Secret Ponchos, the upcoming online combat game by developer SwitchBlade Monkeys, is the PS4 game I never knew I needed in my life until now. Going into the game I had expected a straightforward battle arena, but what I got was that and way more. The gunslinger quickly became one of my favorite games on the PAX East showfloor.
Secret Ponchos pits you against 7 other players in an all out bounty hunting battle. Players can choose between a total of 8 outlaws, each with their own class abilities and skills. Only 4 were available at the time of PAX East, but even with a limited roster the rounds were still infinitely fun. Though the game plays essentially as a twin stick shooter, Secret Ponchos pulls inspiration from a handful of different genres and play styles. Namely, it pulls tactical elements from top-down combat games, utilizes the competitiveness and team mechanics of modern FPS games,and even pulls some of the meta game straight out of fighting games. All together, this meld of styles creates an experience that has something to offer to nearly anyone.
My time with the game saw me as Kid Red, the young outlaw with dual pistols at his disposal. Kid, and the other characters of the game, are embodiments of the strong art direction present in nearly every aspect of design. While most next-gen games are using the console’s power for hyper-realistic design, Secret Ponchos instead embraces a smooth cel-shaded world. Despite this, it still retains a balance and keeps hold of the grittiness you’d expect from a Western-themed combat arena. To put it to an example, the art direction reminds me heavily of the Gorillaz music videos; a perfect blend of crispness, color, and realism.
Each character has a primary and secondary weapon, each with unique pros and cons. Kid, for example, wields his pistol as a primary weapon, but dual-wields as a secondary skill. Dual-wielding pistols has reduced range but will stun enemies on contact. Other characters fire weapons that spread damage out in a cone, which can prove to be deadly at close range. Battles are either set up in team deathmatch, one vs. one, or free-for-all formats. My time with the game dropped me right into a free-for-all with 7 other players. It took me a second to memorize the controls, but the layout is easy enough. As with any twin stick styled game, movement was handled with the left stick while aiming responded to the right. Triggers fired weapons and shoulders swapped between primary and alt weaponry.
The stage we fought in was a western town, complete with stage coaches and a saloon. Power-ups are scattered around offering anything from super speed to additional health. While running and rolling throughout the stage, players are also able to take cover behind scenery. This, though not fully animated at the time of my demo, was one of my favorite features of the game simply for the extra level of strategy it adds to a round. While taking cover, players are essentially hidden from anyone without a direct line of sight. Hiding behind a wagon then popping out the other side for a kill was one of the most satisfying things in this battle arena.
As it stands, Secret Ponchos is a basic game with an essentially basic idea. The vision and direction SwitchBlade Monkeys has infused into every aspect it is what really makes this game shine. The build I played at PAX East wasn’t entirely finished, but I know that I’ll be following the journey of this title until it releases for PS4 this fall.