Tecmo Cup Soccer / Captain Tsubasa – Football RPG

Old Weird Games digs up forgotten weird games from the past and takes a peek at the interesting and unique game design in them.

Platform: NES
Genre: RPG / Sports
Tecmo Cup Soccer was the westernized version of the Japanese game Captain Tsubasa, I’m using it because it was translated to English for the NES. They’re basically the same game though.

Tsubasa is really taking the RPG genre and stretching the definition to its limits. How do you take a set of RPG rules that add value to a different and unrelated genre like sports without alienating people who play sports games? It’s quite refreshing to see a RPG that is not themed with wizards and dragons or robots. The graphic style is impressive for the NES, obviously taking cues like camera angles and visual effects from classic anime style. Kind of reminds me of 8-bit Phoenix Wright.

Nintendo World CupWhen me and my brother bought this game in the early 90’s, we were expecting it to be like Nintendo World Cup – a simple side scrolling “arcade” football game. We didn’t totally grasp all the mechanics at first but after the initial disappointment of finding out it wasn’t what we expected, it ended up being maybe even a more memorable experience than the multiplayer Nintendo World Cup matches. I don’t think I understood that the players stats were going up after each game until coming back to the game years later. Obviously not being a native English speaker and being a kid meant that we rarely understood anything but the basic game mechanics and then explored from there.

It is a unique concept and offers hours of gameplay that is still a lot of fun these days. And sports games haven’t tried out new things like this in forever. Or maybe in Japan they have? As a mostly turn based game it shows how to create tension and dramatic situations for the player without real time action.

Tecmo Cup soccer title screen snap0001
Title screen and a shot from the intro animation.

Kickoff! Basic controls and gameplay

Game startsThe game starts, you can see your position on the map, time left, goals (the match is Razors vs Gems), and the attributes of the current player. The top half of the screen always shows an artistic/cinematic impression of what is happening on the field.

The D-pad moves the player around the field. You can’t see the other players until you run into them or you can check their positions in the Pass menu which is pretty cumbersome.




snap0007While you’re running or standing still, the timer is running and AI is controlling all the other players. This means the opponents players are running towards you and your team mates are running towards the opponents goal. If you wait in place for too long or run into someone, you’ll get a encounter screen.

Pressing A pauses the game and brings up a box where you can select one of the offense actions. Pass, shoot or dribble. This control scheme should sound familiar if you’ve ever played Final Fantasy games for example.



Encountered some opponentsWhen you encounter enemies you have the same options as before except Dribble now means you’ll try to trick each of the opponents one at a time AND you cannot move until you choose an action.






Passing and shooting

Pass screen - only way to see other players Successful pass
Shot! snap0045
1. Pass screen – only way to see other players | 2. Successful pass to Robin
3. Robin shoots! | 4. Goalkeeper tries to catch it

You pass the ball to other players on your team when too many opponents are closing in on you or you see that one of your player is close to the goal or otherwise in a good spot for shooting.

When you pass to someone, opponents can intercept the ball – their Cut stat comes into play here. If it’s much better than your Pass then they might take the ball down mid-pass. Cuts from different players also accumulate (it says it slowed the ball down) so if you try to pass over 5 opponents who each Cut, you have very low chances of the pass making it. The same is true for shooting, opponents will try to cut those too.


Player attributes / statistics

If you’ve played RPGs before, you know that usually characters have statistics that improve as you play further like Strength, Intelligence, etc. In Tecmo Cup Soccer these are all football related but still map to a straightforward player progression. Improving your Shoot makes your shots harder to block. Improving your Cut makes you more likely to intercept a ball from the air and so on.
First look at our players Goalkeeper John
First look at our player roster. Robin is a midfielder and John is the goalkeeper with special attributes. Everyone else’s screen looks like Robins. He starts off with much higher points in them than the rest of your first team, who start with something around 8 in all stats.

  • Level – When you gain enough experience in a match you get to the next level and your stats increase.
  • Max Guts – The energy of the player. Running and offense/defense actions use this up, if you run out of Guts your player can’t really do anything in the rest of the match. Super kicks use up large amounts of Guts also.

Offense attributes:

  • Dribble – Try to slip past an enemy with a dribble
  • Pass – Pass the ball to another player
  • Shoot – Shoot the ball at the goal

Defense attributes:

  • Tackle – Use a sliding kick to try to take the ball away from an opponent
  • Cut – Try to intercept the opponents pass or shot
  • Mark – Try to stop your opponent from advancing and bring more of your defenders to the encounter

Goalkeeper specific:

  • Punch – High chance of successfully deflecting the shot, but the ball will get loose and either team might pick it up
  • Catch – Low chance of successfully catching the ball from air, but your team will for sure get the ball if successful


Recruiting and Super Shots

Getting new and interesting characters into your team is always one of my favorite parts about RPGs.
Later in the game as you win more games, you will recruit other special characters from the teams you beat. This happens in a little cutscene after the match or if it’s the final, after your move to the next league.

Most of the new recruits will also have a super shot already or learn them at certain levels. Players gain other special abilities too, like a dual-player special shot or a special tackle. Special Shots and abilities make players feel unique and keep the game interesting even after playing tens of matches in a row. In a classic RPG way it makes you want to keep playing one more match to find a new special power.

Each league ends with a very tough final match against a team filled with special characters. These are kind of the boss battles of Tecmo Cup Soccer. So when you win you won’t get loot but you will move to a better league, form a new team and get players from the boss team join you.

Damons Blast Shot Damons Blast Shot 2

To get further info about the game and a better feel of how it plays I recommend watching some clips on YouTube or trying to hunt down the game for the NES. Captain Tsubasa games are also available for other platforms.