De Mambo (Switch) Review
The Switch has been a fascinating and wonderful home for a variety of multiplayer experiences. Whether you’re re-experiencing nostalgic times through the NeoGeo Arcade Classics, immersing yourself in big blockbuster hits such as Mario Kart and Splatoon 2, or delving into the huge library of other delightful third-party titles – there’s a lot to choose from. Now comes De Mambo, a game that boasts its self-proclaimed ‘Spicy Action’, while also proudly wearing minimalism on its sleeves.
One of the selling points of De Mambo is its control scheme. Apart from moving with the D-Pad, you only need one other button for your attacks. You tap ‘A’ for your base attack, you hold it a little longer for a spin attack and even longer than that to simultaneously unleashing four small projectiles in each direction. Because of this simplicity, the developers have been able to assign various commands to multiple buttons, allowing for the player to use whatever they feel comfortable with. For example, while the game declares that the game was designed in mind with the ‘A’ button being the attack command, you can also use the ‘X’ button or ZL/ZR to achieve the same thing. If you choose to, you can even play by holding a single Joy-Con like a Wii Remote.
Upon opening the game, you’re immediately drenched in one of the most stylish menus you’ll find on the system. Everything from flipping through game modes to adjusting the settings offers a distinct look (with an adorable title theme to boot!), giving the game a stunning first impression. This impressive aesthetic extends much further past simply the main menu, and into every fiber of the game itself. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact words to describe what De Mambo conveys through its presentation, but it sure is surreal. Wait, yeah. Surreal. That works. The game carries an odd atmosphere, almost exuding the vibe of stepping into an alternate dimension where everything just feels wrong and uncomfortable… and I love it.
However, as much as I love the presentation, it does eventually manage to get a bit too overwhelming on the senses. Especially in the single player solo mode – which is one of the three modes featured in this game. In the solo campaign, the goal is to make it to the top of a structure called the ‘Tower of Destiny’ by overcoming a series of challenges along the way. There are multiple difficulty levels, but each is only accessible by successfully completing them in its respective order, starting from Easy. There’s a healthy variety of challenges ranging from defeating a plethora of enemies scattered around a room, to desperately scouring another in order to locate the exit. All of these challenges are ones you must complete within a time limit. Otherwise, death awaits.
I found myself not being able to play the singleplayer for long stretches of time, simply because each challenge wraps up within a matter of seconds. In concept, that sounds great. With the portability of the Switch – perfect, even. However, as I mentioned earlier, this is where the sensory overload starts to kick in. As the game moves you from challenge to challenge, there comes a point where everything starts to feel loud. Obnoxiously loud. Sound effects and tunes that were once charming eventually start to grate your ears, and the flashy, brightly coloured psychedelic visuals start to physically hurt to watch. I honestly don’t know what the solution to this would be. Despite all I’ve mentioned, I get it. It’s a style. The developers were going for a very specific mood, and the game achieves it. Perhaps more diverse options would help improve this, as the only thing you can really adjust in the in-game settings is the music volume.
Another mode is one that’s unabashedly inspired by Space Invaders, called ‘Survival’. You spend your time tackling waves of increasingly difficult enemies, alone – or with up to 3 other friends. As each wave hits, you must defend a row of televisions resting at the bottom of the screen by eliminating all the enemies before they manage to cause substantial damage – standard stuff. By yourself, while enjoyable, the mode doesn’t offer the most excitement or tension, but with friend, it can feel really frantic and fun trying to rack up a higher score than the others while working together to make it as far as you can. It’s a great competitive co-op mode. My only real complaint is that I wish it had some different objectives you could choose from and a perhaps a little more variety in the layout in the form of something like additional maps.
On the other hand, the core multiplayer mode has a lot of map variety. You start off with a limited amount, but essentially unlock a new one after every match. The early stages can feel a little too basic at times, but as you unlock more and more, the stages start to gradually amp their creativity. Elements from the solo mode such as having the entire stage constantly spinning, moving platforms, and even enemies are introduced, which all work together to really ‘spice’ things up. Something that isn’t quite as welcome however, is the fact that each round has an invisible time limit. Once time starts running out, the blocks and platforms that make up the stage begin disintegrating bit by bit until there’s nothing left. It feels like a cheap way to up the tension, and doesn’t quite work. For the record, you can’t adjust or customise this in the slightest.
De Mambo is odd. De Mambo knows how odd it is, and bathes in the identity that it has created for itself. What you’ll find here is a fascinatingly strange little game with style that I haven’t quite seen before. If you’re looking for another charming little multiplayer experience to add to your portable library, De Mambo might be something you want to check out. It’s not perfect, but there’s definitely some good here that outshines its flaws.