Making a wrestling game based on Nacho Libre, the goofball Jack Black comedy about a Mexican monk turned luchador (wrestler), is insane. Making it exclusively for the Nintendo DS is even more insane. Throwing in a bunch of Monty Python-inspired cut-and-paste cutscenes using scenes from the film, as well as ridiculous minigames involving bee swatting, salad formation, and bull dodging, among other activities, is howling-at-the-moon insane. So, suffice it to say, Nacho Libre for the Nintendo DS is just a wee bit kooky. And it's this kookiness that saves it from being another hacked together licensed game cash-in. It certainly isn't the gameplay, which might as well not even exist.
In case you never got around to seeing Nacho Libre, all you missed was an overly oddball comedy where Jack Black starts out as a monk, decides he wants to become a luchador, tag-teams up with a frighteningly skinny homeless kid, and falls in love with a nun. In between, a lot of random, nonsensical hilarity ensues. It was an extremely strange film that gave off a real love it/hate it kind of vibe, and the DS game happens to give off this exact same feeling. Right from the get-go, the game's presentation is bound to polarize people. The story mode uses a mixture of full-motion video sequences from the film, as well as a number of still frames of the actors, but with various body parts cut and animated independently of the shot, giving a real cut-and-paste animation kind of vibe. It looks bizarre, but you've got to admit, it's at least more creative than your average cutscene work.
But what is Nacho Libre, exactly? First and foremost, it's a wrestling game, and not a very good one at that. As you play through the game's story mode, you'll encounter a number of wrestlers from the film, and by defeating them, you'll unlock them for the quickplay and multiplayer modes. Though each wrestler has a couple of unique moves, they all pretty much move and play the same. What's interesting is that there's more move depth here than what you might expect from a handheld wrestling game, let alone something based on a movie. You get two striking attack buttons, as well as a grappling system that works similarly to the Fire Pro Wrestling games. To successfully grapple an opponent, you must time your hold to occur first. Once you have an opponent locked up, you simply press a direction (or combination of directions) on the D pad, as well as one of the attack buttons, and you'll perform a move. On top of all that, you can pull off turnbuckle attacks and specialized lift attacks.
That all sounds good, except that you really don't have to use the bulk of these moves, at least in the single-player game. The opponent wrestler artificial intelligence is completely brain-dead, and all you ever have to do to win is walk up to a wrestler, press the grapple button, and do any attack. Even if your opponent pulls a reversal and gets out of it, you just have to walk up again and do the same move until it works. Strike moves aren't very useful, since you can be halfway through a strike animation and then suddenly have it canceled by an opponent pressing the grapple button. The grapple button basically trumps anything, and it's the only move you need to rely on to win. After a couple of matches, you'll have had your fill of what the wrestling has to offer.
Beyond wrestling, the story mode contains a number of strange minigames themed after scenes from the film, all of which use the touch screen. For example, there's a rock-climbing minigame modeled after the scene where a water gypsy (played brilliantly by Peter Stormaire) tells Nacho to climb a cliff to find and devour an eagle's egg to give him special powers. In this game, you simply tap a series of handholds as the camera climbs upward. Nacho will jump to each one you tap, though sometimes the handholds will break, forcing you to find another route. Another game is a simple game of avoidance as Nacho drives along a road in his weird tricycle-buggy vehicle. Cows appear in the road, and you have to avoid running into them. There are eight of these games total, and they're all equally simplistic. While the transference of these bizarre scenes into something playable is amusing, the games aren't much fun, and you won't ever want to play any of them again once you're done.
There's not an awful lot to Nacho Libre's package beyond the wrestling and minigames, sadly enough. The story mode only takes about an hour to play through, and once you're done, you're left with the ability to play matches solo or against friends. Solo wrestling isn't fun for the same reason it isn't fun in the story mode, and when playing in multiplayer, matches turn into a contest of who can hit the grapple button first. The one mildly interesting component to the multiplayer mode is that you can compete for title belts against other people. You win belts by either winning five multiplayer matches or by defeating other title holders. Then again, you still have to actually wrestle, so that kind of negates the mode's appeal.
The game's graphics are a tale of opposites. We've already mentioned the completely crazy cutscene work and that the developers were able to cram full-on video clips from the movie onto a DS cart, but on the opposing end of the spectrum are the in-game graphics, which are blocky, stiff, and unattractive. Wrestlers are gangly, and the move animations look cheap. Most of them don't really look like wrestling moves you've ever seen before, so much as just random tosses and slams. The game tries to silly things up by having moves that make the wrestlers' body parts fly off, flatten into a pancake, or explode completely, but that doesn't actually make them funny. Still, while these graphics look poor, the cutscene collages and weird minigame visuals do a lot to make up for it. The game has style--it just doesn't translate into the wrestling matches.
There is admittedly not a lot to the audio, but there's something to be said for the amount of film audio encased within. The cut-and-paste cutscenes don't feature dialogue, but there's a fair amount in the actual film clips. Strange Mexican-themed music plays in the background at all times, and there are random grunts and shouts from the wrestlers during matches. None of it really stands out, though.
As a game, Nacho Libre can't possibly be recommended. The wrestling looks intelligently designed, yet degenerates into stupid repetition the moment you figure out the trick with the grapple button, and the minigames are mostly valueless and not fun. The only thing that salvages the experience at all is the presentation. It's refreshingly strange stuff that, coupled with a better game design, would elevate the game well above the usual licensed dreck assigned to handheld consoles. Don't play Nacho Libre. Instead, try and trick someone else into playing it and then watch over that person's shoulder. It's enjoyable enough to look at, but there's no sense in getting your hands dirty with such lackluster gameplay.