If I had to pick one subgenre of anime and manga to take with me to my exile on a desert island, it’d be high school sports shonen. There’s something so ludicrously wholesome about it – which makes sense since it’s written for teenage boys – as some plucky kid realises a love for a sport and strives to be the very best, dreaming of becoming a pro athlete.
Captain Tsubasa is one of the biggest series out there, having started back in the 80s and spread as an anime around the world. There were a whole host of games based off it in its heyday, but none on home console since 2006, until now that is, with the announcement of Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions.
If you’ve ever played FIFA or PES, don’t expect to be able to pick up the pad and be good at Captain Tsubasa. The buttons might seem familiar – cross to pass, circle to lob, triangle for a lovely through ball, and square to shoot – but if you dink your way up the field, get into a good spot and think you can tuck it into the corner, you’ve got another thing coming.
You see, the players out on pitch aren’t like most footballers, they’re not Premier League stars, they’re not your average five-a-side amateur, they’re not kids kicking a tennis ball around a playground. No, these are Japanese school kids imbued with all the ridiculous superpowers that anime can give them.
In Captain Tsubasa (and Inazuma Eleven) games up until now, they’ve both twisted their sensationalised footballing into more of a role playing game. You might be running around a pitch in real time, but bump into another player and you pick your action, and hope it comes off. This game is an arcade football action game though, even if it’s still got some of those action RPG ideas running in the background.
With the ball at your feet and an opponent closing down at you, you could try and pass the ball to a teammate, but it’ll be far, far cooler to hit the Dribble Dash button on the right shoulder button and trigger a slick anime interjection showing you beating your man. Likewise, a defender can sprint up behind the guy with the ball and get in a vicious-looking spinning slide tackle, capturing the ball at the same time and heading off in the opposite direction.
You might think that you want to get into the penalty box and test the keeper from close range, but you’d be wrong. True to the anime roots, you can shoot from pretty much wherever you like in the final third of the pitch, the main thing being that you need to charge up your shot, pulling your players leg back in a way that only ballerinas and contortionists can do, before whipping the ball with such ferocity that it’s surrounded by flames. Even that won’t beat these superstar teenage goalies though, as they catch the ball, battling with the fierce spin and trying to keep it out of the net. It’s all about stamina at this point, and if your shot can drain the stamina bar, the ball will either slip out of their hands or actually send them flying into the net as well.
The game looks lovely, really capturing an 80s anime style to its art, but with all the slickness that modern consoles can manage. Don’t go in expecting realistic ball physics, but do expect brightly coloured graphics and slickly produced, melodramatic action, as glowing spirit animals accompany charged up shots at goal, and you see the beads of sweat as the goalie tries to hold on to the violently rotating ball.
Though we played a few matches, pitting Captain Tsubasa’s Nankatsu Junior High School against arch rivals Toho Academy, a lot of the gameplay mechanics still feel pretty obtuse at this point in development. The AI was set quite high, stifling some of our ability to experiment, but then that let us see some of the player team up abilities, running at your defence in a group. Do enough special charged up moves, and you can enter the V-Zone, seemingly charging up all your players with improved stats. Similarly, I’ve no idea how I triggered it, but I entered an epic midair button-mashing duel when two players came together, leading to a ludicrous downward power shot.
And that’s really why I can’t wait to play more of Captain Tsubasa. Much like the first time you set eyes on anime as a child of the West, you probably don’t have a clue what you’re seeing, but you know it’s cool. I’ve not quite got the hang of playing it yet, but Captain Tsubasa feels like the perfect anime-fuelled antidote to all those sensible soccer games that people play.