The Switch just got a game that channels the spirit of Smash Bros and WarioWare
How to dance De Mambo.
A caveat up front: while I think I have experienced much of what De Mambo has to offer, it is entirely possible that I am like a child, as Newton once put it, playing with shells on a stretch of beach while behind me an entire ocean roars and tugs at the shore, unseen. De Mambo feels like quite a focused game when you're jabbing away at the single button it is largely built around, lost in the red-blooded moment. But it also feels like a vast game, menus filled with jokes and throwaway animations, "bits of business" as the Laurel and Hardy people used to call it. I can imagine offshoots and flourishes and entire side-modes hidden in there somewhere waiting to be unlocked. And yes, Newton to Laurel and Hardy in a single paragraph? This too feels entirely apt.
Anyway. I think De Mambo is billiards, if the billiard balls hated each other. Each character in this multiplayer brawler is a rubbery, pixelated circle with a face, and each can jump around the snug single-room arenas relying on a single button to pull off a range of attacks. Prod the button and you get a sort of poke move. Hold it down a bit longer and you get a brisk 360 degree swipe. Hold it down even longer and you get a charged shot that races off in four directions. Hold it too long and you get a bust: no attack and a period of paralysis.
In the main mode you use these three attacks as you leap around - another button - and attack your fellow players (two players is good times, four is an absolute riot). Attacks don't damage the other players, but they send them pinging about and smashing any parts of the environment they come into contact with. Eventually, they will bust through one of the walls of the arena, in which case leaving the arena entirely becomes a possibility. Get a ring out from the top, bottom, or sides of the screen and you lose a life. It's billiards, a bit of Smash Bros, and a lot of Wario Ware in the pixelated madness.
Arenas, as you might expect, offer an expanding range of tricks - early on you get Lava, that sends you bouncing around uncontrollably, water that allows you to float as well as jump, and awaiting your discovery are a dozen other gimmicks and one-shot ideas. You unlock new arenas as you play, and you also learn how to bring a surprising amount of finesse to this chaotic fighting game. Or maybe you don't. Maybe you just lean into the excess and hammer away at the buttons until the world starts to spark and flicker around you and you realise that what you really need, right, is a proper lie-down. De Mambo copes with either approach, and it will show you a good time however you choose to engage with it.
And there is more. Solo play offers a range of different scenarios for the single-player to tackle as they learn the basics. Timers are involved, and the objective is always changing: collect keys and get through locks one minute, kill everything the next, save everything after that. There's also survival, which sort of combines space invaders with Arkanoid. You and some friends are taking out incoming waves of baddies while stood on a thin platform of blocks that will be steadily destroyed over time. It's fun, although I have to play it in short bursts because a lot tends to happen very quickly. I have to play all of De Mambo in short bursts, to be honest.
It's a wonderfully generous game, then, built around that simple idea: a range of one button attacks that more often than not leave you spinning, uncontrollably around a purposefully poky, destructible environment. De Mambo is made with wit and obvious love and a manic sort of energy that is thrilling to witness. It proves, once again, that the best feature the Switch has is that tiny little plastic stand you can pull out at the back to sit the screen upright while you and a bunch of randoms get together and cause havoc.