Releasing officially on PC and PS4 in either fall 2014 or the first quarter of 2015, Secret Poncho’s is an isometric, Twin-Stick multiplayer action game with a very stylish spaghetti western theme. Composed of multiple Wild West arenas and a growing roster filled with interesting characters, this is a game with a lot of promise, and a great deal of charm. Available on Steam Early Access right now in an alpha state, this game does disappoint with its lack of game modes, though it does excite for what is to come in the near future, with the game developing at a steady pace since the game’s launch in June.
This game encourages the use of a controller, particularly because the twin-stick style of the combat implements well with this, though, thanks to community feedback and the developer’s willingness to please its fans, keyboard and mouse support does now exist. While it’s a perfectly acceptable way of playing the game, it is a little difficult to warm to, and aiming doesn’t feel as precise as it does with an analog stick. No matter how you play the game however, it never stops feeling natural to the player, and the controls are very easy to pick up from the beginning. To make things nice and easy for each character, a move-set can be viewed in-game, and a single player practice mode can be played whenever you like for those who want to hone their skills.
At the time of writing, there are currently 5 different outlaws to play as, each with their own unique identity, weapon set, and stats. They are genuinely diverse, and differ significantly enough to provide different play styles for each, requiring the player to understand how best to use their abilities, and master different approaches/tactics. While a character such as ‘Kid Red’ works best within the center of action, making use of his short-range dual revolvers and high-powered dynamite, ‘The Matador’ works best at a range, throwing spears from afar, and then moving in close to deal the killing blow. While there are only two weapons available for each character, there are multiple uses for them, providing the player with alternate attacks. A fair amount of the combat works off a stamina system too, where any physical attacks such as a sword swing or a whip crack will use up one store of stamina. The player’s stamina store is rather low, but is regenerative, and only takes a few seconds to start building back up again. This works nicely to break up any enemies that may try and spam certain moves to gain the upper hand. Every character has the ability to combat dive around the arena, which also utilises the stores of stamina. While a low amount of attacks and stamina may sound rather limiting, it actually all complements the game well, keeping the action nicely focussed and simple, not interfering with the fast-pace of the gameplay.
While I have no qualms about the character abilities and their attacks, it does feel as though there are some balancing issues that need to be addressed here in future updates. Most notably is the range of each characters attack, where the stark differences of them can really work against you unfairly. When you have a character whose attacks are very short ranged, they are therefore easily gunned down before they can get close enough to land even a single shot. It can make for some frustrating encounters, and it feels as though the character stats should be revised more so that characters with less range should have an increase in their speed, for example, alleviating some of this frustration. The damage values of some weapons feel as though they need a little bit of refinement also, particularly with the Phantom Poncho, who can easily dispatch foes from full health should they land a hit with their whip and then quickly follow it up with a point-blank shotgun blast. While this maneuver isn’t too easy to pull off, it is frustrating how easy they can kill enemies this way, especially considering a whip strike causes the victim to become stunned for a few seconds. These kinds of balancing issues are to be expected though from a game still in development, and it’s re-assuring to know that the developers (Switchblade Monkeys) are committed to further developing this game and making it better with each, and every update.
Your performance in the game contributes towards your outlaws overall bounty, a monetary value that represents your skill level. Winning matches, killing your foes, and damaging your opponents all add up to the total at the end of each match, and this will help you acquire the next rank of notoriety. Ranking up yields experience points that can be used to boost an array of unique character stats such as fire rate, stamina regeneration, and health to name but a few. Thankfully, it will take a while to max out every characters stats, meaning that you will have to put some serious time and effort into your play, adding plenty of longevity to the gameplay itself. Not only this, but losses decrease your notoriety, adding a nice element of pressure to each match (and of course an element of rage). Secret Ponchos is perhaps a little too punishing with this factor, and a handful of consecutive losses can bring your notoriety down by a hell of a lot, but it does add an even bigger element of competition, and makes players fight much harder. Hopefully in future updates this element can be toned down a little, as to be less brutal and more appealing to the non-hardcore audience.
As it currently stands, the gameplay, offering is very limited, only providing one consistent multiplayer game mode – 2 Vs.2 Domination. While some other game modes such as Deathmatch, and 4 Vs. 4 Domination is being thrown into rotation currently, these aren’t commonly available to play, presumably only available to play during specific time frames. As such, I am yet to dabble in these newly-added game modes. What I can comment on however, is how fun the 2 Vs. 2 Domination mode is. Though it isn’t without its flaws, it’s still a mode that is fun to play constantly, partly due to the high pace and team work that is needed. Working like a tug of war contest where your gang attempts to reach +5 kills over the enemy gang, it’s a mode where players have to employ tactics in their approach as one bad move could potentially cost you the match. Having a gang that includes different characters results in interesting matches, and helps to keep things nice and fresh, and ultimately much more fun. Problems do arise, however, during matches when your partner disconnects or quits, leaving you at a considerable handicap, where losing the match is more-or-less an inevitability. Being outmanned in this game is incredibly unfortunate, and the only way take on two people at once and come out alive is if you have luck on your side. This is an issue that needs to be addressed, more-so because it means players can easily lose value on their hard-earned bounty. I also can’t help but feel that these matches don’t last long enough. Don’t get me wrong, these matches don’t feel particularly short, but there are times when I’m in the middle of a heated battle, and I wish the tension could last much longer.
At the moment there are 4 maps available to fight inside, with one of those maps being added post-launch, free of charge. They all add there are own flavours, not just stylistically, but in the way they are designed. While a map such as ‘Boneyard’ (a graveyard/cemetery themed arena) is small in size and dense with various monuments and elements of cover, a map such as ‘Train Wreck’ is much larger, incorporating a lot more open space, with some elements that offer small claustrophobic areas. Each map requires a different way of thinking, and utilising the environment is key to surviving. Some elements of the maps are destructible too, particularly that of objects used for cover, meaning that players can’t entirely rely on the environments to save themselves, and have to change their tactics to suit the changes.
All of these levels look wonderful too, not only because of their unique themes, but because of the rich art-style that runs throughout. It really does breathe a great deal of personality into this game, separating it from any other multiplayer shoot out there. Characters are wonderfully designed and modelled, and the hand-painted textures are very well executed, providing a cartoon look that encapsulates plenty of detail, and lush colours. While there are occasionally some graphical glitches where animations don’t play properly or weapons don’t appear, this does little to detract from the fact that this game looks wonderful.
Overall, Secret Ponchos is warming up to become a promising game, and that’s thanks to the active development that has been going on since this game was first released on the ‘Early Access’ program. Updates have been regular and significant, with new content bringing brand new experiences to the player, despite the current lack of consistent game modes. The gameplay is simplistic yet fun, and it can only get better, and more refined from here on. While the player-base isn’t that big right now, this is a multiplayer game that will continue to grow, and will no doubt appeal to a rather wide audience when the game enters its full release.
Grab the game on Steam Here