Mambow is sort of the Xbox Live Indie Game version of Donkey Kong Country.  Of course, when a game is the Xbox Live Indie Game version of any established franchise, that usually is a sign the game won’t be any good.  Such is the case with Mambow, which has pretty decent graphics and little else going for it.  You play as Mambow, a lion who is king of the jungle.  I never got the whole “lions are king of the jungle” thing myself.  I would think people would be the kings of the jungle, what with our guns and blood lust and the fact that we kill shit just for recreation.  Lions, you need to step up your game.  Kill a wildebeest and keep the corpse around just for decoration.  Because that’s what we did with your grandfather.  No eating it.  Then you can have your title back.

If you have suffered any recent eye trauma, you really would mistake Mambow for Donkey Kong Country.  Instead of bananas, you collect meat, and instead of a gorilla you play as a lion wearing jeans.  Otherwise, the gameplay is pretty much the same idea.  You make your way across 10 levels, searching for tons of hidden trinkets, swinging from vines, visiting platforming clichés, and jumping on the heads of various wildlife.  It sounds great, and it looks like it will be fun, but the developers of Mambow failed to capture the intelligent level design of the DKC series.  Too much of the platforming centers around leap of faith gaming, which is a pet peeve of mine.  I’m so sick of titles that make you take blind jumps onto platforms with enemies or possibly into pits.  It’s the gaming version of walking around your house in the dark and stubbing your toes.  That is not fun.  It fucking hurts.

The controls aren’t exactly silky smooth, either.  Movement is really sensitive, sometimes forcing you to heel-toe it through sections.  Some of the attacks, or at least I think they’re attacks, seem to be worthless.  You can swat in front of you, but every time I tried it with even basic enemies led to me  taking damage.  Jumping on enemies can be a bit fickle too.  They don’t seem to have a generous enough collision box, leading to times where you do seem to land square on them but still take damage.  You get the ability to roar, but I never did figure out what the fuck its good for, beside getting the attention of enemies.  Couple these with problems in the ascetics where platforms and decor are indistinguishable, and Mambow starts to cross into that “hopelessly broken beyond all repair” territory.

When Mambow launched, it was 400 Microsoft Points.  I originally intended to review it soon after it came out, but the developers asked me to give them time to fix some problems.  So I did.  The biggest problem they fixed was dropping the price to a less insane 240MSP.  It’s still 160MSP too much, but at least it stings significantly less.  I’m not sure what glitches they tried to fix, but I encountered a few annoying moments.  The camera shook violently a few times just from me standing on a moving platform, making it impossible to see what was going on.  I also once got stuck clinging to a fence.  For whatever reason, the dude would not let go of it.  I thought my button had gotten jammed, but the guy remained stuck even after I pulled out the battery.  Maybe it was a Venus Lion Trap.

I got used to seeing this after the character got stuck to the fence while I played it. I could move him. I just couldn’t get off.

Mambow looks really good, but gameplay is all that matters to me.  The graphics are polished to a mirror shine (they reminded me a little of Yoshi’s Story), while the mechanics are as sloppy as they get.  I don’t really care if Mambow is a Donkey Kong Country wannabe, even if I think that series was never good to begin with.  Oddly enough, Shigeru Miyamoto is on my side here.  He once famously said “Donkey Kong Country proves that players will put up with mediocre gameplay as long as the art is good.”  I agree with him, but I feel that it can also be applied to developers as well.  Mambow is an example.  I’m sure the developers are proud of it, because the graphics are sharp.  But graphics should never trump gameplay.  Mambow controls poorly and the level design is boring, if not terrible.  I think this might have been their first game.  If I’m right, highly commendable effort, fellas.  Just remember: gameplay first, graphics second.  Write it down and hang it up on a wall.  Put it next to one of those “hang in there kitty!” posters.  Meanwhile, the only reason why this lion is sleeping in the mighty jungle tonight is because I just euthanized his ass.

Mambow was developed by Team-Mambow

240 Microsoft Points really suck at correctly identifying the correct developers of these games sometimes in the making of this review.

Gameplay courtesy of Aaron The Splazer.  He’s been providing these videos for the community for a while now.  Go follow him on Youtube.  He’s earned it.

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