Poor little Poncho awakens in an abandoned world devoid of human life and with no memory of who he is or how he came to be. Cuter than a tin of baked beans in a skirt, the undeniably adorable little robot in a snazzy red poncho must scour the realm to find his creator and make sense of the world around him. Poncho is a ‘parallax’ platformer. At first glance the universe is subject to good old fashioned 2D sidescrolling fun, but Poncho has something unique up his sleeve. Wait, do ponchos have sleeves? Well just imagine they do, or imagine he’s wearing a nice shirt underneath, something smart from Marks & Spencer. Up that sleeve Poncho holds the ability to manipulate depth. With a quick press of the R1 or R2 buttons, he can jump to the foreground, mid-ground or background, turning his 2D world into something a little more 3D and much more challenging. Clever boy.
Poncho is a non-linear experience. To start off with you’ll probably be puzzling out how to jump back and forth so you can travel the traditional left to right. Collect little floating red things that appear to have no initial meaning and different coloured keys. It’s a happy and simple life. Happy, simple and carefree until the first time you hit a dead end. Those keys you’ve been merrily collecting open gates, and if you don’t have the right coloured key, well, you’d better go back and find one. If you can’t find one, you’ll just have to buy one, and that’s when you discover what all those floaty red things are for. Money. Dotted around each area are friendly neighbourhood robot shops where you can spend your red floaty things and receive keys of whichever colour you want. Exploration is the name of the game and pray Poncho is fitted with Duracell and not those cheap things from Pound Land, because you will be seeing all the sights this world has to offer.
Each main area has a teleporter that needs to be activated, and a trophy will pop for each one. Upon this activation you will be transported back to your map and a new area will open up. Actually you can return to the map any time you want. Just select it from the menu, but beware because when you do leave you’ll have to start again from the beginning if you want to go back. It’s probably best to hunt out all keys and floaty things before leaving, unless you have a specific reason for a swift exit. On the map screen you can also check to see how many goodies you’ve collected and what you’re missing. Make sure to thoroughly search the junkyard and find the Junkyard King to bring further purpose to your existence. He will grant you the ability to repair broken robots. Return to him every so often for a bonus depending on how many robots you’ve salvaged. Again, you can jump straight to the junkyard anytime you want via the map.
Difficulty wise, some parts are easy peasy and others are tougher than opening a tin of spam with a plastic spoon. In particular, behold the moving platforms. These run on a timer and move from foreground to mid-ground to background, their centres changing colour to help to decipher where exactly they are. Some of them are pretty easy to work out with a little bit of observation but some are designed to send you completely batty. It’s lucky that Poncho has unlimited lives and when he plummets to his death, he is put back on the last piece of solid ground he touched. This perpetual lifecycle will come in handy as you begin to get used to the jump mechanic. Expect some pratfalls until you twig that Poncho is not Nathan Drake and he will not jump if he’s hanging half off the edge already. Time your leaps carefully!
Poncho isn’t a game that thrives on danger and an immanent GAME OVER. It’s all about the puzzle. It’s about manipulating depth, seeing further than the 2D aspect and using that to move around and make discoveries. As you begin to explore you will notice there are no humans in this world, just robots going about their business without hurting anyone. In a game with no enemies, I wonder if the absence of human kind and the absence of danger is a deliberate parallel.
The moment Poncho was announced we saw people wondering if this was a FEZ 2. We can confirm it isn’t. While it has all the charm of FEZ (and more) the depth manipulation gives you a totally different challenge to the dizzying swivelling of our hat-wearing friend. Poncho is also a much more straightforward game, and comes without the need for any ridiculous brain-straining puzzles. You get what you see and there’s absolutely no pretention to spoil all the dimensional fun.
It’s clear that a lot of love has gone into the creation of Poncho. The pixel art graphics are truly some of the most spectacular we’ve ever seen. Bright colours, heaps of detail and gorgeous effects, Poncho goes a long way to prove that pixel art has a firm place on current gen consoles. Beautiful in its simplicity with remarkable design, the graphics are a see-it-to-believe-it situation. Personally, we’re big fans of pixel art, and Poncho is one of the best.
Accompanying the beautiful graphics is a damn fine soundtrack. It’s almost as though you’ve been yanked back twenty years and you’re loading up a game you don’t even intend to play just to hear that loading screen music. Yes, it’s that good, and it fits the story and the new-retro visuals perfectly.
Old school style gameplay mixed with new mechanics make Poncho a charming and interesting game that is one hundred percent worth a look. It’s also making us want to get matching Punk and Lizard ponchos. We think we’d look awesome.
The only thing that beats a good old fashioned platformer is a good old fashioned platformer with a twist. The shifts from background to mid-ground to foreground turn this platformer into one big puzzle game. Better-than-perfect pixel art graphics, fantastic soundtrack and gameplay that is fun, challenging and entertaining, Poncho is not to be missed.
S J Hollis Rating 8/10
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