Captain Tsubasa: New Kick Off

I’ve been a Captain Tsubasa fan ever since I first came across the anime on the Italia 1 channel when I was 10… It’s a manga and anime series about young Japanese football/soccer players, with the main character Tsubasa being a rising Japanese football star. I’m a big fan of the sport, and I like anime quite a bit – you can see why the combination captivated me easily. A great part of it is the matches themselves, with so much drama in the close ones, with special shots and acrobatic goalkeepers. But the relationships between the players on and off the pitch are also nicely depicted.

Needless to say, coming across my first Captain Tsubasa game – the second installment of Tecmo’s Captain Tsubasa series on the NES, brought me much delight. Especially considering it was not a mere football simulation game – it was a football RPG, one worthy of the flashiness and the emphasised importance of a team’s best player in the anime. The closest mainstream gaming has come to Tecmo’s Captain Tsubasa series’ unique style is the Blitzball mini-game in Final Fantasy X – and believe me, Blitzball is a really watered-down version of the Captain Tsubasa games. Anyway, Captain Tsubasa II is still my favourite game of all time, one I could play at any time and never get bored, despite having beaten it so many times I’ve lost count and having done all kinds of special runs. Unfortunately, the game I will review here is just not in the same league…

Captain Tsubasa New Kick Off Cover

Game: Captain Tsubasa: New Kick Off
Developer: Konami
Platform: DS
Original release: 2010
Territories: Japan, Europe

Captain Tsubasa: New Kick Off (Gekitou no Kiseki in Japan) is Konami’s first attempt at returning the Tsubasa games to the genre that proved to suit them best – RPG. The license over the franchise has changed hands multiple times – first it was Tecmo’s, then Bandai’s, now Konami’s. Only Tecmo did it right, the other two simply failed to match the quality of the Tecmo Tsubasa games. A big reason for that was that Tecmo’s games were RPGs with very particular gameplay – you hold the ball and move through the field, at any time you can stop and take your time to choose what to do next – shoot, pass, or go on forward. Similarly, in defence, you pick a player to chase the opponent with, if you get close, you choose whether to tackle, try to intercept a pass or block a shot. If you manage to predict the opponent’s action, you have a higher chance of taking the ball away. That just worked great for a franchise like Tsubasa because it’s all about the tactics, the special shots and conserving your energy to do them at the right time. Trying more action-y games just never worked out very well. And the RPG approach is the one Konami took here. When I learned that to be the case, I was overjoyed, I had waited a long time to play a new Tsubasa RPG…

The reality was much harsher than what I had hoped for, however. Konami did borrow some basic concepts from what made the Tsubasa games on the NES and SNES so great, but failed to get the most substantial part right – the flow of the gameplay, and especially the difficulty curve. Also, because the game celebrates the 30th anniversary of the manga, you are encouraged to replicate events present in the manga and anime in your matches – if you do so, you’re rewarded with more experience/stats improvements for your players, you can unlock special moves, etc. This really takes away from the experience. If I wanted the matches to go exactly as in the manga/anime, I’d read the manga or watch the anime, not play a game. I play a game because I want to determine the outcome myself. The difficulty is also very unbalanced, with relatively tough matches at the end of the first part (Japanese middle school tournament), especially the final, and then complete breeze once you get a hold of the national team, until the very last match that only poses a semblance of a challenge. You can also replay matches as many times as you want (and try to get all the manga/anime events) instead of the game flowing continuously.

The in-game screenshots have been taken by me.

WIN THE SCHOOL TOURNAMENT, THEN CONQUER THE WORLD

The story of Captain Tsubasa: New Kick Off is very well-known to fans of the series. It covers what’s seen in the second season of the original anime (the Japanese middle school tournament) and in Shin Captain Tsubasa (the World Junior Youth tournament in France). In the first part, you play as Nankatsu, trying to win the third Japanese championship in a row for the school. With a rising star like Tsubasa as the captain and the wins in the previous two tournaments, Nankatsu are the heavy favourites. But will they manage to overcome the tough opposition, now even more eager to dethrone them? The team of Toho Academy, led by his captain and big Tsubasa rival for years now, Kojiro Hyuga, will not accept yet another defeat. With the super goalkeeper Wakabayashi gone to Germany to further develop his abilities and Tsubasa’s great friend Misaki following his painter dad around in various parts of the world, Nankatsu have come to rely on Tsubasa more than ever before – maybe too much.

Captain Tsubasa Golden 23

Once that challenge is overcome, the Japanese Junior Youth team with all the stars from the Japanese tournament that just finished is assembled. They have the biggest challenge in their careers so far ahead of them – going to Europe and playing against the best in the world. Tsubasa may be a phenomenon in Japan, but on a world scale, there are numerous other talented stars rising quickly. Even though Brazil are not participating, Italy’s goalkeeper Hernandez, Argentina’s little genius Juan Diaz, Uruguay’s Victorino, France’s Pierre and Napoleon, and, of course, Germany’s aces – goalkeeper Muller and captain Karl-Heinz Schneider, are powerful challengers for Tsubasa and his teammates. The matches against them are going to be very tough… Or they would be, but not in this game. :(

After you beat the game, you unlock a few more scenarios – a “I’m the Captain” one where you create a character and play through the matches you just completed with him, as well as Toho, Furano and Musashi alternate storylines where you play as those teams instead of Nankatsu and you try to win the Japanese tournament. But, knowing how broken the game is, those are hardly worth bothering with, even when you’re a Captain Tsubasa fan like I am.

DOESN’T DO JUSTICE TO THE MANGA/ANIME CAST

Captain Tsubasa Cast

In this game, most of the “character development” is seen if you actively try to replicate the pre-programmed manga/anime events. Now, unless you know the manga/anime by heart, that’s impossible to do without a guide, so you’ll only come across those sporadically. And you won’t even lose that much – what’s seen in the game doesn’t really do much justice to the cast. Yes, some conversations are there and all, but there’s absolutely nothing OFF the pitch. You don’t get to know much backstory at all – if you’re new to the Tsubasa series, you’ll just know these are good football players and pretty much nothing more. I guess some of the special moves (like Hyuga and Jito’s dribbles) may give you a hint as to who’s more aggressive, etc., but it’s just not nearly as much as this game could have given the player.

Captain Tsubasa New Kick Off Opening Cutscene

Pre-match, half-time and post-match conversation are also rather weak. Your coach will usually just tell your players to “play their hearts out,” which may be a general Captain Tsubasa weakness, I guess, as coaches (aside from Tsubasa’s mentor Roberto) are not as important as the players themselves. But the tactics and everything are left for the player to think on and decide. Not that they’re very necessary, aside from in the few more difficult matches. Either way, the cast and their matches can be reduced to “battles of spirit,” with the overall feel being of battles between fine footballers decided by small details and advantages. At least story-wise, as the in-game results can get very ridiculous.

RPG GAMEPLAY… BUT JUST SO BROKEN

Konami does attempt to follow in Tecmo’s footsteps with the gameplay, but it falls flat. Sometimes, the game makes you wonder if there was much playtesting at all. Especially in the latter half. The biggest problem is the difficulty curve. I’ve rarely seen such a broken difficulty curve in a game… Which is a shame, as, in the first part, it’s completely fine! If the game had ended there, I would have given the difficulty curve an A+. The first couple of matches are easy, then the difficulty gradually increases, and the final match of the Japanese middle school tournament is VERY tough. I even had to go back and unlock a few events to increase my team’s stats enough to pass it. So, until then, despite the other problems, the game was looking up.

Captain Tsubasa New Kick Off Pitch View

But then, once you take control of the national team, it’s a joke. It starts with an unwinnable “story” match, and then the difficulty drops drastically. You beat everyone until the final with great ease, and even the final is not nearly as tough as the Japanese one. Yes, in the national team, pretty much all your players have special moves (like Tsubasa’s Drive Shot), while the opponents have much less players with specialties. But, in the Tecmo games, that was balanced with better stats for the opposition. It made for fine challenges, sometimes even frustratingly difficult (Captain Tsubasa II can be an exercise in frustration at times, but maybe that’s one reason why I like it so much :)). Here, the opponents just stand no chance. If you bother to try, results like 10-0 can be common. That really plays a great part in ruining this game.

Captain Tsubasa New Kick Off Overhead Kick

Some words of the gameplay itself. Before the match, you determine your team’s tactics, formation, set pieces takers (not that set pieces are common…), what to focus on (shooting, dribbling, etc. ), and such. As the match starts, there are two main types of gameplay – attack and defence. As you attack, you control the player with the ball, while the AI moves your teammates and the opponents through the pitch. You can stop at any time (by pressing Y), and choose an action – shoot, pass, dribble. If you pass to a nearby ally, you pass to his feet. If you pass to an ally further away, the ball is high and he can hit a volley shot. If that ally is in the penalty area of the opposing team, he can hit a header. This is already a bit poor design, as it’s ridiculous that you can hit volleys or overhead kicks even from your own half, and have a decent chance to score. In the Tecmo games, you could only do that in the penalty area, which made much more sense. Outside of it, you could only shoot from the ground.

Captain Tsubasa New Kick Off Volley Shot

If one or more opponents get close to you, you’re “trapped,” and you are forced to choose an action. You can try to dribble past them, pass or shoot, while they try to anticipate your move. Here, picking a special move pretty much always wins the encounter, unless both attacker and defender pick special moves. This was much different in the Tecmo games, where the stats differences could mean a normal tackle easily stops your special dribble. There are also aerial encounters, which work similarly, except you obviously can’t dribble there, the analogous choice being to trap the ball and go forward.

Captain Tsubasa New Kick Off Encounter

In defence, you play the other role, trying to stop the opponent. Again, you can only control a single player, but you can switch the player you control with L/R, trying to get the one closest to the opponent. Once you “trap” him, you can choose to tackle, intercept a pass or block a shot. There’s also the monumental “do nothing” option, which lets your opponent just auto-win the encounter. Since here the equivalent of “Guts” from the Tecmo games (energy points), called “AP” (at least in the German version that I played), is only used up when executing special moves, otherwise it’s recharged slowly (even if you’ve got the ball and/or do normal moves), “do nothing” is even more pointless than in the Tecmo games where it at least conserved your energy.

Captain Tsubasa New Kick Off Tackle

If a shot reaches your goal, it’s time for the goalkeeper to act. Weirdly, instead of actually looking at where the ball is going, you just choose a corner (top-left, bottom-left, top-centre, bottom-centre, top-right, bottom-right). The corner you pick is not necessarily reflected by the goalie jumping animation (he does go after the ball, after all), but I guess picking the right corner increases your chances. Still, it’s a rather silly guessing game that I guess is only there because you get the same selection when you shoot (well, then it makes sense), so they wanted to have a reverse equivalent of that somehow. Anyway, you can try to punch or catch the ball. Rather stupidly, if you catch it, you can then shoot with your goalkeeper at the opponents’ goal, and even score a goal that way. As if the gameplay wasn’t already ridiculous. And if some player blocks your shot, your goal is empty and they can score easily.

Captain Tsubasa New Kick Off Goalkeeper Save

The players have got stats that greatly influence whether an encounter will be won or not, except in that Japanese tournament final where the opposition is strong enough to occasionally get the ball even with the wrong move (or the opposite position seen in the many easy matches you’ll play). So, as you can see, stats don’t influence the gameplay enough. Players’ positioning is a major flaw. For some reason, midfielders usually really like to stick to the middle of the pitch, even if you’re attacking or defending deeply within one of the halves. It’s very shitty and you often have to score with ridiculous aerial moves from the centre of the pitch. Especially since you usually can’t change your key players’ pre-determined positions on the pitch (biggest problem being that you can’t play Tsubasa as a forward).

Captain Tsubasа New Kick Off Goal

Oh, by the way, the game is not available in English. The Japanese release is in Japanese, the European one is in 4 languages – German, French, Italian and Spanish. Knowing German on a decent level, I was able to play through the game without any trouble, but do consider the language options when you decide whether to invest in this game.

Captain Tsubasa New Kick Off Language Choice

PASSABLE GRAPHICS, THE MUSIC SHINES

For a DS game, the graphics are not bad at all. There are some pretty animations showing the players, especially for the special moves. They’re just a bit blocky, but that’s what polygon graphics on the DS are destined to be. And I’ve gotta say the ball movement after special shots leaves much to be desired, it’s not different enough between the variety of shots seen in the game. Aside from that, the side view of the pitch is alright, even a bit ugly, and the cutscenes show the anime style character drawings, which are okay, I guess. But cutscenes are just very static, like reading a manga, more or less. You scroll to some dialogue, with the static shots of the characters talking changing occasionally.

Captain Tsubasa New Kick Off In-Game Cutscene

The music is the one rather high point of the game. Certainly not on the level of the Tecmo games as a whole (again), mostly just due to not having as many themes, but some of the tunes are very catchy and awesome. The composer deserves much praise for his work here – it reminds of the “good old days” very much. :) If only the rest of the game could follow suit… There are also voices! But only in the Japanese version… The song I’ve chosen is the menu theme played while you set up your team tactics.

JUST PLAY THE TECMO GAMES

Overall, Captain Tsubasa: New Kick Off is sadly not worth playing. Especially not if you’ve played the Tecmo games before. It just does not compare in any way. As far as Tsubasa RPGs go, even the first Tecmo game that was, at the end, just a stepping stone for the Captain Tsubasa II masterpiece and was missing many great concepts we saw later, was miles above this one. With rudimentary features like the difficulty curve, the player positioning, and the effectiveness of special moves being the biggest flaws, you know this game is a failure. Add to that the game rewarding you for playing matches in a pre-determined way and the numerous other, smaller problems. Music is really the only strong point in this game.

If you have played the Tecmo games before, avoid this one – you’ll be sorely disappointed and your hopes that this may come close to those gems will be dashed (that’s sadly what happened to me). If you’re new to the Tsubasa series and the concept interests you (I sure hope so!), just try the Tecmo games, and I suggest you start at Captain Tsubasa II for the NES (it even has an English translation available online!).

FINAL SCORE: 4.5/10

4.5 (with 5 as the average)


12 Comments

  1. Bla August 22, 2012 12:41 pm  Reply

    The license hasn’t changed at all. The anime license seems to be owned by Bandai Namco, while the one for the manga is by Konami. You’re right that this is a pretty bad game. However, I must note that it’s very accurate to the manga even right down to their kits (which are different from the anime. For example, Nankatsu’s kit is red). The unlockable events do take away the fun and I’m speaking as someone who read every goddamn volume that exists of Captain Tsubasa including the latest ones (En La Liga) Also, the mechanics doe indeed suck. It’s a poor imitation of Tecmo’s past games.

    The 2006 Captain Tsubasa game was pretty good, but it lacked tactics that made past Tecmo games excellent. You couldn’t even change players during a match!

    However, I would reserve calling Captain Tsubasa 2 a masterpiece. Sure it’s a good game, but I feel that the sequels were just as good, if not better, especially with 2 players option and the addition of offside. For me, the best Captain Tsubasa game will always be the last Tecmo one, Captain Tsubasa 5. It had everything Captain Tsubasa 2 had, and even more.

    If there’s one thing I can agree on, is that the music in Captain Tsubasa games always rocked, even in past Konami titles like the one for the PS1. (Captain Tsubasa: Aratanaru Densetsu Joshou)

    • Vlado August 22, 2012 3:30 pm  Reply

      I also like Tecmo’s SNES Captain Tsubasa games a lot, especially III and V (IV, while also very cool, especially with the different scenarios and everything, was inherently flawed because aerial shots were so much more powerful than ground shots). V was cool, I liked the story and Nitta’s important role (I’ve always liked him and he was always so insignificant until that game), but so easily exploitable – especially with the offside and goalkeeper exploits. III was pretty close to II, actually, but it just didn’t offer the same thrill and challenge.

      But the 2-player mode was indeed a very welcome addition! I remember back in the day we had an IRC channel about Captain Tsubasa and we’d organise Captain Tsubasa III online tournaments between the members… Fun times!

      • Bla August 25, 2012 4:05 am  Reply

        Maybe we should set that IRC channel again. I never really had a chance to play Captain Tsubasa Tecmo games 2 player. The only one was Captain Tsubasa J on the PS1 with my brother. That was fun too.

        4 had pretty good graphics and scenario, but the sound was kinda muffled. Also, leveling up in 4 was useless since the next opponent you’d play would be much stronger, if you lost in the previous match. I always hated that.

        Captain Tsubasa 2 wasn’t really well thought out in the difficulty progression to be honest. The first match was incredibly easy, but the second one was a lot more difficult.

        By easily exploitable, I guess you mean using special passes against the keeper? Yeah it had some bugs but I never noticed them till I watched a video about it. 5 also had side scenarios like Napoleon joining Nankatsu, so that’s pretty fun. But the thing that sold me on CT 5 was that your guts went down faster than previous games and it really forced you to make use of your other players a lot more.

      • Vlado August 27, 2012 4:01 pm  Reply

        If only resurrecting the IRC channel could bring back the people we had there… We were about 10-12 people, but only 6 or so participated in tournaments. That was in 2002-2003, and I don’t know what everyone is doing nowadays… The only person I’ve remotely followed goes by Mykas0 or something like that on Gamefaqs, he writes lots of reviews there.

        I haven’t played Tecmo CT 2-player mode online in a long time (since the IRC channel’s times, I think). I also play with my brother sometimes, but we haven’t in quite a while now. If you use Skype or something like that, maybe we could set something up and play, if you’re interested.

        Regarding Captain Tsubasa II, I’d say the first tournament is quite easy (if you don’t fool around or have really bad luck, only the final can give you real trouble), but from the 2nd, the real pain begins, and it stays like that pretty much throughout the game. Yes, the difficulty curve is really steep, but that’s one of the things I like, because victories are that much more fulfilling. I remember playing for a whole weekend just to get past Uruguay back on my first playthrough (which lasted months upon months because I didn’t own the game or even the system back then, I rented them occasionally)…

        In Captain Tsubasa V, you can fool the goalkeeper easily by lifting the ball high to a forward, so that the goalie comes out, and then you just select “Through” and the ball falls right into the goal. It’s funny. You can also pass from one end of the penalty area to the other (several times, if necessary), and the goalkeeper always tries to follow the ball, only to ultimately remain too far out of reach for your eventual shot. But the offside exploit is my favourite – you just set your defenders to mark the opposing defenders, that way their forwards are always offside because your defenders aren’t where they should be. And since the AI doesn’t know any better, it usually just passes to the forwards, wasting the attack. Anyway, the extra scenarios were indeed a cool feature.

      • CTE March 29, 2013 12:03 pm  Reply

        Hi, I run a Spanish forum. I think there are people who would like to play CT3 online tournaments. So, tell me if you’re interested.

        • Vlado April 4, 2013 3:52 pm  Reply

          Thanks a lot for the offer! Awesome that you have such an active Captain Tsubasa forum, I’ll be keeping an eye on it! Unfortunately, due to a lack of free time, I don’t think I’d be able to actively participate in a CT3 tournament.

  2. Bla August 25, 2012 4:28 am  Reply

    Also, in Captain Tsubasa 5, you could actually miss the goal. It sorta adds to the realism. Anyway, do you know Captain Tsubasa Tsukurou Dream Team? It’s an online CT game that plays like the old Tecmo games. Here’s the blog which will help you through the game, (since it’s entirely in Japanese).

    http://shinjisblog.blog.free.fr/index.php?category/Getting-started

    Here’s a real good Captain Tsubasa website in English, run by the person who scanlated all the manga chapters in English (also behind the blog). It also has an English board. I post there regularly so do check it out.

    http://captaintsubasafan.free.fr/

    • Vlado August 25, 2012 6:08 pm  Reply

      That’s really cool, thanks! :)

      I just checked that “social” game out, not really what I expected. Matches are super short and that Flash gameplay is really static in comparison to the “real” Tsubasa games. I’ll still likely be spending some time with it regularly at work, heh. :)

      • Bla August 27, 2012 1:43 am  Reply

        It’s true the matches are short, but considering the amount of games you’ll be playing in it, it’s a good thing. The animations obviously aren’t as good as the ones you’ll find on a real CT game, but at least the gameplay isn’t broken, which of course is the main problem with the DS game. Special shots can still be stopped with a regular save as long as stats are good enough.

        It’s a very complex game outside the gameplay, with cards which you can draw everyday (If you go to the shop, there’s an item which allows you to draw for free). Got myself a bronze Santana and Dias. Oh yeah, and the numerous cards of the same player at different times during the manga, and some of them having silver, gold variations. I suggest you read the guide in detail.

        As for me, this is basically my fix for now, till the next CT game rolls out, hopefully on a next gen system. :)

        • Vlado August 28, 2012 2:53 pm  Reply

          I think they just won me over… I was almost at the end of a match and the Flash plugin crashed. I was prepared to get angry because a whole match was lost, but then, miraculously, when I reloaded the application, it resumed right where the match had been at the time of the crash! Wonderful.

  3. Bla August 29, 2012 11:19 am  Reply

    I remember leaving it for a whole day and coming back, and it still resumed where I left off.

    By the way, do not forget to visit the shop at least once daily for the draw. I have a bronze Santana on my team and I only use him to score now. :)

    Add me as friend. The guide explains how to do so. Here’s my id:
    13909347

    • Vlado August 29, 2012 2:13 pm  Reply

      I’ve added you. But how do I get that draw at the shop? I go to the shop and I only see stuff you can pay for with NicoNico points, the last one needing 25000 Tsubasa points, and I don’t have as many.

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