My code for De Mambo arrived with a heartfelt letter from the developers. They wrote of the great heart and creativity they tried to imbue in the title. They described how the small team worked in a hotel lobby to develop the title since they could not afford an office of their own. The one thing holding the team back, they wrote, was the fact that although each team member knew how to create art and design, nobody knew how to code games. In the end, one of the developers learned how to code the game, while the other team members helped on the design and the art.
Unfortunately, this story pretty accurately describes the final product. De Mambo exudes style and heart at every turn. The music is pretty damn catchy and the 8-bit style is colorful and distinct. Small details here and there, like a “don’t touch” button in the options menu for example, really embellish the experience in positive ways.
The main draw of De Mambo is an 8-bit like Smash Bros. clone. Multiple players can grab controllers and compete against one another locally in an attempt to knock each other out of the arena. The main quirk of the game is that you can play it with just one button and a d-pad. Depending on how long you hold the button down, you can use a different attack. Simply pressing the attack button, for example, will let off a close-range attack. Holding down the attack button for two seconds will unleash an attack slightly stronger and longer ranged. Finally, holding down the attack button for three seconds will let off a far-ranged attack that can hit enemies across the map.
Overall, it works decently enough. Playing with several players at once is hectic and fun, but the control scheme simply isn’t ideal. It’s unique that you can use just a single button to attack three different ways, and this execution means players can spend time mastering the control scheme, but overall I can’t help but wish I didn’t have to hold the button down. Moreover, the game lacks online multiplayer, which makes playing multiplayer, the main draw of the title, a bit more challenging. Playing a match locally can be delightful, but not everyone has extra players sitting around all the time to play locally.
The game has a single player campaign mode as well, which is a bit like a Wario Ware-like arcade mode. Each level takes about 30-seconds to complete, with very quick objectives for players to achieve. The levels are really creative and diverse, with each one having a unique design and objective. Unfortunately, the game’s physics issues become far more pronounced when playing single-player. The game is too “floaty” and the acceleration is very awkward and tough to get a hang of. The game inherently isn’t very hard, but the physics had me flying off the screen because of the weird acceleration. It’s not terrible, and eventually I got a bit more used to it, but it never felt like the in-game physics were ideal.
Finally, De Mambo features a survival-like mode that you can tackle either single-player or with a few other players. The mode is styled a little bit like Galaga, with enemies attacking from top to bottom of the screen, but you use platforming gameplay to take out the enemies while they descend. It’s a very interesting concept and a highlight of the game.
Unfortunately, the entirety of De Mambo can be summed up with the initial letter sent by the developers. Yes, the style, music, level design, and ideas are all awesome. It is clear the developers put a ton of thought and heart into the game, pouring all their creative ideas into the title. Unfortunately, it never comes together in a package I am comfortable playing. The physics are abnormal and not easy to get used to, while the lack of online and health bar are weird oversights for a game like this. Overall, De Mambo nails down the unique factor for the game, but it does so without the basic building blocks required beforehand.