Eyeshield 21 Hands-On
What do the Japanese know about American football? We investigate by playing this import sports game based on the Japanese manga series.
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Based on the Japanese anime and manga series of the same name, Eyeshield 21 for the Nintendo DS is a Japanese take on American football. The game's manga influences are clearly visible all over it, with bug-eyed character models, angstlike expressions, and tons of (untranslated) dialogue to scroll through, most of which was lost on us. We're less interested in Eyeshield 21's faithfulness to the characters and plot of the series influences, however, and far more intrigued by some of the interesting new mechanics this dual-screen game brings to the football genre.
Eyeshield 21's story focuses on the exploits of an unassuming high school student named Sena Kobayakawa. Despite his small stature, Sena can run at blazing speeds, which leads to his recruitment on his high school football team, where he is the team's star running back. For reasons perhaps too complex to go into here, Sena must wear a green eyeshield when playing games (hence the name of the game).
Despite copious amounts of Japanese text in the game, we figured out that Eyeshield has two main modes: a story mode that features Sena, his classmates, and teachers (and presumably football games, too), and straight-up head-to-head matches against a number of teams. Beyond walking around a few classrooms in Sena's school and talking to a few folks in the hallways, we didn't get too far in the story mode, and instead we chose to go straight to the meat of the game: the football. There are six teams you can choose from, including Sena's own high school team, the Deimon Devil Bats. From there, you set a few game option choices, such as quarter length and game difficulty, and you're off.
The first thing you notice about Eyeshield 21's football mechanics is that they are entirely touch-screen-centric. Everything from choosing the plays to controlling where your player runs to catching the ball is completely controlled by tapping (or rubbing) the stylus on the touch screen. For those who've spent considerable time with EA's Madden series, either on the DS or on another platform, it might take a couple of plays to figure out just how to get going, especially considering the language barrier.
You don't directly control the path of the ball carrier, for example. Instead, as your runner makes his way down the field, you'll have to find holes between defenders in order for the rusher to continue picking up yardage. When your player approaches defenders, the touch-screen point of view will switch to a first-person view, showing you the defenders heading your way. A number of small, colored circles will appear and, by tapping those circles quickly, you'll be able to dodge the defenders who are intent on tackling you. For each encounter, though, your power meter will decrease slightly, and when it's completely depleted, you'll be brought down. Tapping with accuracy is rewarded--if you manage to tap a smaller illuminated circle in the middle of the larger rushing circle, you'll get an even bigger boost when evading tacklers.
The same basic theory applies to the passing game. When choosing a play, you simply pick the receiver you wish to throw to, hike the ball, and then watch as the animation plays out. Your interaction comes once the ball is in the air. Your point of view will change again to the receiver, and you'll be looking behind him as the ball hurtles through the air to him. By tapping on the football, you can haul it in (and usually be brought down immediately by the corner or safety). If you tap the ball in the smaller center circle, you won't only catch the ball, but you'll also be able to run for those all-important yards after the catch.
On defense, things change slightly. The idea is to make tackles, of course, and you'll do so by quickly rubbing the touch screen with the stylus during encounters in order to drain the power bar of the opposing running back or receiver. Again, once you've completely drained his power bar, he's ripe for the tackle. You can bat down balls during pass plays similar to how you catch passes on offense. If you tap correctly, you'll defend the pass; hit the football dead center and you might even pick off the pass.
As we mentioned, practically anything that can happen on the field in Eyeshield 21 (under your control, anyway) can be controlled with the stylus. Fumbles are picked up by tapping on the ball that's bouncing on the gridiron; you can open up (or shut down) big running lanes in a fun lineman minigame, which also involves vigorous screen rubbing; and you can control the kicking meter with a swipe of your stylus. In the end, while you don't feel nearly as in control of the game's outcome in Eyeshield as you do in more-conventional football games, the new control's twists definitely keep things feeling fresh.
Graphically, Eyeshield has big and bold player models on the lower screen--linemen and linebackers are appropriately beefy and intimidating (making you wonder just how a smaller guy like Sena could survive one of their bone-crunching tackles). There are many characters from the manga series, and they'll appear often in games, complete with brief cartoon interludes when they meet up on the field. The upper screen on the DS shows a top-down view of the action on the field (similar to the lower screen on Madden DS). Instead of simple Xs and Os, however, you'll see icons indicating important players (like characters from the series) on the field.
If it ever makes it to the States, Eyeshield 21 will probably be a bigger draw to fans of the manga or anime series than it would to a traditional sports fan. That's not to say, though, that other developers couldn't glean a few cool ideas from this game to apply to their football game (*cough* Madden 07 DS *cough*).
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