My Dad introduced me to the Western, and something about bad-ass gringos and mystical Indian tribes used to really enthrall me as a kid. And, even to this day, nothing has changed. I still have an affinity with both Westerns and the wild west. So any game, no matter what pre-conceptions I may have, as long as it’s a Western, will always be given the time of day. Granted, as far as western games go, only Sunset Riders and Red Dead Redemption really make the grade for me, but let’s see what developer Switchblade Monkey’s ‘Secret Ponchos’ can do.
In typical indie fashion we have another isometric view, and the aim of the game, also in typical wild west fashion, is to shoot the hell out of your opponent. This is purely a multiplayer versus game so don’t expect some engaging storyline here.
You start by selecting your character, and there are a fair few to choose from. There are gunslingers, cavalry men, Indians, gringos – all heavily indulged in a colourful cartoon cell-shaded art style, and all with their overtly identifiable western clichés worn on their sleeves. But this is a popcorn arcade shooter and style is very much adhered to over character substance – and why not? This adds to the pick-up-and-play mentality of Secret Ponchos. You’ll soon discover there are certain characters you have to download and pay for to unlock, and each character has a secondary outfit and weapon loadout, which you also have to pay for.
Secret Ponchos has a limited number of game modes. In fact it has only 3 game modes. Team Deathmatch which is a typical 2v2 or 4v4, with the winner being whomever ends up with the most kills. We have Team Domination, which has a meter, and where the goal is for a team to lead by a whole 5 kills. So if, for example, one team scores three kills, they will be three points ahead, but should one of them die the meter will sway the other way and they’ll only be 2 kills ahead. Whichever team finishes on the right side of the meter when the time is up, or gets five kills clear of the other team, wins. Finally there is Free For All, which sees 8 players unleash chaotic mayhem on each other: that is to say, that is what I expect free for all to be like as unfortunately the servers couldn’t find 8 players wanting to play at the same time.
Yes, sadly getting into certain game modes can be a bit of a wait, especially if it’s a ranked match. Frustratingly, after such a long wait the games themselves are relatively short, and especially so if you dominate the match. Even more frustratingly, once the game is over, rather than sensibly banding the same teams together for the next match (with the option to drop out), all players are kicked from the game and have to load up another match – which results in yet more waiting in the lobby. So unless you party up with friends, this can quickly become a tedious affair.
Once in-game though, I have to admit, despite the simplistic gameplay of shoot your opponent to death, the game is kind of addictive. The left analogue stick is used to move and the right is used to aim. Every character comes with both a main weapon and a specialist weapon. I often selected the gunslinger who came equipped with a standard 6 shooter and a throwing knife. The knife could reach further than the gun, wounding and pinning down my opponent, thus making additional potshots easier. You also have different types of fire provided you hold down the shoulder or trigger buttons whilst firing. The gunslinger character fires all six rounds in quick succession, but sprays them frantically around the battlefield with the intention of hitting multiple foes. Or, in my case, missing most enemies entirely.
The gameplay (although not really alike) reminded me of League of Legends in one way; so, whilst you don’t have defence towers etc, timing is key. Whilst your location is revealed on the map at all times, choosing when to outflank your opponent and spring your trap on them is the difference between winning and losing. As most games are 2v2, if your buddy dies you can find yourself really up against it until he/she respawns. Levelling up mechanics are also pretty simple as once you have achieved enough reputation points you can spend them on bolstering your stats such as damage, health and rate of fire etc, which you can take with you to the next game.
Sadly, Secret Ponchos’ limitations are what prevent this good game from being a great game. Whilst being semi-addictive, you can’t help but feel that with extra ambition the game could have really excelled. For example, out of the few levels to play on, all are on the ground floor. The Saloon level appears to have stairs to ascend – but sadly you can’t. This really could have diversified the maps and made for some more interesting tactical choices in the game. The game could also have benefited from some pick-ups or perks. For example, a mounted Gatling gun or cannon would have been awesome. Whilst this would have been overpowered, the player would have been stationary leading to some interesting skirmishes.
Mechanically this game has a lot in common with Dead Nation, a zombie apocalypse game. However, Dead Nation is purely a campaign adventure and Secret Ponchos could really have benefited from copying Dead Nation. Who wouldn’t enjoying robbing banks and blowing up trains with their friends in some mindless but fun co-op set in the wild west?
Whilst Secret Ponchos is a relatively fun and addictive game, there is little that will hold your attention for months to come. A lack of ambition, no campaign and long waiting times in the lobby just make this enjoyable shooter feel like a horse that was never really broken in.