It arrives with a bang, but does it last?
The Dangerous Kitchen is a small team comprised of just three members who, while developing De Mambo, worked primarily out of a coffee shop. Their goal was to deliver a multiplayer-focused fighting game that’d be easy enough so anyone could jump in and play. They were able to do just that, utilizing a single button scheme that allows you to unleash three different attacks for some action packed fun. While the game offers local multiplayer, a solo mode and even an unlimited arcade style mode, the mileage will certainly vary especially with no online option.
The first thing that jumps off the page when getting into De Mambo is just how simple the control scheme is. Your ball-like character can move around in any direction by using either the analog stick or the d-pad and by pressing up to jump. You can jump up to three times in the air. Movement overall is very loose and while that doesn’t pose much concern in multiplayer, in solo mode I found it to be frustrating; however I’ll touch more on that in a bit. By pressing and holding the A button for increasing lengths of time, the game allows you to use three different attacks. There is a light bump attack, a circular attack with slightly longer range and an attack that sends four projectiles each in different directions. Although holding down the A button blindly will come at a cost, burning you out and making you immobile for a short period of time. Overall the controls are easy to grasp and having played with some inexperienced gamers, they were able to wrap their heads around how the game worked within a match or so.
Multiplayer is the core focus and will likely be what brings you back for more. The idea is pretty straightforward: take out all of your opponent’s stock before you run out of yours. Similar to the Super Smash Brothers series, taking a stock requires you to knock an opponent off the screen in any direction. Now it isn’t a one-to-one comparison because in order to even have the chance to knock an enemy off screen, you must first clear a path for them to go hurling off. Each stage has a barrier of blocks you must break before any true danger is present. By hitting your opponent it will cause them to pinball off the walls chipping away at the block's integrity until it’s been hit enough to disintegrate. In the early portions of each match you’ll need to focus on knocking your enemies into a certain spot to open a lane or, like I did a few times, purposely use stage elements such as lava to send yourself flying against blocks to open the path more quickly. When you’ve eliminated an opponent they’ll actually have an opportunity to get back into the action. Players with no stock left will be put on a track that borders the screen and if you happen snatch up an enemy, their stock will transfer to you, throwing you back into the fray similar to the mechanic found in classic Bomberman.
While the rule set is standard for each match, there is some randomness in the matches based on which stage you’re on. Some stages introduce lava pits, one has water levels changing throughout which alters your movement and there are even rotating stages that definitely add a different feel and challenge. I found the stages with elements that promote chaos such as the lava pits were by far the most fun. There are a ton of stages and continuing to play will keep unlocking more of them, but unless you have three other friends to play with, you’ll likely to burn out before seeing them all. Even with a wide range of different stages, I couldn’t help but feel that the action was too spread out, particularly with only three of the maximum four players in a match. It just feels as though it’s missing some random outside factors like items that could help keep matches moving forward. Eventually if too much time elapses all the blocks will start blowing up to get things going, but if items or more explosive attacks were present you might not ever find the levels to be too empty. I was overjoyed when I unlocked a level and saw some exploding enemies from the Solo mode, but they were there for show and hitting them didn’t cause them to aggro and explode which was a big letdown.
While the core game is in the multiplayer, it was a pleasant surprise to see a fully fleshed out single-player option for those who can’t always get friends together. There are two modes, Solo and Survival. In Solo you’re tasked with completing a tower of different challenges that range from collecting a series of items, defeating all the enemies, escaping a maze by collecting keys and getting to the door, defeating bosses and more. The varied gameplay in Solo is refreshing and as you progress through the difficulty options, it becomes increasingly demanding, but sadly not always because of the challenge. In the later difficulties precision becomes vital and as I mentioned before, the loose nature of your movement isn’t conducive to that. It’s easy to become frustrated and it’s only compounded by the heavy time commitment needed to get back to where you were before a game over. Survival mode harkens back to the arcade days, having you clear wave after wave while trying to protect your platform and falling to your death. This is a score based mode and even has the option to bring friends along for the ride.
The Dangerous Kitchen crew took an interesting approach to the visual presentation. I really dig the retro styled visuals and the different colors you can choose for your character really pop. There are some weird decisions such as the loading screen icon looking like a toilet and worm-like enemies that explode, but overall I found the visuals appealing. What I found annoying were the loud squeals some of the enemies in the Solo campaign made, which was disappointing considering they did a nice job with the soundtrack.
De Mambo is a game with some clever ideas, but is ultimately held back by it’s limited features. No online play, bland levels and not enough of a hook to keep me coming back for more is unfortunately what stands out the most. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for this game if you have access to a group of friends who can regularly meet up and want a bite sized party game. It does enough right that makes it worth checking out in the right circumstances, just don’t expect to play hours on end.