Growing up, I was never much of a sports guy. I tried playing a couple of different sports in elementary school and they never quite worked out for me. I tended to panic when needing to make split-second decisions and I didn’t like roughing up other kids. So once I got older and pursuing things like music and drama were more viable paths for my extra-curriculars, those became my focus. And since I didn’t like to watch sports, they weren’t really a part of my life after that. I definitely went through a phase where performatively dragging sports and athletes were part of the social ritual of being a nerd, but that started to fade after high school and as an adult I’ve largely been neutral towards athletics.
Perhaps unsurprisingly my disinterest in sports also led to a disinterest in sports video games. I’d play Mario Tennis because Mario was on the cover and of course during the Wii era I’d play Wii Sports with my family. But I’ve never been a Madden guy, a FIFA guy, a WWE guy, an MLB The Show guy; sports video games always struck me as “sports but worse” and I never messed with them. Even the idea of eSports has rarely ever interested me – I did go through a Pokemon competitive draft league phase circa 2015-2016 and that is about the closest I have ever been to being legitimately interested in sport. That is, until about a month ago.
If you’re a regular at Adventure Rules then you know that I recently played through Pyre, a game set in a fantasy world where playing a sport called “the Rites” is how exiles earn their freedom and get to return home. Pyre was very much not the sort of game that I normally play but it showed me how much fun diving into the competitive world of sport could be. As I looked through my backlog of charity bundle games to see if there was anything else that caught my eye, I found another sport RPG – albeit one in a very different style. That game was Ganbare! Super Striker, a football (that’s soccer to my fellow Americans) turn based tactics game about fighting to be the champions in the style of a sports anime. I’m a big tactics fan and I’ve got the sports bug right now, so this seemed like a great opportunity to continue exploring games that I might have otherwise never touched before.
Ganbare! doesn’t have much of an opening and essentially throws you right into the action. After customizing your “main character” (this game doesn’t really have a narrative) as well as naming your team and designing your emblem and uniforms, you gain access to matches as well as the ability to rearrange your formation, equip your players, and complete a tutorial. The tutorial doesn’t walk you through a real game and rather just shows you the bare basics of how to interact with the game. It’ll teach you to move, how to kick the ball, how to tackle, and how to shoot, but it won’t teach you what strategies and approaches are effective for a soccer match. That part, you have to figure out for yourself.
In terms of looks, Ganbare! has a simple aesthetic but one that is effective in communicating your actions. The soccer field is broken up into a grid with a goal at either end. The goal is three tiles wide and the goalkeeper occupies the center position by default with openings to their left and right (since the arena is displayed top down, this looks more like above and below visually to the player). Each team has six players not counting the goalkeepers, meaning there are a dozen units to manage on the grid at any given time. The two teams have different uniform colors and each individual player has a unique hair color and style, making it pretty easy to tell characters apart. The UI also effectively communicates how much space a selected character can move, how many actions they have remaining, as well as whether or not they have openings to take an action like passing or tackling and how likely it is the move will succeed. While the graphics themselves aren’t necessarily anything to write home about, the game has enough charm and is punching above its weight class in terms of effectively using visuals to communicate the information important to your strategy.
Each match is divided into two 20 minute halves. A minute passes whenever a turn ends, so you essentially have 40 turns to play a match. A couple of things can end a turn: you can choose to end your turn at any time, whether you have used all of your player’s actions or not, or you can end the turn by losing control of the ball. A new team getting the ball immediately rolls over to the next turn and passes time, so you certainly want to remain in control whenever possible. Fortunately there is no real life time limit so unlike in actual soccer, you have all the time in the world to think about your next move and to figure out what you think the most effective approach will be in order to maintain control of the ball and score points.
On your turn, you can take two actions with each player on your team. This could be two movements, a move and a tackle, a move and a pass, etc. Each move action allows you to move up to two squares. Passing goes much farther but if there are opposing players near the path of the pass, they have a chance to intercept. Your goal is to the get a player with the ball close enough to the scoring net on the opponent’s side to kick the ball in and earn a point. Certain checks like trying to pass, score, or dribble are opposed checks. Your character will roll a number based on their stats and the opponent will do the same. If your final roll after adjusted by the opponent’s roll is above zero, your action is successful. If the opponent brings your roll down to zero, they intercept the ball and the turn ends, immediately passing control over to them.
Positioning your players so they can make clean passes, avoid being tackled, and have the highest odds to successfully score is only part of the game. Each player has stamina points (SP) that decrease with every action taken and only refill once, during halftime, and even then not all the way. A player whose stamina reaches zero has all of their stats halved for the remainder of the match. This makes getting worn out a serious threat that needs to be managed as you play. Spreading out actions among your players helps to take the edge off, and you can also bring in a limited number of substitutions off the bench during half time. It’s also smart not to move players who aren’t key to the particular turn, or to only move them slightly so they conserve the majority of their SP.
In addition to SP, players also have ability points (AP) which they can use to perform special tackles or passes with bonus effects. This is where the anime influence really shines as your players perform superpowered stunts that can freeze opponents in place, put them to sleep, or inflict other troublesome ailments. No one starts with these powers by default – abilities are learned from gear that you earn by winning matches. You can use an ability when you have the gear that teaches it equipped. Additionally, matches earn technique points (TP) that fill a bar for each ability-teaching gear you have. Once a piece of gear is mastered, the player can always use that ability even with the gear off. In this way, you can have players slowly master and spread around their gear until the whole team are familiar with the abilities available to them through their equipment.
Abilities aren’t the only improvements available to the players. Like most RPGs Ganbare! has levels and stats for its characters. Players gain experience (XP) by being active during a match, and their stats improve when they gain enough to increase in level. On top of that, every match has objectives that give you gear when completed. The first match, for example, gives you basic gear for winning the match while awarding higher level gear for scoring at least three goals and for preventing your opponents from scoring at all. While I haven’t attempted this during my brief first impression window with the game, it seems likely that you can redo matches to gain more XP and TP as well as retrying objectives you failed during your original play of the match.
Based on my first match, Ganbare! seems like a neat little tactics game. As someone who mainly plays fantasy tactics RPGs with a combat focus, the mechanics of soccer – focused more on teamwork, good positioning, and finding clear pathways for passing and scoring – is a fun change of pace compared to what I am used to. I enjoy the added challenge of managing player stamina over the course of the game and while I don’t have much experience with abilities at this point, I imagine they will add an interesting wrinkle to the matches moving forward. I’m looking forward to playing more of Ganbare! and seeing what the next few matches have in store.