A robot wearing a poncho you say? Well I’m sold! I am a sucker for unusual and cute characters in games but most of the time I’ve been left disappointed – either by the game or the character themselves. Poncho delivers an adorable lead with some interesting gameplay mechanics. Your objective is to simply find your maker but in that clear and simple goal lies the games true draw, its open world puzzle platforming style.
There is no set route, there is no linear path, you decide where to go and what to discover. You are placed in a post-apocalyptic land where robots roam free looking for purpose since their human masters left. Throughout the game, there are randomly generated areas and new ecosystems to discover so no two games are alike with different puzzles and collectibles along the way. So much more than a cutesy robot.
There are no levels, multiple endings and you begin smack bang in the middle of the game/map so there is no traditional start point – just pure exploration and puzzling, plus the ability to upgrade Poncho allowing you to explore even more areas. Gameplay seems pretty straightforward – standard side scrolling fare. However, Poncho is a robot so he does have some special skills of his own: the ability to phase between the fore-, mid, and background to fully explore every aspect of an area. This does get a little confusing, especially during timed sections but it is a dynamic which will allow for a unique gameplay experience depending on how you utilize it.
After the tutorial area you are released into the wide world of Poncho to fine your maker and save the human race. This is where it gets a little confusing, there are a lot of creatures about and some even speak to you (reminding me of Marvin the paranoid android) but it is unclear if they are enemies or just part of the scenery: some cause you to jump back a little when they touch you, some cause you to flash a little like sonic (but no coins or look of utter betrayal). Yet when you jump on them – which seems like the only logical defence at this point in the game, nothing seems to happen.
The gameplay can feel a little clunky and confusing – kind of like a robot who has been out of service for a few aeons, but it’s forgivable since the game is still in alpha. The phase shifting ability is available to players before there is anywhere to shift to, this did confuse me to some extent as it did mean Poncho just disappeared from the screen so I assumed it was a self-destruct type thing. It takes some getting used to, the path I took led me to an area with moving blocks which Poncho had to traverse whilst there were lots of enticing keys and red dots to collect – no idea what they are for but I have been programmed from an early age to collect all the things I can see (kind of like a gaming kleptomaniac).
Shifting between the levels takes some skill; in the background you are able to see the outline of the levels in front of you so you can gauge if you are able to shift safely and when you are in the foreground, you are sometimes leaving the decision to the fates as the ground is sometimes not visible. But this is where the game is set apart from the others, it does not hold your hand and it’s open world so you can choose your path and essentially your destiny within the world. I did not find the merchant but I look forward to being able to shape Poncho’s abilities to suit my gaming style.
The jump mechanic in the alpha is a touch sensitive but seemed to be improved at EGX, trying to manoeuvre the musical jumpy blocks in the beginning took some time in the alpha but felt seamless in the EGX demo so the guys over at Delve are improving the game all the time and I cannot wait to see the finished product.
Poncho does not have a release date as yet and has just completed a Kickstarter campaign which it did not reach its goal but in a statement on the official website, there is hope for Poncho yet thanks to some publishers realising how cool it is. But for now you can download an alpha demo from the kickstarter page – which I encourage you do – while we wait for the full game in the spring of 2015.