Fallout 4 isn’t the only autumn release to take place in a post-apocalyptic world featuring zany robots. Poncho, a 2D side-scrolling puzzle-platformer that’s 16-bit aesthetic makes it look like it could’ve come straight from the 90s, also offers a glimpse into a world that has met a terrible fate. Poncho features a less gloomy take on the formula however, offering a charming experience that’s both enjoyable and frustrating in equal measures.
Poncho’s tale is a simple one; the titular robotic hero is on a quest to find ‘the maker’, hoping that doing so will allow the world to return to its pre-apocalyptic form. Whilst character interaction is plentiful throughout the game, the narrative remains ambiguous until you reach one of the two possible endings.
Of course, this is a puzzle-platformer so the narrative generally takes a back seat. The focus is on the actual gameplay, and Poncho’s gameplay is based around a puzzle mechanic that has you switching between three layers of a level – the main layer, the background layer and the foreground layer. It’s an easy procedure, a simple pressing of a shoulder button performing the shift. There are some things to take into consideration though – obstacles blocking your way, deadly pitfalls and moving platforms. It’s actually a clever concept and allows for some real interesting puzzles; it certainly brings more life to the backgrounds of levels that are typical relegated to simple eye candy status.
Unfortunately, it’s also the main cause of most of Poncho’s problems. When a game is entirely based around a sole mechanic, it’s essential that it is always utilised efficiently. Some levels feature puzzles that feel like they’re intentionally working against you; whilst I like a challenge in a game, I prefer that challenge to be fair. There are instances where platforms move every time you switch a layer, their unpredictability offering you little chance to plan your next move when in the middle of a difficult sequence of jumps. There are also platforms that are specifically timed to move – whilst these offered a much fairer challenge, the fact that there are three layers for them to switch between meant that it’s difficult to know where a platform that previously wasn’t in view of the player may switch to. Some levels featured a few instances of this, and with the consequence of missing a platform being starting the puzzle from scratch, you’ll often feel like tearing your hair out with Poncho. There were also times where I’d fall from a platform only to get stuck in an infinite loop of falling into nothingness, re-spawning in the same spot where a platform was missing. It may sound like I’m nitpicking, but when it happens in-game you can’t help but to feel frustrated.
It’s more-so frustrating when you consider that when the puzzling is properly utilised, it’s genuinely good fun. Some puzzles in the game were great, offering both a fair challenge and an enjoyable platforming experience. It’s just a shame that the quality isn’t always so consistent.
You’ll also be tasked with finding collectibles throughout the game including Junk Yard robots and keys. The keys are essential to progress; there’ll be gateways that will block your path unless you have the corresponding key. I never found myself in a situation where I couldn’t progress though, as the relevant key always seemed to be close by. The collectibles at least offer something extra to look out for in levels, even challenging you to retry previously completed areas.
Levels are pleasing on the eye, offering a pixel styled 16-bit-esque experience that wouldn’t look out of place on the SNES or Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. Levels are full of colour and tiny details, the flora and fauna of each stage really bringing them to life. If this is the result of an apocalypse, at least disaster is pleasing on the eye.
The soundtrack is also one of Poncho’s strong points, offering both a mixture of tranquil, peaceful tunes along with more upbeat tunes that wouldn’t sound out of place in the background of a circus. There wasn’t a bad piece of composition throughout the whole game and each piece felt perfectly in place – their chiptune style managing to keep consistent with the nostalgic vibes offered by the aesthetics.
I don’t want to be too harsh on Poncho; the game looks great, sounds great and is also home to some really enjoyable puzzling. It just also features some flaws that caused great frustration during my three hour playthrough. Whilst I can’t promise that I’m not over-exaggerating the frustration caused and the problem is my lacking skills as a gamer, they still caused enough problems to make me think less of the time I spent with Poncho.
I won’t tell you not to buy Poncho because I know there’s an enjoyable and charming experience to be had – just expect moments of pure frustration and anger along the way.
– Great looking 16-bit aesthetics
– Nostalgic music that fits the tone of the game
– Some great puzzles with enjoyable platforming…
– …but also some of the most frustrating puzzles I’ve encountered in a game
– Occasional glitchy moments
– Level five (Grrrrrrr…)
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4