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Tecmo Cup Soccer Game (NES) artwork

Tecmo Cup Soccer Game (NES) review

"Once upon a time, grew a boy, in Japan, called Tsubasa Ozora. Tsubasa would ever since his birth act differently from his peers. Indeed, while his buddies would relentlessly talk about their favorite comics, movies and girls, Tsubasa would remain alone. It should however be said that Tsubasa was not really alone. He would spend a lot of time with his best friend. His best friend was a ball, a football (soccer). "

Once upon a time, grew a boy, in Japan, called Tsubasa Ozora. Tsubasa would ever since his birth act differently from his peers. Indeed, while his buddies would relentlessly talk about their favorite comics, movies and girls, Tsubasa would remain alone. It should however be said that Tsubasa was not really alone. He would spend a lot of time with his best friend. His best friend was a ball, a football (soccer).

As Tsubasa grew older and never separated from his ball, he developed astounding skills. Soon enough, his parents realized that Tsubasa was extremely gifted and got the idea of sending him to a school which coincidentally encouraged everybody to participate in any sport, with football even more coincidentally occupying a preponderant place there. At first, Tsubasa was reticent to go there. You see, he was shy and he feared being mocked by everybody else.

His fears soon turned out to be completely far-fetched though. There were other people like Tsubasa at Nankatsu. Among the most notable ones was Ishizaki, who, with his buffoon-like behavior, quickly made Tsubasa feel at ease. Other boys, who shared their passion for football, also showed Tsubasa that there was nothing to be afraid of. Thus, Tsubasa was happy. And the arrival of Misaki, who was almost as skilled as him, enabled them to build a great team which was respected in the whole region.

But then, a national tournament was organized and invitations were sent out to every school in Japan. Needless to say, the Nankatsu players were more than eager to show the world what they were capable of. They thought they were the best and that the tournament would be a breeze. Little did they know about the existence of Misugi, Sawada, the Tatsubana brothers, Nitta or even Soda.

Even worse, they didn't know who Hyuga was.

Captain Tsubasa is all about this: Nankatsu's clash with other Japanese school teams, and Japan's quest to rule the 'footballistic' world. As you may already have guessed from what I've been babbling about so far, the players are thus relatively young; young, but more skilled than any of those real-life geeks who profess to be good at football, but can barely add a curling effect to a shot. Tsubasa himself is still in the process of grasping all the traits that make a good player; he is hesitant, as you will understand from the in-match dialogues that regularly pop up, and the countless mini-scenes that serve the purpose of delivering the great story.

As interesting and mind-blowing as the story may be (connoisseurs will, I have no doubt, agree with me since it's a straight port from the anime), the real excitement behind this game is the genre, something which is both unique and baffling. Captain Tsubasa relies on a somewhat complex game system that calls upon factors and features from both regular RPG and football games. The game itself is a football one with matches you need to play, teams you need to beat, and goals you need to score. However, playing the game does not amount to your typical football engine.

Instead, you are left to first stare at menus whenever you feel the need to perform an action. Actions mainly resume to normal ones: shots, passes, dribbles and the other stuff you can do on a football pitch, provided you still have your two feet. In Captain Tsubasa, everything is done via menus in a way that is reminiscent of a normal RPG. Suppose you have the ball and want to pass it around, you must first bring up the menu with the B button. This done, holding a direction on the pad will highlight one of the actions I listed earlier and a tap on the A button will confirm this. The menu then disappears and the player performs the action, if possible.

Of course, like in any football game, you won't have the exhilarating feeling of keeping the ball all the time. You will thus have to chase the opposite players around and try to claim the ball back so you can score goals. When such situations arise, you need to run towards the player who has the ball and steal the ball from him, or intercept it should the lad suddenly choose to pass the ball to a teammate or to shoot. This time, the menu will instantly pop up as soon as you get close to the player and await your orders. This makes things very simple once you have figured out all the controls if you are Japanese-illiterate. You basically only have to memorize the directions and their respectful actions.

While actions used throughout the game are quite normal, that's just the tip of Captain Tsubasa. As fans will recall, something else made Captain Tsubasa so interesting as an anime; the presence of insane moves that would send opponents hurling in agony, rip through nets and even cause walls to break. This wasn't omitted in the game. Key players come in with their specific special techniques and you will learn that using them at the right moment may be the way to beat an otherwise hellish team. Perverse minds will probably think that abusing these moves should ensure an easy win, which is a hilarious statement.

You see, there is a constraint that prevents you from actually using these special techniques over and over again: GUTS. The word is self-explanatory. Each player has his own amount of GUTS, which you may also consider as Health Points (as in RPG's) or simply Stamina (I got a thesaurus under my bed!). Using normal passes and even running around cause these GUTS to decrease such that it isn't possible to use the same player over and over again to do everything as some silly gamers may be tempted to do. Special techniques, being so great and helpful, cost a ****-load of these, even reaching as high as 350 for a player whose maximum GUTS may be around 750. While players do recuperate when they are not used and during halftime, you are still asked to play strategically. This aspect makes for a genuine, unrelenting atmosphere: the game is hard, sometimes very painful, but ultimately rewarding.

Captain Tsubasa's unique factors don't stop here. In addition to boasting such *****-hardening game mechanics, it is also seen in a totally different way. You don't actually see midget-like players running over a barren pitch here. The action takes place in a weird one-person view that lets only the player with the ball on-screen. The lucky bastard will be seen, occasionally kicking the ball in his strides, while the green non-corrosive parts of the pitch scroll by at a nauseating speed. And that is also how the whole game will occur, even when the keeper is concerned, the latter just jumping forward and attempting to catch or punch the ball whenever it's his cue.

This new perspective allows the game to benefit from anime-like graphics that, while not really impressive, manage to make the game look above average. Fans of the anime will be able to point out the key players with a single glance at the screen, which is a feat (as well as a huge boost to their ego). Otherwise, the other players are quite generic looking with only their shirts, numbers and slight variations (such as a different hair color) differentiating them. It's not really as if you need to differentiate them though as the game blatantly revolves around the key players (namely Tsubasa, Tachibana, Hyuga, Wakabayashi, Lino) anyway. The others are here just because there needs to be eleven players in a football team and I don't think a team with only Tsubasa and Misaki would go very far, however weak the opposition.

Details are meticulously respected in the game, which again shows that this is mainly a product for the anime fan. Each team logo has even been drawn to the smallest detail to render this relationship even more poignant. The pitch is a brilliant striped green square that constantly whizzes by as the ball goes from one end of the pitch to the other, something which you'll very quickly notice. Animations are subtly better; special techniques that cost an insane amount of GUTS are highlighted through flashy and lengthy scenes that will see the background become black while the player unleashes an uber powerful shot. You'll adore those; they pay tribute to another of the great aspects of the anime. To have implemented these so beautifully in the game again shows how Tecmo put a lot of effort in this first game that would, with time, spawn 5 absolutely brilliant sequels.

However, I still have some gripes about the graphics. Ironically, these concern some of the normal actions you will perform throughout the matches. Take the animation of a normal pass: it essentially consists of 2 frames. One second, the player has his foot up behind the ball and almost immediately afterwards, he's already kicking it when he never even brought his foot down to perform the action. This is weird as during most special shots, you'll see a lengthy animation where the same player's leg will stay in the pre-kicking position for about 4 seconds (no joke!), slowly descend to the ball, before finally kicking it. I understand the developers were more intent in making the special techniques (which still constitute the core of the anime AND the game) look good, I understand the NES does have its limitations and couldn't handle this, but the fact is that these choppy animations can make the gamer totally fed up after a while, which a shame given how the game play is so stellar.

Music in Captain Tsubasa is efficient without being truly memorable. You won't find yourself suddenly humming any of the few tracks sporadically replaced over the matches, but they perfectly suit the frantic action withheld in the cartridge. Maybe the limited number of tracks is actually an undermining factor, as these noticeably get better as they change (according to tournaments, with whole new tracks playing in 'special' matches). Unfortunately, by the time it sinks in one's mind how the music is improving, the game suddenly reaches the ending, thus cutting off the potential of the great soundtrack announced. Sound effects are quite sparse with mildly realistic kicks and thomps punctuating the action. On the other hand, the ball does have a tendency to make a rattling kind of noise as it undergoes friction with the tense air (tense because of the heat emanating from the players).

In spite of its kiddy looks (with the anime-like designs) and innocent aspect, don't let Captain Tsubasa fool you. This game can be a real nightmare for the novice. Thankfully, the game gives you enough time to get used to all its intricacies. The first match is extremely easy; only a complete fool will be incapable of beating the team. The second encounter is harder with a certain Brazilian striker turning your defenders into goofballs while his partner whips out headers that would make even a tanker kneel in agony. By the time you reach the third match, prepare to pull all your hair out as all your attacking options fail against legendary Italian goalkeeper Lino. The game places emphasis on strategy and patience. Just running around with the ball will yield no substantial results. One needs to be almost precise in his actions, knowing when to get to a certain location, knowing when to pass the ball to a mate.

And such things are even harder to achieve than in any other Captain Tsubasa title as one realizes that there isn't a real map in the game. Indeed, what could still be labeled as a map only shows the outline of the pitch, with the nets at both ends, and the ball. The players are not shown, so one never knows what one is running into. This alone makes this first try very tough as one keeps running into the opposite's team best defender, only to be robbed of the ball each time, before conceding subsequent goals. The omission of this detail may have been deliberate (as a matter of fact, I'm willing to bet that this idea either never crossed the developers' minds, or they just thought the game would be too easy otherwise), but it can definitely keep potential gamers away. And knowing how the game gets way harder afterwards (I actually had to try a dozen times before I beat a splendid Muppet FC led by a fantastically inspired Kojro Hyuga), it is not a surprise that most of those non-fans who tried the game never cared about seeing through the entire game.

At the point of offending these gamers, I will add that, while I understand their disgust with the difficulty setting (which is still nothing compared to the sequels -in spite of the map in the sequels, the opponents themselves brilliantly kept each game really hard), the rewards of beating the game and seeing the truly great ending more than make up for any sleepless nights. Captain Tsubasa is one of the most rewarding games I have ever played; you will actually feel you have accomplished something after beating it, even more so if you don't understand Japanese as the whole game is in Japanese and was never (and will never be) translated.

Really, what do I need to add to this review? By now, you should know that this a must-play game and another overlooked gem. Play it for its innovative features, play it for its wacky game engine, and play it for the wicked story. There are so many reasons to play this game that the fact of even reviewing it has suddenly become stupid. Or you could just play it because it marks the beginning of the greatest series ever and precedes the orgasmic Captain Tsubasa 2.

I searched for this game expecting a hesitant, butchered up effort that would grow old after a while (since I had already played II, 3 and 5 before); I got a fantastic game that I am about to play for the tenth time.

siegfried's avatar
Community review by siegfried (December 18, 2003)

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