By Josh Speer / December 2nd, 2015
|Publisher||Rising Star Games|
|Release Date||November 3rd, 2015|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone|
You may have guessed by now that I’m somewhat of an indie fanboy, so when PONCHO came across my radar, I was instantly intrigued. What is PONCHO, you ask? Why is it all capitalized? I may not be able to answer the latter, but the answer to the former is that PONCHO is a indie platforming adventure game about a lone robot with no memory clad in a red poncho. What is especially curious is the world of PONCHO is solely inhabited by other machines, not one single human. Thus, you must set out on a quest of exploration and to answer the many questions you have. Was PONCHO a new indie classic, or did it fall short of my expectations?
You start out waking up in a remote laboratory. Though you are given brief instructions on how controls work, the game does very little hand holding. The only ability at your disposal is that you can shift backward and forward to the foreground and background, respectively. Besides that, all you can do is jump, so you’ll really have to put your brain in gear to solve the many puzzles in PONCHO. As you make your way out of the lab, a series of peculiar memories seem to rise to the surface, most prominent being a mysterious red tower looming just out of reach. What are these images, and who do you remember speaking to you in that dreamlike state? With these questions nagging at you, you are delivered into the outside world.
While there is no sentient organic life in PONCHO, there are plenty of trees and natural environments, and I must say that the game is absolutely beautiful looking. It’s pixelated, highly detailed and very colorful. My only complaint in this regard is that I wish a game like this was on the 3DS, or better yet, some yet to be invented 3D version of the Wii U, so that you can see every inch of the lush and mysterious world of PONCHO. Alas, such a console doesn’t exist, but it still looks quite pretty on my laptop.
The music is also no slouch, and the tunes of PONCHO run the gamut from haunting to mysterious to upbeat to downright sad. Not to say that the music is a bummer, but it does a very good job of encapsulating the vibe of the game while still being resonant, poignant and wonderful. It’s really hard to explain more than that, but I found it astounding. Now that we’ve established the aesthetics of the game, let’s discuss how it actually plays.
You can basically take as long or as little time to get through a level as you want, but being thorough is the only way to find all the hidden doodads littered in each enormous stage. You will be able to find keys that open up similarly-colored gates, geometric gems and, eventually, find and repair broken-down robots. The only purpose for those gems is to give them as currency to a very shifty robot who hands over necessary extra keys in return.
Once you’ve had your fill of a stage, all you have to do is find the exit gate, which transports you to the world select screen as well as opening up the next stage. There are a handful of stages, but they are all large and full of challenging platforming. Though you have no enemies out to kill you, and while you have unlimited lives, it’s a bad idea to keep dying. Falling to your death or getting squashed resets your position to where you were before you died, and that can often mean a long trek back to try a section all over again. Checkpoints certainly would have been welcome, but aren’t ultimately required. Your ability to shift forward and backward is remarkable, but also restricted, since you can only shift once while jumping, and oftentimes you’ll have to jump all over in order to find stable ground. Luckily, there are moving platforms that also shift back and forth in timed sequences, as well as blocks that respond based on your movement. There are also huge buttons you can jump on to activate and move huge walls horizontally, which is necessary to explore areas completely.
For the most part I am a big fan of the platforming in PONCHO, though it can get hard to see through the complex overlaid environments. My primary complaints were that sometimes the platforming was floatier than need be, and many times my little robot almost fell off an edge while standing still. Another peculiar issue was when I was in the cave stage and decided to explore past the exit gate, and found myself unable to get back to it. I decided to continue forward, and found myself inexplicably transported back to the beginning of the stage. While this turned out to be convenient, it was awkward and more than a little confusing. Finally, there are some jumps that are only possible to make while jumping and shifting mid air, with absolutely no room for error. However, these issues were mostly few and far between, so I don’t hold them against the game.
PONCHO isn’t a huge game, as I found myself able to beat it in a couple hours, but it does offer replay value if you want to spend more time in this world. Without spoilers, I will say that a decision you make at the end of the game will give one of two possible endings, and there are also achievements for collecting every single collectible. While I’m not sure if accomplishing this task gets you anything other than a sense of pride, it is a nice bonus. I wouldn’t say PONCHO is for everybody, as some of the platforming, especially later in the game, can get quite frustrating, but for those stubborn enough to buckle down, you’ll get your value. Priced at $14.99 on Steam, PONCHO may be a bit pricey, but I feel it’s worth it, especially if you find it on sale. Overall, I was quite pleased with PONCHO, and would recommend it to any fans of touching, mysterious indie games. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back and find the rest of those collectibles…
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Delve InteractiveIndieplatformerPONCHOpuzzleRising Star GamesSteam