Lucha Libre has an interesting history and place in Mexican culture and luchadores can be viewed in the same light as Japanese sumo (unsurprisingly Lucha Libre has a strong following in Japan as well): real-life super-heroes. Like super heroes, most luchadores wear masks and go to great lengths to maintain an air of mystery about their identity both inside and outside of the ring, increasing their mystique.
In recent years political activists in Mexico have adopted the guise of the luchador, complete with mask and cape, to successfully promote social causes as diverse as gay rights (Super Gay), tenants' rights (Super Barrio), the environment (Ecologista Universal) and animal rights (Super Animal). The comedy film Nacho Libre was inspired by the story of a priest-turned-luchador, Reverend Sergio Gutierrez Benitez, who took on the identity of Fray Tormento (Father Storm) and became a wrestler to raise money for his church and orphanage.
Making a licensed game from an off-beat comedy like Nacho Libre might seem like an odd decision, but given the prominence of Lucha Libre in the film (even if it does get some of the rules/conventions wrong) it actually makes a lot of sense; especially when you consider the lack of wrestling games on the DS generally — let alone a Lucha Libre one! Unfortunately developer Budcat Creations has delivered a mixed result; mostly because of too much focus on the story of the film and far too much time spent creating unnecessary and badly executed mini-games, leaving the wrestling game with unbalanced controls.
Visually Nacho Libre has a striking and original style. The characters are 3D models, but overlain with scanned 2D images of actors from the film. It reminds us a great deal of the old Pit Fighter arcade game from Atari Games, but Nacho Libre looks a lot better, featuring characters that are rendered like multi-jointed wooden puppets. This makes for an unusual appearance, but allows for fluid movement and an impressive number of poses. The overworld in the main Story Mode is divided into two screens: country and town, which you navigate simply by touching the place on the map you wish to go to. The mini-games can be found in the country section and the wrestling arenas in town. There's a unique graphical style reminiscent of folk art from the state of Oaxaca that makes the menus nice to look at, even if the game itself is a little lacklustre.
Whilst Story Mode is only one of a few game modes on offer, you'll need to play through it to unlock most of the luchadores for playing the quick matches and multiplayer games, and that means playing a whole lot of mini-games. The story of Ignacio (an orphan-turned-monk who decides to fulfil a lifelong dream of becoming a luchador to win the heart of a newly-arrived nun at his orphanage) is told through mini-games and cut scenes comprised of both nicely compressed footage from the film and amusing sequences combining text and digitised photos of characters from the film depicted as "bobble heads."
At their best the mini-games are competently executed, but uninteresting: the foot race played by moving a stylus back-and-forth or alternating Y and A button presses and the slider puzzle used to "make a salad" being the best examples. The other games never really get any better, though using stylus flicks to try to shoot melons at Nacho as he runs about is somewhat amusing, if only because successful hits result in displaying a clip from the film of a melon smashing into Jack Black's chest. The "hoop shooting" game is another example of the "flick the stylus" method of play, but it's a hit-and-miss affair where the only way you can tell your shots are getting into the basket half the time is the score ticking slowly upwards. Once you've played them to completion in Story Mode it's extremely unlikely you'll want to play them again, but they will be unlocked and can be accessed in the Extras menu after you finish the game along with all the movie clips, photos and interstitial sequences.
The mini-games may be uninteresting, but after you finish with them you can get on with the main attraction: wrestling. Wrestling matches are played with simple controls that allow for a surprisingly large variety of moves including traditional head and arm locks, throws and leg locks as well as ridiculous over-the-top moves that would be at home in a Tom and Jerry cartoon: punching heads off of shoulders, squashing the upper body into a pancake with a downward blow, jumping on a prone wrestler to smash him into pieces or simply pulling his arms off. You can press A to strike an open-handed blow, B to kick or stomp and X to grapple. Y is used to pin or perform special moves in conjunction with the D-Pad and to struggle free when pinned, however you'll only learn this by looking at the "HELP" option in the pause menu because there's no in-game tutorial of any kind. Even the manual omits reference to key controls like this and the buttons used tagging in your partner (L+R — most of the matches in Story Mode are tag-team affairs) despite containing quite a comprehensive list of moves. Given that you'll rarely be able to get back up again after getting down to your last health point (the AI can naturally throw off any pin attempt if it has any health at all), it probably doesn't matter too much though.
The wrestling moves might sound pretty cool, but unfortunately the grapple controls are completely unbalanced and suck a lot of fun out of the proceedings. Matches end up boiling down to whomever manages to grapple their opponent first. Once you press X the action moves from an isometric 3D perspective to a 2D one in which both characters put the "clamps" on each other's shoulders. Pressing A or B will result in a throw by the player who initiated the grapple and whilst you have a remote chance of recovering from the throw, you cannot break free or reverse it. Add the fact that your AI opponents are far more likely to pull off multiple combos on you after a throw (you'll be able to do one or two to them at best; more on very rare occasions), and you probably won't spend much time trying to figure our special moves, but just repeating the button sequence of X, A and B to grapple, throw and get in some additional licks. If you don't try to grapple all the time your computer opponent definitely will, and this will only get worse as you approach the showdown with the champion Ramses or try the hard difficulty setting.
Of course in a multiplayer match you'll face the same situation, but you could probably negotiate a "no grappling" policy with your friends, though the throws and extra abuse are really a core part of the game. You can enjoy some one-on-one action with only one cart thanks to download play support, but if you do happen to have mates with their own copies of Nacho Libre you can engage in tag team matches, four-way last-man-standing competitions or a Championship Match where the first player to win 5 matches gets the title. Whether or not you'll be able to find anyone else with the game, let alone play that long is doubtful so you better get used to receiving repeated headbutts to the groin from the AI if you're going to play a lot of Nacho Libre.
With such an inspiring history to draw from and given the paucity of wrestling games on the DS, you would think that a game based on Lucha Libre - comedy film license regardless - would be worthwhile. Whilst there's some amusing moments and interesting ideas here, Nacho Libre falls victim to the same pitfall as most games based upon film licenses: too little focus on making a great game due to putting wasted effort into re-telling the film's story. Die-hard fans of the film and Lucha Libre fans desperate for any kind of wrestling game may get some enjoyment from this, but it's simply not good enough to get our recommendation.