Sometimes the mind works in strange, nonsensical ways. When this happens, us consumers get creative and/or out of this world fiction – whether it’s in digital form, on the big or small screen, or found wrapped together in a literary spine. A lot of times, unique ends up meaning quality and popularity. However, there are also just as many (if not more) occasions where the idea behind something may be interesting, but its execution is a mess. Now we come to Lucha Fury, a downloadable XBLA, PC and PSN game that could have been much better than it ended up being.
Growing up, I always loved side-scrolling beat ‘em-ups like Turtles in Time, The Death and Return of Superman and Maximum Carnage. They were games that entertained me from my first playthrough through to my thirtieth, and were even more fun when friends slept over. Titles that were so much mindless fun that they enticed millions of gamers to drop quarter after quarter into arcade cabinets, in an effort to finally defeat Shredder or to end up saving New York as Spider-Man. Due to great design, those games are still fun to play to this day, but the beat ‘em-up sub-genre itself has gone the way of the dodo bird.
Hoping to revitalize the classic side-scrolling sub-genre with an infusion of hilarity, strange characters and Mexican concoctions, Punchers Impact got hard to work on Lucha Fury. The premise is simple and unfortunately under-developed: a gang of thugs has stolen your stash of a popular (healing) beverage and you feel the need to fight them to get it back, even if that means putting yourself at risk of explosive barrels. Essentially, you’re just punching, kicking and body-slamming your way from point A to point B, trying to rid every stage of its hideous enemies and their strangely animated hands that perform quick slaps instead of manly punches. See, there’s even humor in the animations.
Wrestling moves in a beat ‘em-up video game sound like a natural fit, right? Wrong. At least in this case. You see, it really feels like the gameplay part of things took the far back seat when it came to development time. Though the game looks pretty, it’s incredibly clunky once you get your hand on the controller, and feels like it’s in slow-motion at all times. The aforementioned classic brawlers all earned their popularity not by having cool visuals but by including some amazingly fun combat mechanics, moves and set pieces. This game strips those games down to simple mechanics, tough to pull off combos (due to incredibly sluggish controls) and does it all to a fault. Fight from point to point, throw barrels/boxes and pummel mindless foes to extinction.
One nice thing about this game is the fact that its story takes place over quite a few levels, each of which is different from the last in design. The odd mechanic will also be added, altered or removed, which keeps the journey at least a bit interesting, though the basic gameplay structure is still incredibly repetitive. The attempt to create an interesting world through the use of many locations (such as a bar, a busy freeway battle on top of transports, and a sewer) is all wasted due to having gameplay take the back seat to visual and location creativity. After all; if a game isn’t fun to play, it doesn’t really matter how good it looks because it won’t captivate an audience. That’s not to say Lucha Fury is a breathtaking title, but it does look pretty nice.
Four players can take matters into their own digital hands at once, through the use of four different lucha libres. At your disposal are two skinny but powerful men, a large brute muscle type and an agile pretty woman. Unlike many other games of its type, Lucha Fury’s characters aren’t very different from each other when it comes down to brass tax. Though they look quite different, they play almost exactly the same, barring some obvious speed changes when switching from one of the skinnier characters to the muscle. It’s a missed opportunity to say the least, because it restricts the amount of personality each one has, as well as the chance for a gamer to identify with their favourite one.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned multiplayer mayhem is also very restrictive. In this age, a game of this ilk screams for online co-op, especially considering how hard it can be to get four guys together at once, in order to play through a video game. However, Punchers Impact made the strange decision to neglect the online side of things by only allowing local couch-restrictive multiplayer. If your dreams include battling it out on the streets of Mexico with three friends, then you’ll have to gather up those friends and invite them over to your place one Saturday night.
The mechanics that set this game apart from the rest of the pack are tailored to times when friends are together beating up masked foes in unison. There are some tag team attacks (many of which are unlockable as you progress,) chances to save your allies from their bitter end and a dark fog that can turn a friend into a foe. It’s nice that the developers tried to make the game interesting for groups to play, but it really makes the single player component feel barren. There are no computer controlled allies to help you, meaning there’s nobody there to save you if a barrel drops on your head and explodes. Given the game’s strangely challenging difficulty at times, this can be annoying.
Normally games like this don’t require a tutorial, but Lucha Fury certainly could have used at least a short one. It’s simple, but there are the odd added intricacies that are not well-explained, such as how to bring yourself back to life in a single player campaign. When your life bar runs dry, a countdown appears that resembles a continue clock, but it doesn’t work that way. After trying all sorts of button combinations that didn’t do a thing, I realized that I had to wiggle the joystick to break out of a stun, and then take out every enemy on the screen to revive myself. All of this done while in a ghost form. A simple continue system or an explanation would have been preferred.
All of the aforementioned gameplay issues would have been easier to overlook if the experience was much more interesting and humorous than it ends up being. Most of the attempts at humor fall flat, including slapping enemies, chickens who reveal healing juice when kicked, and strange comic sounds that bellow out when enemies do push-ups. It really feels like too much thought was put into trying to think of ideas that would make this game funny, with limited and shoddy execution. Boss fights against pinatas just aren’t that hilarious, especially when the mechanics are less than special.
Despite having some strange slow-down in its animations, as well as some repetition, Lucha Fury’s art style is actually pretty nice to look at. It takes the form of a colourful comic book style, which does a good job of setting the mood for the included wonky action. City landscapes have a three-tiered effect where there’s a lot of detail within the foreground and middle ground, with the background fading into silhouettes and basic shapes. The colour palette that is used to pull these effects off makes it feel like Mexico, with tons of orange, red and yellow.
There was an attempt to make the game world feel alive, through the use of the odd moving vehicle, which hurts both the heroes and villains, as well as the odd citizen. However, it’s a mixed bag that ends up feeling sterile at times and energized at others. It was a decent idea that really didn’t deliver in the execution department. Just like the animations, which really don’t deliver the fast-paced, action-heavy wrestling influence. Instead, they end up looking basic, dialed down and most of all, slow.
When you’re creating a game like this which is supposed to impress people with its creativity, style and unique world, audio is key. There’s a need to make sure that the characters have their own interesting and colourful personalities, and that character really oozes out of the entire production. Unfortunately, this production has next to nothing of what was just mentioned. Its original soundtrack has some horns and other brass instruments that make you think of Mexico, but the music is very uninspired and forgettable. Worst of all, there’s no real dialogue, a lack of any well-developed cutscenes and next to no personality given to the lucha libres themselves, making it hard to become immersed in this digitized cartoon Mexico.
Upon first hearing of Lucha Fury, I thought that it had the potential to be something unique. Perhaps even an under-appreciated gem that would bring me back to the days of my youth, and the beat ‘em-ups I grew up with. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Lucha Fury is a very generic game that doesn’t bring anything new or interesting to the table and actually ends up being a downgrade from games released almost twenty years ago, due to poor gameplay design.
It’s disappointing to think of how this game really could have been something interesting if there was more care put into the way it plays than the way it looks. Perhaps some more time in the oven could have made it rise into a much more bountiful product, but we’ll never know. As it stands right now, Lucha Fury is an uninteresting game that beats itself up repeatedly and is not worth your hard earned quarters or digital coins.