When our Editor-in-Chief, Jenni, asked me to play Ganbare! Super Strikers, I only had one question for her. That question was, “What is Ganbare! Super Strikers?” Once I looked it up, my second question was, “Why are you presenting unto me, a tremendous nerd, this sports game (oh, right).” Then I looked a little closer, and at that moment I saw the divine acronym: RPG. I was instantly on board and dove right in. I was a little hesitant, due to the game’s humble aesthetic, but after playing a “battle,” I had a blast. Unfortunately, the honeymoon period didn’t last very long and my attention lapsed.
It took me a while to figure out how to describe Ganbare! Super Strikers in my head. You know, that way you twist and mold familiar experiences to wrap around a new one, in case you want to share your enthusiasm with a friend. Or, well, the opposite. After some deliberation and facial hair stroking, I ended up with an apt scenario: a mad scientist, fueled by compromised genius, created a cyborg powered by Fire Emblem and Blitzball. Then just for his own sadistic entertainment, he created another cyborg powered by Angry Birds. Cyborg B, evil to its core, demolished and consumed Cyborg A. Ganbare Super Strikers is Robot B’s subsequent bowel movement.
That sounds more mean than my feelings on Ganbare! Super Strikers actually are, but needed for the comparison to work. Ganbare Super Strikers molds soccer into a turn-based, tactical RPG with mechanics we’ve seen before in other games. This core is surrounded by a structure informed almost entirely by Angry Birds-era mobile gaming, but without any of the personality that made Angry Birds popular. It’s a cute idea, with some cool gameplay, but is so devoid of style or personality it’s impossible to care. The entire game is this nauseating green color, meant to evoke the grass on a soccer pitch. But as we know by looking at things like FIFA 20’s neon pinks and bold primaries, there’s more to sports aesthetic than turf.
My initial impression was as positive as it was for a reason. If you don’t care about window dressing, storytelling, character, or outside motivation, Ganbare! Super Strikers is super fun. The way it takes familiar elements from known RPG spaces like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy X and adds it own twists make for a solid delivery on its pitch (pun absolutely intended). The Blitzball comparison holds up via how the soccer fundamentals work – passing and shooting is all about math – and the Fire Emblem shows up when it comes to making moves around the map and seeing what the results of your actions might be before you commit. Add in some special skills and status effects for more RPG flavor, and a stamina system that encourages team play and benching, and you have a smart system that covers a lot of ground in a small space.
What killed it for me was everything else. I can’t play something as mentally demanding as a RPG, especially a tactics RPG, without structural encouragement. I need a story, or additional systems, or cool characters, or something! Like, imagine if Dragon Quest was just the level grinding, without the grand music, goofy-looking monsters, job systems, or fantastical stories. What we have here is disjointed levels, bare bones dialogue fueling a “story” mode, teams full of players who are just there to serve their functions, and if there was music I’ve forgotten any trace of it. The skills are cool, to be fair. But after clicking through a few levels, earning stars in groups of three for meeting requirements, and realizing I was playing a mobile game from ten years ago without the stupid (but very marketable) mascots, I called it a night.
Ganbare Super Strikers is an awesome proof of concept that doesn’t have the muscle to justify its presence on consoles, or sometimes even its genre. This could have been a great take on the Golf Story or Mario Tennis style of sports/RPG hybrid, but with an even nerdier emphasis on the second half. And I want to make it as clear as possible that I found the game’s core mechanics to be spot-on. In the moment, Ganbare! Super Strikers is a dope genre blend of soccer and tactical RPG combat. But due to an unfortunate, unshakable blandness and lack of RPG ingredients beyond combat, it’s hard to recommend Ganbare Super Strikers. Check it out if you’re really curious about the mechanics, but measure your expectations accordingly.
Ganbare! Super Strikers is currently available for the Nintendo Switch, the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One, and the PC.