In the world of handheld video games, role-playing titles are king. Pokemon was released in the mid-90s and revolutionized what we played in the back seat of our parents’ car. How many family vacation trips did Pikachu save us when we were younger? Heck, you may even play the latest Pokemon titles now while you’re pretending to work in your cubicle. It’s ok, I’m not here to judge. What I am here to do is introduce you to your new addiction, Inazuma Eleven.
The series has been around for awhile, but unless you live in Japan you may not have even heard of it. A few titles in the series have been released in the States and the UK, but they’ve largely done so quietly. That needs to change, and I’m here to do that because this is a game any soccer-loving gamer needs to have in his or her library. Also, I need some people to trade players with…
Here’s the best way to explain Inazuma Eleven: It’s like Pokemon except you’re the captain of a soccer team, and instead of capturing monsters and teaching them different moves, you’re recruiting players and teaching them different tricks. There’s a storyline here, but it’s not the reason you should buy it, nor why you should keep playing it. All you need to know is that you start off captaining a sorry squad that doesn’t even have enough players to field a full team. You roam the school grounds, and places around the city, in search of players to compete in a big tournament. Seriously, it’s Pokemon with soccer balls.
Inazuma Eleven’s two strongest aspects are its controls and its absurdity. The game makes full use of the 3DS’ stylus while you’re on the pitch. Player movements are guided by drawing on the field, and passes and shots are placed by tapping on players and the goal. Truth be told, it’s all a little difficult to get used to at first. I had my butt handed to me more times than I care to admit when I initially picked it up. After awhile, however, you’ll be tapping and drawing like a pro. The stylus is really the best way to command so many players at once on the handheld.
Now on to the absurdity. Oh man, this game is crazy. In true Japanese anime fashion, everything is over the top. One of the first matches you play early on is against a team called Occult, which includes a defender with bolts sticking out the side of his neck, a midfielder wrapped up like a mummy, and a sorcerer. The names are golden too, like Rob Crombie, a third-year defender with stitches scattered around his body and dead eyes.
Each club you face has a theme to it, and if you stop to question why you’re playing against a kid with a diaper on his head, you’re not playing the game the right way. Special moves are really exciting too, like Kevin, a forward you get early who learns the move Dragon Crash. It’s a ferocious strike that literally summons a dragon in its wake. These special moves are governed by TP points that diminish over time, meaning you’ll need to use them wisely during a match. Players can even team up with one another to create even more special moves. When Kevin teams up with Axel Blaze (I swear that’s his name) they can perform the Fire Tornado, a strike that would require a goalie to use his own special move, like God Hand, to stop. The trick is, if you’re controlling the goalie, it’s a gamble on whether or not to use your special move. You won’t know if the opposing striker has just hit a normal shot or a special one until it’s too late. You either use your special ability, and use the TP points, or skip it and hope it’s a normal shot. This decision becomes crucial in later matches with tight score lines.