Westerns are a classic. Sand under your boots, guns in your hands and an attitude to make the harlots swoon. But whatever appeal the western films have is nothing compared to the allure of a shoot-em-up style of game. But this ain’t my first rodeo cowboys and girls, and Secret Ponchos slips just short of anything truly game-changing.
Secret Ponchos is a fast paced, strategic PVP in a Spaghetti Western universe of crooks, outlaws and bounty hunters. What’s not to love right? For those who love a great PVP this’ll certainly be a game to stick on your Christmas list; for those of you who, like me, enjoy story over a lot of things in a game you may have to try the demo first. You can connect with friends, join random matches or play on your own in the arcade section, (though I wouldn’t really recommend it until you’ve got a good grasp on the game).
As a consumer, and on top of the western genre, I actually quite enjoy both twin-stick shooters and birds-eye perspectives. Secret Ponchos showed promise in their use of characterisation – and the fact that each character was so different with unique weapons to boot was nice attention to detail; big tick there. Each character had its own personality, it wasn’t like a lot of multiplayer games where the characters just seem to blend together, give or take abilities or weapons. The design and names of the characters was also spot-on and fit right in with the genre. On top of the independent weapons and stats of the characters, you can use the environment to your advantage…but not comfortably, oh no. That lovely bit of cover you’ve found is entirely destructible so don’t stay seated too long.
Secret Ponchos had a nice introduction to the game upon start-up and a very crisp, clean layout which leaves nothing to the imagination. Needless to say Switchblade Monkeys really created something quite visually dynamic, with level design, music, costume and colours that aren’t strangers to the genre. Yet where this game could have taken a bit of a childish route, they’ve still incorporated some darkness to the design, often showing trees with the silhouettes of hanging bodies and the like. If there’s one thing that mustn’t be forgotten it’s that the west was a dark, perilous place and I’m thoroughly pleased Switchblade Monkeys didn’t forget that.
Despite just throwing you into the deep end during matches you are given the option to play through a tutorial, should you want to. If you’re the type of person who reads the manual instead of slamming bits of wood together and hoping they’ll fit then this option will make you a very happy bunny.
Here’s where it starts getting a little awkward however. Though I think this game is tremendous fun for the right player, but for those easily frustrated or who don’t have a lot of time to put into learning the game to begin with then you might find Secret Ponchos a little tedious. Had I put ten hours or more into this game, and had my friends obtained a copy as well, I probably would have enjoyed it more but as big as its potential is, it also falls short because of it.
It’s brilliant the amount of characters you can choose from, and you will find one you like, it’s just the trial and error of picking one who suits you. Each of the characters have their own weapons, their own strengths and speeds and ranges; it’s a lot to learn if you only have time to game for an hour every now and again after work or school. Similar to a lot of tower defences and various PVPs you are given the option to level up your chosen characters but the levels can’t be swapped, meaning if you wanted to have several characters that are severely OP you’ll have to stick much more time into it.
Another thing that I found difficult about Secret Ponchos is that there’s no story; and I know, a PVP doesn’t usually have a story, but it’s normally what drives me back to a game and it’s a shame. Apart from Red Dead Redemption I can’t think of a decent western game, and I do absolutely love the style the developers have chosen – you know me, I’m a big fangirl of the art of gaming. It’d be interesting to see them develop a single-player version of this that isn’t just an arcade style of game. As fun as arcade gaming is, it’s more fun played IN the arcade, not when I’m home alone with a beer…water…a big glass of water.
What I will say is that it sure as hell does what it says on the tin, and despite my nagging and whining about no story ‘this’ and time-consuming ‘that’, it’s been well and truly thought through. On their website, Switchblade Monkeys stated: ‘…beware, with our deep, skill-focussed combat system everything has a price: evasion costs stamina; every bullet matters with manual reloads; a head attack might leave you open for counter fire if you miss.’ I couldn’t have said it better personally. This game is a true challenge of skill – you can’t just button bash your way through this one. You do have unlimited ammo but you don’t have an unlimited clip and those bullets run out just when you really need them. I’d say 9/10 times I’ve been caught short just as I was about to land the fatal shot – *click* empty, and bye-bye midriff as they returned fire. Blegh. Dead.
If there’s one thing I love more than an indie game it’s an indie game with depth and boy-oh-boy does Secret Ponchos have a truck-load of that. If only they’d introduced some variety to its play this game would be a serious one to look out for. As it stands at the moment it has its fans in specific areas of the gaming community and appeals to a certain type of player but my question is: for how long? These games can come in with a bang because they’re fun and addictive but when the novelty wears off will it still be on the list of games you choose from when you want to play something with friends?…or will it just fizzle out like the fuse of a faulty stick of dynamite? I hope not.
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