(CAPTAIN TSUBASA is out now for all platforms. Distributor provided review code.)

I don’t like football. I’m not particularly interested in watching any sports to begin with, but football takes a special place in my disinterest by just being so frightfully dull. I get that it takes immense coordination, athleticism, and teamwork, and that’s great if you’re actually playing the game – but watching others run back and forth on the pitch feels about as exciting as counting sheep.

Luckily CAPTAIN TSUBASA: RISE OF NEW HEROES understands my woes and is like a panacea to the athletic doldrums. Based on the hugely successful anime series (and following a long line of titles in the franchise), RISE OF NEW HEROES is a hugely melodramatic and ridiculous soap opera set in a world where football is as dangerous as a DRAGON BALL Z battle. 

On the surface everything plays like your average football simulator, right down to the controls and camera. Each round lasts for a set amount of time (which depends on the game mode), and it’s up to the player to sort out tactics in the midst of the fierce battle for dominance. Every athlete has a spirit counter, which indicates just how much energy they have to pull off dazzling moves like a special dribble that keeps would-be attackers at bay, or the ridiculously over the top kick that launches the ball at supersonic speeds towards the goal. 

Most of the action is spent midfield, where competing teams fight to control the flow of the game. Get enough team members together and you can activate “V-Focus,” a super powered attack pattern that brings the camera right into the thick of it. But nothing lasts forever and the special attack will drain spirit extremely fast. This creates the need for some essential tactics on when and how to use the move set.

By the time the ball arrives at either goal, the combat becomes a game of wearing down the goalkeeper of their spirit, all the while balancing your own to prepare for the Ultimate Kick that will send anyone in its way flying. And by flying I mean literally; the animations here are ridiculous in the best kind of way, with the football becoming a shooting star and anyone catching it being pushed back by the sheer force of will instilled in the pigskin. 

As you progress through the campaign mode your time will accrue more moves and skills that make them run faster and kick harder. By the time you reach the championship games the footballers essentially fly on the field and every kick is an explosion of melodrama. 

Holding it together is a surprisingly engrossing story mode which seems to be lifted from the anime the game is based on. There’s seemingly a lot of fan service all over the place, and a lot of the minor touches will be lost on players coming in cold. But this doesn’t detract from the big picture, as the characters are all really fun and everything is played very broadly for comedic effect. There’s the usual rivalry between old friends, spies from other teams trying to sabotage the game, and the eventual falling out and triumphant return that this genre thrives on. 

Beyond the campaign, TSUBASA eschews the more complicated (and often convoluted) management sections of typical sports sims, instead opting for a more streamlined and fun package that’s reminiscent of arcade games of the past. Building your team’s stats isn’t particularly difficult or involved, but what the game lacks in minutiae it makes up for in emotional rewards instead. Players become more than just numbers on the field, each one displaying their own particular personality and touch on the field. By the time the hours have rolled by, the team feels like a group of friends rather than a binary set of tools. 

A rich multiplayer mode allows you to customize your own personal team, right down to their looks and personalities, which makes the online experience that much more fun to play. There’s something far more rewarding about taking your own guys out for world domination than doing so with a preset group of players from a global roster.

CAPTAIN TSUBASA is one of those rare pleasant surprises that you don’t expect much from, only for it to reveal itself as a golden example of how some genres can be hugely captivating when looked at from a new angle. It’s not going to win over hardened simulation players, but fans of the lighthearted anime and arcade style football games will be over the moon thanks to an easy yet surprisingly deep campaign, and a gorgeous art style that captivates at every turn.