At PAX East this year, I had the opportunity to check out Secret Ponchos, a spaghetti Western-themed, top-down shooter from Switchblade Monkeys. The lush looking art, awesome music, and simple premise drew me in, but the addicting gameplay was what ultimately won my heart like a giddy school girl meeting Clint Eastwood when he still looked handsome.
“In Lonetree – a lawless, cutthroat town full of outlaws and bounty hunters – everyone is gunning for your head. Create your outlaw and engage in multiplayer duels to determine who lives, who dies, and who becomes a legend.”
Click on the links to learn more about each character, their weapons, and their stats.
- The Killer <- I played as this guy.
- Kid Red <- Who I mistook for a girl and to this moment still refer to as a she. Sorrynotsorry.
- The Deserter
- Phantom Poncho
- Unnamed lady!
The atmosphere is what really makes this game unique. You truly feel like you’re playing a Western – tension, itchy trigger finger, and all. The music creates the perfect vibe, the colors make you feel all deserty…it’s hard to describe, but they nailed that feeling of when you were a little kid playing cowboys and Indians – ducking behind couches and peering around for enemies, reloading your imaginary six shooter – it’s all there.
Players can choose from six different characters, all with their own special moves and weapons. Each character has a primary and secondary weapon, and each weapon has a primary and special attack. You use the left stick to move around and the right stick to aim, with a cool shadowy line showing you where the bullet will strike. It takes a little getting used to at first, because you also have to make sure your weapon is drawn and aimed before you can attack, meaning you have to be a quick thinker to avoid death until you gain that muscle memory.
The unique weapons and attacks of the characters really add a level of complexity to the simple gameplay, causing you to sacrifice certain advantages for others. For example, I played The Killer, and while my gun was pretty strong, I had to reload constantly. I tried to compensate by throwing my knife, only to find that I had to wait for the knife to “come back” before I could throw it again. Apparently, I should have been using it to stab instead of using my special attack. I tried to re-compensate by dodging all over the place, only to find that I was depleting my stamina bar. It became readily apparent that this seemingly simple game had much more nuance than I originally thought. There is also a lovely line-of-sight mechanic that let my opponents disappear completely if they hid somewhere. I think this contributed to that feeling of being little and playing cowboys and Indians…I really didn’t know where my enemies would turn up, and the tension was excellent!
The multiplayer modes are fast-paced with just the right amount of challenge. There are four modes: one v. one, two v. two, four v. four, and eight player free-for-all. Creative Director Yousuf Mapara said the team hopes to add more game modes if time permits.
I spoke with Eduardo Echeverria, the interface developer, who told me that the game will allow you to customize your character as you gain a reputation, essentially allowing you to create your own outlaw. He also revealed that they are developing a female character when I mentioned the lack of ladies. Check her out, looking slightly androgynous as a matador:
This Town is Totally Big Enough
When I asked about the motivation behind the game, Echeverria looked me in the eye and said: SoulCaliber. You see, the developers used to play a lot of SoulCaliber, and they really loved how the game was easy to get into but had strategical depth for more experienced players. They wanted to create a game like that. What they ended up with has been compared to League of Legends, Street Fighter 2, and Team Fortress. In other words, this game is lined up to be ridiculous fun.
Secret Ponchos is slated for PS3 and Xbox 360 release only at this time.