A few months ago, I hadn't the foggiest idea what Lucha Libre was. A Spanish dish? A style of dance? A type of cheese? I hadn't a clue. I suppose I could have worked out that it was Mexican, whatever it turned out to be, but that was the extent of my understanding. Today, after a press trip and some extensive research into the area (read: five minutes of wikipedia'ing), I know all there is to know on the subject. Well, the key points at least. To relay this new found knowledge to you (in case you find yourself in the same state of bewilderment I did), Lucha Libre is a Mexican style of wrestling with a fetish for masks. To translate from the Spanish, the term literally means 'free wrestling' or 'free fighting', and incorporates a variety of moves mostly characterised by holds.
It's much more than just a style of wrestling though. The ideas and themes at its core have leapt out of the ring and into the real world, taking on the mediums of not only games, but TV and comics too. As well as reaching out to the mainstream with a new series on MTV, Lucha Libre can also be absorbed in comic form with Lucha Libre: The Luchadores Five. This, in fact, is the main inspiration behind Lucha Fury, a scrolling beat 'em up from French start-up Punchers Impact. Releasing on XBLA and PSN next year, Lucha Fury blends old school game design with elegant, hand drawn artwork and fluid animations.
Like the aforementioned Luchadores Five, Lucha Fury features an off the wall plot and a very distinct graphical style. The game boasts fantastically designed characters (which wouldn't look that out of place in Street Fighter IV) and dazzling 2D environments brought to life with graphics that appear to have been lifted straight from a comic book. While I only got to try my hand at a Mexican themed level, I gorged my eyes upon renders of an Asian Temple, a Zeppelin and the New York Bronx. Each had a very vivid feel to it, which is complimented perfectly with a plot so over the top that you'll find yourself laughing out loud at the absurdity of it all.
The game centres around four wrestlers. While their names are yet to be finalised, they're currently known as the Hot Guy, the Shy Guy, the Girl and Big Daddy. Conforming to the Mexican stereotype, this group of friends don't do all that much with their lives. Essentially, they sit around all day drinking energy drinks, but this idyllic lifestyle can't last forever. After drinking through their entire supply of said energy drink, the Mexican quartet embark on a quest to find some more. This is easier said than done, however, as there's not a drop to be found anywhere. It turns out the disappearance of the drink is intertwined with a plot of far greater magnitude, and while I can't reveal exactly what that might be, it's as bat-shit crazy as the gameplay surrounding it.
The level shown was the first of the game, set in a traditional Mexican city in the aftermath of a carnival. Banners and bunting litter the dusty streets, which scroll from left to right with a depth of field that allows players to stroll into the background. It's the same retro experience as defined by titles such as Streets of Rage and Final Fight back in the day, but with a thick layer of 2010 polish. Players are bombarded with an assortment of enemies, whose health bars get bigger as they do. Dish out enough pain to these mask-wearing miscreants, and they'll burst into a flurry of feathers - a perplexity explained later on in the game.
Each character has several acts of violence at their disposal, including punches, kicks, grabs, and also unique combination moves that can be pulled off with another character. This proves most fun in co-op mode, and Lucha Fury permits up to four players to play at any given time. There are also special moves that can be unleashed after filling a special meter with successive normal attacks. Each level is peppered with objects that can be picked up and hurled at the enemy, too, which are pretty instrumental in downing some of the bigger enemies. Even with combination moves, four players and items, however, you'll still find yourself getting beaten. If a character suffers too many blows, they'll go into a state known as 'backfire'. Whilst in backfire, players have no control over their character, and will have to rely on their comrades to save the day.
It's still early days in the development cycle, but even at this stage it's clear to see the title's potential. Its blend of old-school gameplay and trendy visuals will quickly grab the attention of the core demographic, whilst remaining accessible enough for anybody to jump in and have a blast. Be aware, though, this isn't a faithful representation of the Lucha Libre style of wrestling (Konami are on the case with that one); it's an over the top, silly and utterly absurd take on the subject. But therein lies its charm.
Lucha Fury is heading to XBLA and PSN Spring 2011, with a deluxe edition hitting PC afterwards.