still keeping the battlefield style-madness associated with trick shots and other super moves. Sadly, even on a 32-bit console the lack of speed and difficulty to clearly see your player felt too chaotic and slow to really feel like an episode of the famed series until now.
The New Super Champions
As mentioned above, the 2018 anime revival didn’t just bring back the anime in a concise and fresh way but it also provided a modern spin on this 80s classic. This overall attitude can be felt in the real-world logistics behind the game. The way things are set up shows an attempt to compete with the big realistic yearly hitters. The controls are now compromised by immediate actions instead of calling up any type of menus for an RPG experience. Shooting, passing, long passing, sliding, shoulder charges, and other movements can trigger cinematics of super shots or special actions if the buttons are pressed long enough.
From the title screen to the music, this game makes a splash, and right out of the gate it tells you that things have been updated from the older games to brings us a faster, more “in the moment” experience. The game physics allow for fast-paced games as their movements are basically an anime come to life, with the ups and downs that this statement entails. Players move around like gazelles with animation that, at times can be choppy and with collision detection that can be unreliable at times. This does not mean it is not fun but if you are not used to this type of anime-style game engine, then it might take some time to get used to it. Also, while the game modes here are closer to what other “real” soccer games have available, elements like momentum, realistic ball physics, and fouls are not part of the rules. The only elements that could stop a game are out of bound balls and off-side fouls that can be part of your strategy as you play.
Playing this game really feels like it is the next step into bringing this franchise to the world stage, even if it still feels a bit chaotic due to the nature of its origins. The spoken audio is in Japanese, but all of the dialogue has been subtitled. The kinetic energy permutes from the choice of fonts to the effects given to every action. The modes available are the usual ones for a soccer game including Story Mode, Versus Mode, Online Versus, and Edit Mode. However, this game’s Story Mode is split into two sections titled Tsubasa and New Hero, with each telling a different arc.
It’s All Here
The Tsubasa option retells the second main arc of the manga with managers and secondary characters providing the backstory and filling in the gaps from the first arc. It is a mode filled with mid-game cutscenes and it is a great way for new fans to learn the backstory of these characters and hopefully bring new fans to this storied franchise. The story is pretty close to the 2018 anime version with a few edits added for brevity. As for the other option in Story Mode, “New Hero” follows the tradition, just like other games before it, of taking characters into a new, game exclusive arc that allows you to be part of the Youth Japan National Team ready to face their new challengers. All the excitement of the series and its zoomed-in zaniness has been well represented in this mode and brings in new characters to enrich the already great cast of fantastic soccer players.
This New Hero mode is close to the career mode available in other games but with a Tsubasa spin. Your custom character allows for a lot of personalization within the design sensibilities of the latest anime version including cleats, hairstyles, uniforms, and other items and characteristics that can be unlocked and purchased via the Edit Mode. Once you have created your character you can establish friendships with other characters to help you develop your style and create a full-on Superstar on your own terms. After setting up your character, you will go on to join one of the main character’s 3 rival schools in the hopes to face Tsubasa and eventually be part of an international tournament. This is a brand new arc for a brand new generation that awaits for the player in this mode that will keep old fans interested for a while and will make new fans, with a penchant for collecting, play this mode more than once to unlock the many videos, items and to earn PP points.
Versus Mode is a typical match with friends. The game allows for some customization of the line up with their attributes being affected if placed on the wrong position. The game even allows you to customize the main stars’ move sets and attributes. There is also a penalty shootout option and the ability to create mini tournaments within this choice.
The Online Mode allows for Division Matches where you play with similarly skilled players. It also has an option to create or join rooms where you can play others outside of the division. Cross-play between consoles and PC has not been announced at the time of this review. Practice Mode presents some quick tutorials to learn the basics and even has a section that would practice a specific strategy that will bring back memories for the hardcore fans of the many versions of the anime.
Ultimate Edit Mode as mentioned above allows for customization of your character, stars, and teams and most modes have an option to get there from their respective sections. It also houses the store in which you may use your earned PP Points to get more training items, pieces of clothing, hairstyles, and characters to establish friendships with among other elements that would make your team and characters more unique.
The last two Modes are Collection and Options. Within Collection, you can re-watch cutscenes, videos, listen to the soundtrack, and character information that you will unlock as you progress in the game. It will let you know what challenges you have completed as well and how many PP points they have you been rewarded. As for Options, there are some basic ones like match settings, audio levels, the availability to skip story and bonding events, and the button configuration but there’s no English language audio setting.
Ready To Score
All and all, Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions will certainly hook fans that have waited for a console Tsubasa game for a long, long time. I was certainly hoping for a fresher take on the formula and this version has enough new elements to keep me hooked and wanting more. The bright, fast-paced, and fun visual elements should be enough to bring in new fans looking for a more intense, outlandish, and fantastic version of the beautiful game. Just like the characters in this franchise, I hope that this is just the first step in a renewed interest in the series.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions for the PlayStation 4 provided by Tamsoft and Bandai Namco Entertainment.