Unless you’re pretty deep into your anime, you’d be forgiven for not knowing exactly what Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions is. Although it saw a successful reboot in 2018 and was renowned in the 80’s and 90’s, it hasn’t quite reached the same height of the usual suspects like Naruto and Dragon Ball. Hopefully that’s rectified with this new release though, as Captain Tsubasa is stylish, fun and full of heart.
The main focus of Rise of Champions is its two story modes. The main story follows Nankatsu Middle School’s Captain, Tsubasa Ozora, a young football prodigy who’s trying to make his way to Brazil by winning his third championship. For those unfamiliar with the manga, there’s a lot of characters to meet and backstory to learn, but the positive energy and stereotypical anime stakes can be pretty infectious fun. It may be a trope to have all of Tsubasa’s rivals berate him before befriending him one match later, but it works here and it can be genuinely entertaining to watch for the 4 or 5 hours it takes to complete.
Even though there are some really likable characters and stories here, there are a few too many interruptions to actually playing the game. Matches are started and followed by what feels like endless amounts of text and story setup, which can be a little tiresome after a while. This even ties into most of the story mode matches too, as there are plenty of cutscenes that happen mid-game to increase the drama. For fans of the series this will probably be exactly what they want, but for newcomers like me it can sometimes be a bit much.
Even then, as someone with a passing interest in football (it comes with the territory in England) and a bigger interest in anime playing through the story genuinely made me interested in seeing what the anime and manga are all about. Considering I hadn’t really heard of Tsubasa before the game was announced, that’s a pretty big takeaway and indicative of how successful the story is.
The second story mode is easily the more exciting one. Here you get to create your own character, customize their stats and skills, and choose between three different story paths that show three different teams in action. Much like the main story mode, it can be a little cliche that your character is like a gift sent from the heavens but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t put a big grin on my face. Once again, the positive energy and characters really shine through here, and the fun of having your own character at the center of it all is actually really cool.
This mode thankfully has a much bigger focus on the gameplay mechanics too, and is much less frequently interrupted by the story. That’s a good thing because Captain Tsubasa is really good fun when you’re actually playing matches. The first thing to get out of the way is that if you’re expecting anything reminiscent of FIFA then you’re probably not going to enjoy this very much. Although there are some base similarities that can make transferring between the two a little easier, at its core this is a very arcade-esque football game and much more like a fighter than a sports game.
For starters there is no such thing as a foul here. Tackles and shoulder barges are just all part of the game and an essential part of winning, which makes it funnier when the offside rule is followed so strictly. Rather than trying to aim shots, it’s a much better tactic to charge up your power shots and try and wear the goalie down until you can bust through their defense. When your character is dodging and weaving between tackles, shouldering the other team and hitting that charged shot just right, Captain Tsubasa is great fun to play. It’s at its absolute best when it drops the pretense of being a football game and focuses more on the spectacle and arcade gameplay.
Captain Tsubasa Rise of New Champions Review – Goaaalllllll
Even when it focuses on the football action, Captain Tsubasa doesn’t quite nail all of its mechanics. Looking at the “normal” moments can be surprisingly sloppy. The most egregious example is player switching, which almost never gives you the character you want to control in the moment and instead sees you slamming the button trying to desperately find a player close enough to try and intercept. Trying to shoot a ball into the net without it being a power shot also feels really weak and always feels accidental on the off chance that it actually goes in.
There’s also the simple fact that, even with all of the variations in players and moves, the main gameplay loop can get a little repetitive at times. As soon as you figure out the best way to play you’ll rarely try another tactic, which can make matches feel a little too similar to one another. These other tactics are still there, but they’ll only really appeal to those who properly take the time to learn every facet of the game’s mechanics. It’s incredibly satisfying when things go right, but the lack of mechanical depth can make things feel a bit more style over substance.
Even with some of its mechanical and story-telling shortcomings Rise of New Champions is a fun time that shows why this is a beloved series. There’s a lot of joy to be had in following Tsubasa’s story and creating your own and the flashy football action has some shining moments. With some more tuning and gameplay focus, there’s a really bright future for Nankatsu’s football star.
Captain Tsubasa Rise of New Champions review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information, please read our Review Policy.