De Mambo Nintendo Switch Review: Fight and Flight

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De Mambo is a sumo smash-fest so frantic and so fun, it just might ruin every friendship you hold dear. If you can imagine distilling what makes Super Smash Bros. fun into its very simplest components, much in the same way that Dive Kick distills the fighting game footsie formula into its simplest quanta, you can start to understand a little bit of what you're getting into with De Mambo. This game is all about getting your friends gathered around the big screen, or around your Switch, for some instantly gratifying and highly addicting competitive action.

So here's the gist. You and your friends will find yourselves controlling these little colored orbs in variously arrayed stages of lesser or greater complexity. All around you are walls and obstacles, and these are all capable of being damaged and eventually broken. The point of De Mambo's titular multiplayer mode is to slam into your friends and opponents using the attack button, and eventually knock them off of the stage. Like in Super Smash Bros., your frailty will continue to increase with every shot you take, so you'll want to dive in, dish out as many smacks as you can, and get out before anyone can pound you.

The aesthetic and music are both deliciously retro; humble in all of the right ways. The music is a chaotic delight, with staccato bleeps, bloops, and blips that will have you thinking that these developers held a microphone up to a chiptune grand piano while a digital squirrel danced across it. That charming simplicity is employed across the board.

There are only two buttons to worry about, which makes this game incredibly accessible. You move and jump with the joystick, and you attack with a face-button. That's it. The attack button can be held to initiate three different levels of attack, and which attack you use will depend on your positioning and on your surroundings. There's a ton of room for competitive players to work out a competent offense and defense, but button mashers and servants of utter chaos are more than welcome here.

This is the kind of game that will have you digging your elbows into the sides of former friends; it will have you reeling with laughter as you pull off the perfect charged shot sending all three of your friends into the abyss; De Mambo will have you squeezing your controller with rage, and demanding the victor go one more round so you can get your revenge. The inclusion of a "loser rail" means that even if you suck, or if you're playing with non-gamers, death isn't necessarily the end. If you die you still get to ride the "loser rail" around the perimeter of the stage, waiting to gobble up anyone unlucky enough to get blasted your way. If you can snatch them up, you're back in the game with another shot at victory!

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This is definitely a game you'll want to play with friends, and if you're more into the idea of fortifying your friendships instead of destroying them, there's also a co-op survival mode. This is a delightfully retro mode will see you and your friends lined up across a platform as space invaders rain down upon you. It's not as much fun as the "De Mambo" mode, but it does provide a more relaxing alternative. Of course if you're a solo player, there's something here for you too.

De Mambo's solo mode is a bit barebones, but it really does work. You'll be presented with a looming tower of bite-sized challenge stages, each with its own unique objective and time limit, and you'll have to work your way to the very top before running out of lives. There's a pinch of WarioWare here since at the beginning of each level, you'll be given a short command (escape! collect! defeat!) and a short period of time in which to fulfill it. There are also some fantastic little boss fights. At its best, it's incredibly well-paced and challenging. At its worst, it can be infuriating.

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Controls are the greatest strength and the greatest weakness in De Mambo. It's a bit paradoxical, really. On one hand, nothing could be simpler. You just move the joystick to move your orb about the screen, and use a single button to attack. This means that absolutely anyone can sit down and understand the game immediately, even if they don't usually play video games. De Mambo is a great party game for this very reason.

For those of you who, like me, will be inclined to play De Mambo mainly as a single-player venture, the controls can cause some serious frustration. Movement is very floating, unpredictable, and imprecise at times. The single-player challenges ramp sharply up in difficulty after the first set of stages, and you'll find that jumping and landing with precision can be maddeningly difficult. The acceleration of your little orb is difficult to manage, and that can make later stages a nightmare.

This is especially true because when you get a game over in De Mambo's solo mode, it really is game over. Even if you were on the very last stage at the top of your challenge tower, if you make one too many mistakes, you'll be kicked back out to the menu and forced to start that series of challenges all the way from the bottom again. I consider myself a decently skilled gamer, but there were a few instances where I was forced out of frustration to put my controller down and walk away from the game. Those of you who struggle with intense platforming challenges may see the difficulty spikes and forceful do-overs in solo mode as being disrespectful of your time.

On the other hand, I have to point out that the floaty controls and rapid acceleration make things even more fun when you do actually find yourself surrounded by a group of screaming friends. De Mambo is all about keeping things moving and keeping friends smiling, and it does that extremely well. For $12 it's a no-brainer, and if you have someone to share your Joy-Con with, I can heartily recommend you pick this one up.

WWG's Rating 3.5 / 5

3p5 stars