Secret Ponchos is a game developed by a small indie studio called Switchblade Monkeys. The game is set in a stylish comic book take on the Wild West, where players take the role of a fugitive with a serious bounty on their head. I got my hands on the PC version of the game, which it is currently available on Steam through Early Access. The game had very little to offer, as to be expected from a game still in development, but I was able to get a feel of the overall style and combat gameplay mechanics.
The most interesting and core appeal of Secret Ponchos is its art style. As previously stated, the game is set in a comic book themed Western setting. Drawing inspiration from games like Team Fortress 2, Switchblade Monkeys have created a cartoonish look in a widely under appreciated setting. The Western setting seems to be an unpopular setting for many games currently on the market; Secret Ponchos takes all the motifs and visual elements of a Western and creates a playful, yet deadly, game world. You will shoot up Western styled combat arenas, such as dusty cemeteries and desolate ghost towns.
Soundtrack is important, and something that no developer should ignore. If you want a player to engage with your game on an emotional level, through excitement, fear, or anticipation, then a decent soundtrack that fits the style of your game is essential. Secret Ponchos achieves both drawing players in, while also staying in tune with the overall style of the game. Chris Gillrie, the sound designer on Secret Ponchos stated in an interview at PAX last year that the sound of the game, and the game overall is inspired from the Spaghetti Westerns that directors such as Sergio Leone created. This push for a Spaghetti Western feel also gives the game “attitude”, as stated by Gillrie, and as you sit in the lobby of a game waiting for the first round to begin, you will feel excitement of an impending standoff from the very atmospheric soundtrack.
Gameplay wise, Secret Ponchos feels like an arcade shooter. The top-down perspective that centers on your character opens up some interesting gameplay features. For example, Secret Ponchos has a line-of-sight system, so when enemies move behind cover they quickly fade out, giving players the ability to trick the enemy or surprise them with a corner ambush. The game is currently only compatible with controllers, and control is very simple and streamlined. There’s no confusing HUD system or weapon wheel, you move the left analogue stick to move, the right to aim, and the triggers to use weapons and special abilities. The ability to fast roll, and the requirement of manual gun reloading, can make gunfights frantic, with players skirmishing opponents before running or rolling away to reload or regroup.
The playable outlaws have different play styles such as speed, weapon damage, fire rate, and health. I played as Kid Red, a fast, dual revolver wielding cowboy who can quickly dive in and out of a gunfight. His ability to stun an opponent, quickly pop off a few shots, before making a quick getaway to reload, makes him a deadly character if used effectively. Other characters, such as The Deserter, has more health yet less speed, dramatically changing the play style against characters such as Kid Red with a slow speed, high damage, play style. Finding a character that you enjoy and mastering its certain play style can be rewarding, and the developers seem interested in making your character feared by the community through the notoriety system.
The notoriety system works in the form of a ‘bounty’. Players will collect bounties, while at the same time having the bounty on their head increased based on their performance. There will be a leaderboard system implemented in the future, and the ability to compare your bounty alongside your friends. It would also be interesting to see a reward system integrated in to this as well.
I was only able to play the 2v2 domination online multiplayer mode, as that is currently the only mode available. The gameplay and the small numbers of maps, however, do paint a good picture to what the game is trying to achieve overall. Secret Ponchos is a PvP orientated, top-down, comic book styled, Spaghetti Western shooter, and so if you’re in the mood to do some gun slinging with or against friends, then this game is definitely worth watching out for.
The game is still in early access, as more game modes, maps, and characters are on their way. The ability to level up your character, and customize them, to make them stand out in the crowd as a feared outlaw will make Secret Ponchos a very interesting online PvP experience.
Secret Ponchos will be released for Windows PC and PlayStation 4. No specific release date has been announced yet.
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