Monday, July 10, 2017

Review: De Mambo


Likely having the distinction of being the first game ever developed primarily in a coffee shop, De Mambo wears its somewhat minimalist and punk rock nature proudly. Adhering to the philosophy of making the most out of a one-button control scheme, it manages to eke quite a lot of mileage successfully out of simple concepts that are generally well executed. The decision point for most gamers, however, will be whether or not De Mambo’s purist leanings are enough to remain engaging over the long haul.

The major component that will drive your level of enjoyment of the game will be in the area of this simplified control. There are a number of schemes you could choose to utilize (use of either the D-pad or joystick are possible and jumping is supported using either a button or by pressing up on the D-pad) and depending on your overall style these options are welcome. While there is only one action button, the length of time you press it will change things up between a simple poke, a spinning flurry, and a 4-way missile barrage. There are cues to help you recognize when you’ve charged to the more powerful attacks and you’ll want to use them because holding out too long will result in a burn out and you being vulnerable temporarily.



Playing with my family it seemed to take only until the second match for the general control to take hold and by the third people were already able to maneuver and attack quite effectively. In a general sense the “loose” control doesn’t seem to be an issue, though perhaps jump not being able to be suppressed when you’ve opted to use a button could present a problem. This is due to even the pro controller being prone to registering up pretty easily, especially when you’re in the heat of battle. You’re able to triple jump, so it usually isn’t much of an issue, but when every move counts and you accidentally burn a jump you didn’t mean to use it can be a bummer.

The main attraction in the game is the 4-player Mambo mode. With a pretty staggering number of unlockable stages there are quite a lot of maps for you and some friends to explore. The critical question will be whether the gameplay will hook everyone long enough to see them all. There are absolutely some differences between the stages, with some having strategically placed blocks with a variety of properties, and others having special events or environmental effects to keep you on your toes. While the controls are simple there’s a depth of strategy to De Mambo that can be surprising. Whether you choose to generally opt for the up-close game, trying to smash your opponents, or decide to go ranged and fire on everyone else from a distance with your missiles, there are a number of tactical ways to approach things. One of my daughters was actually quite successful simply staying away from the heat of battle and keeping to the periphery, waiting for the rest of us to wear each other down before coming in for the kill.


People making the most of the gameplay opportunities that are there is what makes the game work, but I will acknowledge that for some family members the simplicity ended up being an issue with questions on whether there were different modes or power-ups available. That may be De Mambo’s biggest stumbling block, that it got the inspiration for core control mechanics and their simplicity from Smash Brothers but it is missing the often transformative fun of some unpredictable power-ups dropping to turn the tide in someone else’s favor. The varied environments on many of the levels do a lot to help compensate for this but there are points where the added chaos of something like items is missed.

Not content to simply deliver a local multiplayer experience there’s some good news in that De Mambo sports both a dedicated Solo mode and a “friends are optional” Survival mode as well. The Solo mode presents you with a variety of relatively quick challenges, ranging from collecting items to simply trying to stay alive and more. For the most part these are a fine diversion and give you an opportunity to practice and refine some of your movement and attack styles. One unfortunate problem that comes along for the ride, though, is that the control that works out fine when you’re banging into friends in a fast-paced brawl doesn’t work as well when you’re trying to make more subtle movements or do things like jump between multiple narrow platforms. I’m not positive how best this could be addressed, whether through exposing a sensitivity setting for users to play with, or by simply tweaking the control in general, but it does make some Solo levels far more difficult than they have to be and may discourage some people from enjoying the mode fully.


Survival mode is generally quite simple, tasking you with destroying waves of incoming invaders while trying not to let them destroy the parts of the platform you’re trying to stand on. Your protection of the squares of your platform is vital because each one that gets slowly taken from you leaves another gap for you to be sure not to fall into. For me this mode in particular had some sentimental value, with elements of it reminding me of one of the first arcade titles I remember playing called King and Balloon. While it isn’t very complex in how it is set up if you enjoy classic arcade-style games, like I do, it is worth spending some time with for something a bit different. It is also important to note that this mode can be played with multiple people as well, hopefully allowing you to survive longer and not having them instead be an added distraction.


As a freshman effort De Mambo does an excellent job of putting The Dangerous Kitchen on the map. It is clear that they’ve taken the philosophy of simplicity, have spent time carefully defining and refining each aspect of their creation, and have delivered an experience that makes the most of everything they’ve provided for. With a group of friends who are down for smashing into each other and having a raucous time the Mambo mode will absolutely deliver, at least for a while. The question for group play will come down to whether everyone will invest in mastering the tools they’ve been given and will make the most of them or whether they’re looking to the game itself to provide more consistent opportunities. As I’d said the variety in stages does help greatly in this area but there can be levels or just passages of action where only the core move set is in play and that can lose people over time. The inclusion of two additional modes is also admirable and does provide for added value. Their mileage will vary for people, depending on tastes, as they are add-ons and the focus is clearly the main Mambo mode. In the end the effort and love are all there but while the control simplicity worked out well there’s room for peoples’ expectations for more interfering with their appreciation for it over the long haul. In what is looking to become a very competitive space on the Switch in the coming months I’m not sure De Mambo will be able to clearly break away from the pack, though it will undoubtedly be right in the thick of things.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • The controls are simple and easy to understand for new players
  • A wide selection of maps provide for variety to keep things interesting
  • Additional modes add flavor and value


Cons:
  • Game-changing items are missed at times
  • Not everyone may dig on the minimalist look and feel
  • “Loose” movement controls can be aggravating in some stages of the Solo mode that require precision


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