[Review] Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: TAMSOFT CORPORATION
  • Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment
  • Release date: 28/8/2020
  • Price: £49.99/$59.99
  • Review code provided by BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment

Introducing: Captain Tsubasa Switch Review

Do you miss the glory days of football games, when every goal was a 30 yard screamer into the top corner? Do you like over the top Japanese anime? Then my friend, Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions might be just for you!

Stemming from an 80s manga series and subsequent animated film and TV series, Captain Tsubasa follows Tsubasa Oozora, a young Japanese footballer on his quest to become Japan’s biggest star. The latest game in the series, Rise of New Champions is an interesting blend of over the top Anime stylings and a more traditional football game, in the same vein as FIFA or Pro Evo (with a heavy dash of Mario Strikers of course).

A game of two halves

Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions is split into two separate story campaigns, each consisting of some heavy anime exposition interspersed with some real crazy pitch-side antics. The first of the two, simply titled Tsubasa, follows the Captain himself, a young player rising through the ranks of his team as he plays for his school. Tsubasa dreams of one day playing for his national side and moving to Brazil to play professionally. 

The story is full of twists and turns as Tsubasa leads his team through a high school tournament in an effort to take the title for the third year in a row. More time is spent taking in the story in cut scenes than actually on the field, with this episode acting more as an extended tutorial which familiarises you with the controls and the various mechanics. There’s a lot to take in, so this slow burning tutorial helps players understand the huge range of options available to them. The story spends just as much time focusing on the relationships between players than it does on the drama of the matches. I felt I wasn’t perhaps the target audience for the story, with it aimed a little more at younger players, but thankfully the gameplay kept me enthralled.

The second episode, titled New Hero, is a bit different. The focus here is on creating your own new player to join one of three school squads and work your way up the ranks, ultimately aiming for the Japanese national team. The story here follows the same beats, with a heavy focus on characters as much as events.

Neither story really grabbed me, but thankfully the over-the-top flashy football makes up for it!

The power and the glory

The best part of Captain Tsubasa, and unfortunately the area where you spend the least time, is on the pitch. The story beats take up an awful lot of the time and I found myself wanting to skip these sections to get back to the gameplay.

The game plays like a cross between a more traditional football game and, believe it or not, a fighting game. The comparison isn’t immediately obvious, but as you play through your early matches you realise there’s no such thing as a clean goal with your first shot. Instead gameplay revolves around wearing down a keeper’s spirit with repeated or powerful shots before finally breaking through their guard. The fighting game comparison can be taken further when you realise you build your own meter which unlocks powerful moves, not unlike many fighters. It’s worth keeping this in mind when going into the game, as it looks initially like a traditional football game, but the mechanics mean that it ends up playing very differently. I found myself frustrated at first, as keepers get to literally every single shot. When you do score it’s usually a case of the keeper getting to the ball before it bursts out of their grip or knocks them back into the goal with it.

It’s all very flashy and funny, but sometimes you just find yourself wanting a curl a shot into the top bin!

50-50s in the game play out a bit like a game of rock, paper scissors, with the option to execute a flashy skill move to take the ball round players, using ZR or the option to do a flick or jump over a tackle with R. Likewise on defense, you have the option to slide tackle with ZR or more of a body check with R. If someone slides in you need to react quickly and use a high skill move to lift the ball over, whilst shoulder barges require deft use of the flashy skill moves. It takes a bit of getting used to, but leads to some satisfying moments when you can read three players in a row and skin the entire team.

Successfully beating two players in a row will grant you a full spirit meter, which allows you to power up a huge shot, complete with a flashy windup animation reminiscent of some of the Ultra Combos in the recent Street Fighter games. Getting a shot off is a matter of getting enough space to fully charge these shots or working your spirit meter up to gain the faster charge it affords you. Fully powered shots are met with a ridiculous animation, where each shot is powered up by the selected player’s spirit animal. It’s all good fun, but does become a bit wearing after the 50th or 100th time. Animations don’t seem to be skippable so they serve to break up the flow of the gameplay.

Aside from the ridiculous shots, the game plays very much like a more arcade version of FIFA or Pro Evo, right down to the controls. Matches tend to play out mostly in the midfield, with progress up the pitch often being very gradual. One look at the game would have you think it’s all flashy skills, but most goals end up as a result of patient build up and lots of passing.

If you can get used to the fact the game takes some inspiration from fighting games and can accept that goals are more likely to come as a result of gradual attrition rather than a single skilled play, then there’s a lot of fun to be had here.

The second episode, New Hero, adds some additional mechanics whereby you player and your team level up based on your performance. Successfully completing passes or shots will upgrade the specific skill used. This adds a fun RPG style twist to proceedings and helps you become more invested in your player.

The Beautiful Game

Rise of New Champions is a gorgeous game to look at. Most of the cutscenes, including the dramatic shooting sequences play out in-engine. The game uses a lovely cel shading effect, not unlike that in Dragon Ball Fighter Z. The result is a striking comic book effect that manages to look different from the traditional Wind Waker style of cel shading. It works really well and manages to capture the feel of the game’s roots in manga and anime.

Cut scenes are fully voiced in Japanese, giving everything an authentic feel. I can’t be the only person that finds booming Japanese voiceovers to add a little bit more drama to proceedings! The music in the game is also suitably dramatic, adapting to play as it goes. It’s a refreshing change from the po-faced seriousness of the more traditional football games and really gets the blood pumping when you break through on goal.

Red card

The performance in the game is a little skittish. The cutscenes and big animations for shots and skill moves are smooth as butter, but gameplay around the midfield with lots of action can sometimes get a bit choppy. It can sometimes be difficult to run onto a long pass in the midfield as the frame rate seems to vary wildly, making it hard to time runs properly. It also gives an effect where the ball seems to jerk around at times, slowing down then speeding up during passes. It isn’t a deal breaker, but the rest of the package is so beautifully presented that it comes off as a bit of a disappointment.

Final thoughts

Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions flatters to deceive. The story mode is overly long and caters more to younger players. There is a lot of down time between matches, but the gameplay itself is full of delightful madness once you get over the initial realisation that this isn’t your run of the mill football game.

The game includes local multiplayer matches and a well-built online mode, complete with a deep ranking system involving different leagues. The online system sees you creating your own team and building them up over time, not unlike Ultimate Team in FIFA or Master League in Pro Evo. I was a bit frustrated when I first launched this mode hoping for a quick match, as setting up a team took a fair while, but once I got into the meat of the mode it offered something that has real legs! Performance online was smooth and made it easy for my team, the Kyoto Loyal, to go undefeated in the matches I played, not that I like to brag!

Overall the game offers a generous package and something a bit different to the usual yearly football bore-fest. The game isn’t without it’s quirks and won’t be for everyone, but those that take the time to learn the systems will find a lot to love.

Pros

  • Bombastic football fun
  • Fantastic use of music to build tension
  • Online is smooth and great fun

Cons

  • Performance can be a little choppy, moreso in handheld
  • Story a little melodramatic

Verdict

Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions is a fun spin on the football genre. Cutscenes take a little more precedence than some might like, but the on-field action is thrilling and, above all, great fun.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: