Total Time Played: 20 Hours
Short Review: The most unique sports game on the console plays more like a role playing game. Luckily, you don’t need to know much about soccer to get a lot of enjoyment out of this game.
Interesting links related to Tecmo Cup Soccer Game
Not What I Expected
When I was 5 years old my mom signed me up to play soccer, my first team sport. When we arrived at the first practice I cried and refused to get out of the car. That was the end of my soccer career. With the exception of gym class I’m not sure I’ve ever played soccer. Needless to say, I don’t know much about it other than there are 2 teams and the goal is to kick the ball into the other teams net and whoever has scored the most at the end of the game wins.
I was not looking forward to this game, a 30 year old game about a sport I know nothing about. I was fully expecting this to be a huge slog, it was not. I never felt like I fully understood this game, but, this was not because I don’t understand soccer, it was because the game was a black box that even the internet couldn’t fully help me understand. I never got a handle on it and I’m going to spend the next several paragraphs complaining about the game a lot. But, somehow I still enjoyed every minute of playing it.
So, it’s like Blitzball?
When I described this game to my brother he said it sounded like the mini game Blitzball from Final Fantasy X. I’ve played through that game twice and while I have played Blitzball I never focused on it. It was a side quest/mini game that I didn’t really enjoy. I definitely see the similarities with Tecmo Cup Soccer and maybe now that I’ve finally grown to love this type of game I should revisit Blitzball.
A Text Adventure With RPG Elements
I used to play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on my grandfathers Apple IIe computer. It was a text based game where you literally typed in the command you wanted and the system would respond with text that told you the outcome of your selection. It was a very primitive game that required precise typing to accomplish the goal. There were no images at all, the game took place mostly in your head.
Tecmo Cup Soccer is similar but adds a visual layer and instead of typing your commands free form you select them from a menu. The visuals in the game are stunning and remind me of the great cut scenes in Ninja Gaiden.
What’s the Story?
I didn’t expect a soccer game to have a story and the story is pretty thin but the first time I turned on the game I was surprised that this wasn’t a typical sports title. It isn’t a game that keeps track of wins/losses or goals scored. It is a very linear game. You play soccer matches, your players get better and eventually you win the tournament. I actually appreciated this.
That linear goal is wrapped in a story about a boy named Robin Field whose dad is a big soccer star. He trains Robin and his brother Cecil to play soccer and then leaves with a note saying he will see them at the Tecmo Cup, the biggest soccer tournament in the world. In order to get to the Tecmo Cup Robin must first assemble a group of friends and win the national tournament and then take the best players from every team in the national tournament and play in the Tecmo Cup.
Between each game and each half of a game there is a screen or two of generic text about wanting to win the next game
Several times throughout the game you see a cut scene with a guy named Lucas who says he will join the team after his injury heals. I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for him to join but it wasn’t until the final game in the Tecmo Cup that Lucas can play. Yes, he is the best goalie in the game by a long shot but I don’t think the 15 or so cut scenes with him saying he would be back soon was worth it.
In a traditional role playing game each player has stats that determine how they will perform. These stats include things like Hit Points, Magic Points, Agility, Luck, etc. In Tecmo Cup Soccer each player has similar stats that determine how good they will perform.
Guts – This is equivalent to stamina. Each move in the game reduces this number. The more guts you have the more this player can be used in the game.
Dribble – The higher this value the better the player will be able to evade opponents as they surround him with the ball.
Pass – the ability to pass the ball successfully to a teammate without it being intercepted.
Shoot – The higher this value the more likely a shot will go into the goal.
Tackle – The ability to slide and kick the ball away from an opponent
Mark – Blocks an opponent from dibbling past you or passing the ball
Cut – Cuts off the opponent from passing the ball
Punch – When the opponent shoots on your goal this will have your goalie punch the ball away. The ball gets loose and there is a chance it will go back to the opponent.
Catch – Instead of punching the ball away the goalie will catch the ball allowing him to then pass it to a teammate.
Pass – The higher this value the better chance that the goalie’s pass will make it to a teammate.
Before each game you sit in the locker room and your coach fills you in on the latest changes. He first will list off all of the players who have gotten better since the last game and then you have a few options:
- Advice – The coach will tell you about the team you are about to play. It is always something generic like “Don’t let Ayerton get the ball, he’s a tough opponent”
- Memo – This is where you talk to Anne, who I think is Robin’s girlfriend. She always says how good of a job you are doing and then provides you with a super long and complex password so you can pickup where you left off.
- L. S. – This stands for League Standing. This option only appears during a few games after the national tournament but before the Tecmo Cup. It shows your wins/losses which determines if you win the preliminary tournament or not.
- Member – This only appears after you win the National Cup. It allows you to sub in players from the bench and build the team you want.
- Start – Starts the game
The Main Game (Offense)
Each game starts off with your team, The Tops, getting the ball, the second half always starts with the other team getting the ball. The game consists of 2 30 minute halves. But, these are Nintendo minutes where each minute is closer to 10 seconds. An entire game came be played in under 15 minutes.
When you have the ball you see your character on the top half of the screen running on a soccer field. You never see another player. Under the large animation of your player you have a bunch of stats. On the left you see the time left in the half and the current score. In the middle you see a view of your player’s location on the field denoted by the soccer ball. You always go towards the goal on the top of the field. On the right hand side you see your players current stats. Each second that passes the Guts stat lowers as the player is using energy which lowers his stamina.
At any point you can press the B button to bring up the action menu. This moves the image of the field up next to your player and replaces it with “What now?” where you can choose to dribble (up button), pass (left button) or shot (right button). Depending on your selection here changes what happens next.
If you chose to shoot the ball you will see an animation of the ball flying through the air, sometimes it passes other players, sometimes it is intercepted and sometimes it makes it to the goal where you see the goalie dive to stop the shot. Sometimes he does, and sometimes the ball goes into the net. Sometimes the ball goes through the net, sometimes it hits the goalpost and there is even a chance that the ball hits the goalpost so hard it explodes. In my experience, it didn’t matter what stats my player had, it didn’t matter which team I was playing, it didn’t matter if I did a special shot (more on that in a second). It always seemed completely random what happened when I would shoot the ball. This is my biggest gripe in the game. No matter how good my stats were there was no way to see the stats of my opponent so I never knew if the matchup was even or not. I never could get a handle on any of this. I’d watch YouTube videos and see people playing who were at a much lower level than me dominating every team.
Nothing I have found online explains any strategy for where to put which players on the field or how to do know if a pass or shot will be successful. Anyway…
As you level up your players their stats increase making them stronger dribblers, shooters, passers and gives them more guts to perform these actions. In some cases the player even learns a special shot. This shot is much more powerful than the regular shot and is accompanied by a special animation and flashing screen. These special shots use a lot more guts than a regular shot and sometimes a player can only perform 2-3 in a game before they run out of guts. So, use these only when you are sure to score (as if there was a way to know this).
I read a walkthrough online that said some team (I forget which and am too lazy to look it up again) has a really strong goalie. If you score on the goalie it hurts his morale (not a stat that is visible to people playing the game) and it makes him easier to score on a second time. The note also says that he is really good at blocking special shots and your regular shots have a better chance of scoring against him. I probably shouldn’t put too much stock into a random internet article I read but if this is true it makes me really mad. What is the point in having special shots that seem to be much better than the regular shot if in some cases those shots are not worth shooting? I’m ok with this if there was any note or memo or player comment or any indication at all how you could use this knowledge to your advantage.
Passing the ball is another annoyance for me. I learned a strategy in the final game of the Tecmo cup that would have potentially made the game easier for me. When you bring up the “What now?” menu you can choose to pass the ball. When you want to pass the ball you see a different view of the field and this time you actually get to see where the players are located. You have the option to chose one of 4 players to pass to. When the player has the soccer ball by their name they flash on the screen above so you can see where they are in relation to you.
What I didn’t learn until the last game was that if you cancel the pass and then select pass again the players you can pass to change. I always assumed I only had the option to pass to the 4 players under “Whom?” and many times the player I wanted to pass to was not in the list. Passing was another huge black hole for me. Sometimes I would see my player with the ball, there would be no opponents anywhere nearby and the player I was passing to was also wide open. I would pass to him and the pass would be intercepted. Other times I’d pass the ball to a player who had 3 or 4 players around him and the ball would go right to him. I never saw any indication with all of the on screen graphics that would let me know which pass was going to work and which wouldn’t. It always seemed completely random, which is fine, but, having the screen visualizing where the players are wasn’t necessary since it didn’t seem to help me at all. I feel like showing a picture of a bag of marbles while I selected who to pass to would have been just as helpful.
If you bring up the action menu and decide you don’t want to pass or shoot you can always select “Drib” which will take you back to the main screen of your player kicking the ball down the field.
Sometimes I’d bring up the menu, look at my players location to the opponents on the pass screen and try to map out how to keep dribbling to avoid the players. Just like I mentioned above this was pointless. Sometimes I’d pull up the pass screen, it would show me as wide open so I would continue to dribble. I’d take one step and an opponent would intercept me. What is the point of showing a map of the field and all of the players locations if it is an inaccurate representation?
Like in an RPG there are random encounters. This is where 1-5 members of the opposing team appear and try to stop you from reaching the goal. When this happens your player has the option to keep dribbling, pass the ball to a teammate or shoot the ball at the goal. After you make your selection a few animations will play out showing how your player fared against the opponents. Here lies a problem. You can see your players stats on the screen, you cannot see your opponents. The rule of thumb if the opponent has a real name and not just a number it means they are one of the better players on the team. So, again, no matter what I selected the outcome always seemed random. Sometimes 5 opponents would surround me and my player would have a low dribble stat and I’d dribble and pass all 5 players. Other times one opponent would be in front of me and my player with the strongest pass stat would have the ball and attempt to pass to a guy with no opponents in between and the ball would be stolen. It makes no sense.
The Main Game (Defense)
Anytime you don’t have the ball you are on defense. It always felt like I was on defense much more than I was on offense. The screen looks similar to when you are on offense except you can’t see the stats of the player with the ball. The soccer ball on the field at the bottom of the screen represents where the player is on the field. Notice anything? There is no way to know where your players are in relation to the ball. So, how do you make your players try to steal the ball?
Well, the truth is, I don’t know. When the other team had the ball I would just randomly push the D-Pad in a bunch of directions hoping that I was invisibly controlling a player of mine towards the ball. But, since I couldn’t tell where I was in relation to the ball I didn’t know which direction to press. This may have just been placebo and the real way to stop the ball was just wait for a random encounter. Again, I don’t understand this game mechanic at all.
When an encounter did happen it would show a list of all of the players on your team who are around the ball. You get to select what each player would do to try to stop the opponent. Tack, Cut, or Mark. Tackle attempts to steal the ball, cut attempts to cut off a pass and mark tries to block the player’s path forward. As you guessed, there is no rhyme or reason as to which of these commands would work. No matter how good my players stats were the outcome always seemed random.
What Happens If The Game Ends In A Tie?
National Tournament (basically the first 1/3 of the game)
The game ends in a shootout. Each team picks 5 kickers and each gets one shot to score a goal. The only choice you have to make is to kick to the right or left. If the defender dives left and you shoot right you score. When you are the goalie you do the same, choose whether to dive left or right. If you chose correctly you block the shot. Whoever has the most goals at the end of the shootout wins. If there is another tie you do another shoot out.
Preliminary League Tournament (2nd 1/3rd of the game)
This is a tournament where every team plays every other team. If the game ends in a tie the game ends in a tie. After all teams play all other teams the winner is determined by number of wins, ties and losses. If there is a tie in win/loss stats the winner is determined by points scored.
Tecmo Cup (last 1/3rd of the game)
In the Tecmo Cup when a game ends in a tie you play 2 more halves, each is 10 minutes instead of the regular 30 minutes. If there is still a tie you then go to a shoot out.
After each game (I think they are called matches in soccer) your coach will tell you if any players on the team “got better.” If a player is on the coaches list they have leveled up and all of their stats increase. In some cases a player will learn a special move like a more powerful shot. In the case of Damon, he learns a new dribble move where he basically plows over members of the opposing team. There isn’t a special command for this, it just happens. Another example of something that I don’t fully understand why it works that way.
Depending on which team you are playing against, if you lose you will rematch the team or be forced to go back a game and play the team before the current opponent again. Again, there was never an indication on what would happen if you lost. If I lost a game for the first several hours of my playthrough I would just enter the password and try again. But, then I realized I needed to level up because I was never going to beat a team without good stats. Luckily, I found a team that if you lost against you would play them again. I kept losing on purpose just to improve my players. I never saw any clear indication but I suspect that if you pass a lot your pass stat will go up more. If you dribble a lot that stat will go up, etc.
By the time I reached the final game most of my players were on level 16 or so. When I checked out YouTube the videos I found of the final game most of the players were on level 13. So, I had more than enough stats to dominate the final game. Except, I didn’t dominate because stats don’t seem to matter. I took me half a dozen tries to beat Brazil Jr. in the finals of the Tecmo Cup. No matter how hard I tried I just could not score a goal. I tried regular shots, every super shot I had including Damon’s Blast Shot which is the most powerful in the game. The goalie on Brazil was insane!
More than one time it was tied 0-0 with less than a minute left and Brazil scored a goal right as the timer went to 0. Talk about frustrating!
The Final Game
Do you know how many times I played the final game? Me either, but it was a lot. I would lose and instead of resetting and putting in the password to try again I would let the game kick me back 2 games and then fight my way through those teams in order to level up again and again. After doing this a few times I was finally ready. Most of my players had Guts over 900 and were level 18 or 19.
Even with this I would still struggle to score goals and the computer would seem to always get the best breaks. I know the game is decided by a bunch of hidden stats and random numbers but I just wish I knew what those were. It bordered on unfair. On the last game I was up 1-0 with less than 2 minutes left. The best player on the other team got the ball and went straight across the entire field without one of my players stopping him and shot to tie the game at the last second.
Then in overtime neither team scored so it went to a shootout which is pure luck. This actually happened probably on 3 occasions on the last game and I just never could get the game to go my way, until I finally beat it which took wayyyyy longer than it should have.
Even though I never felt in control of the game and I used more brute force than strategy to play through Tecmo Cup Soccer Game I still somehow really enjoyed it. The animations are up there with NES Open Golf and Ninja Gaiden as some of the best on the NES. I hope at some point in the future someone way smarter than me decodes the code behind this game so I can finally learn when a pass or shot will be successful or not. I did have a lot of fun in middle school playing World Cup Soccer but haven’t played it since then. I imagine that is the only soccer game on the NES that will even hold a candle to how fun this game was.