Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions (Switch) Review
Arcade sports games were once plentiful, but these days are difficult to come across. Titles such as Super Mario Strikers or Sega Soccer Slam were a welcome alternative to the simulation soccer offered by FIFA, and now we have Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions here to fill that niche in the market. It marks a refreshing take on the sport, but some issues with the core on-field gameplay and some design annoyances keep it from greatness.
The Captain Tsubasa series has been around in manga and anime form since the ‘80s, but it is rare for the video game adaptations to make their way to the west. The series focuses on the titular Tsubasa Oozora, who was saved from a car accident as a child after getting hit a by ball and subsequently being pushed out the way. Since that moment, he has followed his dream of playing the game and obtaining the World Cup.
You will be introduced to Tsubasa and a league of competing teams and foes in Episode: Tsubasa, one half of this game’s story mode. As much a visual novel as it is a sports game, you will sit through plenty of dialogue and anime cut scenes as rival teams try to beat Tsubasa along the way. This mode serves as an introduction to the world of Captain Tsubasa and primes you for Episode: New Hero. This second episode sees you creating a custom character and following a more open story filled with dialogue choices, choosing your team, and developing friendships with other characters with abilities that complement your game style.
Each mode provides a structured way of playing, but your enjoyment of this set up may vary. The story is enjoyable enough but there is a lot of reading in between matches. This happening off the pitch is alright but became more frustrating when matches were often interrupted by cutscenes or dialogue, with load times either side of the interruption that are just a tad too long. These cutscenes, many of which cannot be skipped, often show off the special abilities of your opponents leading to them being handed a free goal that is out of your control. If you struggle to win, being forced to sit through these multiple times is frustrating.
I felt that frustration, as I did plenty of losing in the early days of this game. The on-pitch action looks and controls like soccer, but its shortcomings as a soccer game combined with core mechanics that play more like a fighting game mean you will be grinding things out as you grapple with the systems under the surface. Dribbling through your opponents is a type of mind game where you need to guess if your opponent is going to tackle or run into you in order to successfully get around them.
This is essential as the main aim is to get into space for long enough to launch a snazzy special shot at the goalie to drop their stamina bar. The goalie will block pretty much everything until that bar hits zero, at which point you can send the ball soaring into the back of the net with the goalie helplessly along for the ride.
It is a neat concept in theory, but in practicality, it ruins the ebb and flow of the game. The need to deplete a stamina bar means that scoring goals in a short amount of time is basically impossible, so there are no late comebacks or sudden shifts in momentum thanks to flashes of brilliance. This is compounded by the fact that the goalkeeper’s stamina is refilled at half time, and seeing his bar get so close to empty right as the half time whistle goes and resets all progress is mildly infuriating. It also makes the free goals the opponents sometimes get as a result of scripted moments even more difficult to overcome.
There are further issues with the core controls. Switching players rarely resulted in gaining control of a player in a useful position to contest the ball. Through-passes are almost impossible to utilise as your teammates will so rarely take the initiative to intelligently run into space for you to pass it to them, or your player will just kick the ball half a metre in front of themselves. Some important mechanics are also not particularly well explained, such as different characters unique abilities and why they will sometimes randomly activate and not others. I also often lost penalty shoot outs because as the goalkeeper I guessed the correct direction of the ball, caught it, but the game decided the AI kicked the ball too powerfully and I went sailing into the back of the net anyway. Combine all these elements with long load times and it makes for a soccer experience that is often more frustrating than fun.
The visuals are a little rough as well. The character models look nice during dialogue and the cutscenes are suitably flashy, but the on-field action can look very dated. Framerates also are sketchy when playing docked, though it does run slightly better when playing handheld.
The saving grace for Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions is multiplayer. Arcade sports games have always thrived on the manic joys of playing something ridiculous and over the top with friends and this is by far the most enjoyable way to play this game. Many of the pacing issues go out the window, and while some of the more random gameplay elements are still present, they feel less punishing when played with friends working on a level playing field. There are options for local and online multiplayer, though you may have difficulty finding random people to play with. Your best option without a doubt is to grab three mates and revel in the chaos.
Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions has plenty of great ideas and neat mechanics, but the lacklustre underlying soccer gameplay combined with annoying pacing in the story mode makes for an experience that is often more frustrating than fun when played solo. With that said, it remains a surprisingly good time when played with friends that can partake in the chaotic shenanigans. Just do not go in expecting a FIFA-quality soccer game with an anime coat of paint.
+ Imaginative in-game universe and likeable characters
+ Great fun when played with friends
- Core soccer mechanics fall short
- Special abilities and stamina system feels unbalanced