When I caught my first glimpse of Poncho I just knew I had to be the one to review it. There are a few reasons, the first being that I have always been a huge fan of pixel art, which pretty much stems from the fact that I am also a practitioner of pixel art and have been for many years (about 12 now which makes me feel very old!). In fact, when I set up my own games design company in the hopes of one day being a British Hideo Kojima, this was the kind of artsy game that I really wanted to make. The second reason is that I’ve been in trouble far too many times at work for wandering around near the forklifts wearing my high visibility jacket as a poncho. Whilst I find this hilarious I know that my opinions might change slightly if there was a heavy goods vehicle parked on top of my face. And last, but definitely not least, the third reason being that the character is a cute little blue robot dressed in a red poncho, and if that doesn’t make you smile then you need to take a good long look at your life because something has gone horribly wrong.
Poncho is a recently released single player 2D side scrolling puzzle platformer developed by Delve Interactive and published by Rising Star Games for PS4, Wii U, PC, MAC and Linux, in which you, a cute little bundle of nuts and bolts, donning a glorious red poncho (I want that poncho so much!) is the last ray of hope for humanity. The game contains 2D graphics with a 3D playstyle, so you have 3 different layers on each map, one closer to the screen, one in the middle of the screen and one at the back of the screen and using your funky psychedelic robot powers you’re able to move to each of the platforms to help you navigate through the various tricky puzzles and collect little red balls of delight (which I enjoy pretending are balls of bubble gum) as well as your typical red, blue and green keys so you can lead the way to your destiny and a number of other tricky puzzles. You can also trade your balls (bubble gum, not the other kind of balls) into a shady looking robot with a trench coat who sells you keys.
I’ll start with the graphics, because frankly that’s the best thing about this game. Simply put, they are incredible. As I mentioned before I practice pixel art fairly often so I know how patient you have to be to create something like this and how painful it can be to get one tiny pixel out of place, it’s pretty much on the same pain rating as getting your pecker jammed inside a toaster (and I don’t mean a bird). That’s never really happened to me that I know of but, hey, university is a pretty crazy place, right? I was a huge fan of Fez for the same reasons and I would rate Poncho’s graphics at the same standard. Every character, every object and every background is beautifully created and I don’t think I can praise the designers enough for the amount of detail and patience they’ve put into making this.
Now onto the next best thing about this game, the beginning. Any great game will have you hooked from the very start, and Poncho does just that. The opening cinematic is creepy and almost sadistic, but brilliant! I’m never really sure if I like games with creepy and sadistic openings because they’re genuinely good or because that’s just the kind of guy that I am now. It’s full of suspense and has you completely tied into it before you even start playing. It’s short and sweet but leaves you wanting to play more and I haven’t played a game which has had my attention from the beginning for a while now, so this was a breath of fresh air.
The sound for the game is also pretty great. It’s reminiscent of the old Nintendo 8-bit style music and suits the game perfectly. Each level contains its own little jam which represents the area that you’re in nicely. It gives each of the levels a bit more atmosphere so the areas feel a little bit more realistic when you’re in them. There are also some coloured blocks in this game, which when you walk over them, make funky sounds. So naturally that just encouraged me to spend 2 hours playing and trying to re-create Funky Town by Lipps Inc. in 8-bit, It didn’t quite go to plan though and truth be told I sounded more like a 6 month old baby who’s just started bashing the piano in a fit of rage, still the enthusiasm was there so I’m counting it as a win in my books.
The puzzles are surprisingly hard and shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, I did just that going into this game, thinking that I’d have it completed within an hour or two and none of the puzzles would give me any issues whatsoever. After the first 30 minutes I think I’d sworn at the screen over 15 times. One of the maps in particular contains blocks which you have to jump on and they constantly change layers, meaning your little robot falls off the edge more times than a chain smoker who’s trying to give up. Not only are they frustrating as hell, but they’re surprisingly pretty fun, which may be contradictory but play the game and you’ll know what I mean, if you don’t smash your television in the process. It takes a bit of effort to figure them out and when you finally do it’s still not as easy as you would expect, so when you actually complete them you get a feeling of accomplishment.
Story wise, there isn’t too much, but it’s enough. All of the humans have now become obsolete due to a malfunctioning error and you and your little robot pal have gone to save them. Or, if you’re like me, failed miserably at saving them because you’re still stuck inside the forest and getting destroyed by plane-shifting boxes. There’s the odd twist now and again but the majority of time is taken up by jumping around, playing in the forest and being brought back to life. As I mentioned before, this really is all that you need. You don’t need an epic tale of love and lust between two galactic robots, with one of them betraying the other for fame and fortune before getting stabbed in the back by the betrayed robot for all their wealth (sorry, what was my point again…). The story is just fine, you go at your own pace and find out the things that you want to and when you feel like you need to take a break from jamming on your coloured bricks and making your little poncho buddy dance.
You get some nice little skills as well such as being able to do a little stomp on the ground, which is especially handy when you have just majorly screwed up a puzzle and have thrown a temper tantrum, which you can then mimic in the game by repeatedly pressing the jump button to show your little robots frustration. It’s all cool though because you’ll soon see his little poncho and smile and life will be good again, although you might spend the first 10 minutes of getting the skill jumping off the highest platform you possibly can and ground stomping yourself into canyons for fun.
I need to be a bit harsh now because I only get a certain amount of ‘nice points’ once per year and if I use them all up then I might just sprout some angelic wings and fly off and I can guarantee you that I’ll get hit by a plane or fly into a satellite, which I really don’t want because I still have a headache from those damn plane-shifting blocks. My main quarrel with the game is that I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. Sure, collect the red orbs and some keys sounds like a great idea. Shall we go save humanity? Yeah, go on then, I’ll give it a try! But how do I get out of this forest?! The game markets this philosophy, saying you don’t have your hands tied with objectives, whilst it’s a great idea on paper, there needs to be a little bit of guidance, or else you get people like me who spend the majority of the game stuck inside the forest. There is no map in a sense, apart from the one that takes you directly to the area select type page and teleports you there, so because I only had the two areas unlocked and didn’t know how to find my way out I could pick which place was more comforting to get lost in. I’m picking holes with an otherwise good game, but I just didn’t have a clue where I was supposed to go or what I was supposed to do. It would have been nice to see some directions or an objective of some sort, just to feel like I wasn’t going around in circles.
Speaking on behalf of your typical gamer, this is a game that, in reality, anyone with enough experience and time could make. It’s another indie platformer based on pixel art where you jump, have a few abilities that allow you to solve puzzles and wander around collecting things to make it to the next objective. Frankly, it’s something that Sonic the Hedgehog mastered a very long time ago and is reproduced quite often. I’m not saying that it’s a bad game, in fact if anything it’s a great game, but it’s been done time and time again. But, if you’re like me, then you will love it regardless.
The graphics are incredible, the sound is well suited, the puzzles are difficult, and the entire game is just great. It’s suited towards a niche audience who enjoy playing games focussed on pixel design and puzzles and is a nostalgia trip for any of those who grew up on games like this. I’m one of these people who had a childhood built on the foundation of Rayman and Ecco the Dolphin, which probably explains why I’m so terrified of giant octopuses and mosquitos, so games like this remind me of when I was a kid and everything was happy and colourful, until I turned into the pessimistic 12 hour work-a-day coffee swilling office worker that I have become. I’m so proud of myself!
My final thought is that if you’ve ever played Fez, Sonic the Hedgehog (the original) or any of the old-style pixelated games and enjoyed them then this will also be a great game for you. It’s a full on blast from the past with some traditional mechanics in it. It’s never going to blow you away as a game and leave you breathless but its good enough to have you playing and enjoying yourself.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.