During E3 this year, I managed to play Secret Ponchos at the We Love Devs booth for Sony after it was announced as a PS4 console launch exclusive. After playing a few 2 vs. 2 matches with random people, the game had me hooked. The combat was fast paced, frenetic and involved quick thinking to out maneuver the enemy team. Unfortunately, I did not play enough to get a huge sense of all the little intricacies the game seemed to offer like specific character weaknesses and strengths or how to balance a team to cover up for those deficiencies. The only issue with the E3 build was some minor control issues, but it was more needing time to acclimate than outright clunkiness.
So when I knew Secret Ponchos was going to be at PAX this year, it was high on my list of booths to check out. Mainly so I could show fellow Gaming Illustrated writer, Chance Asue, the game because it seemed right up his alley. A sincere thanks goes out to Yousef Mapara and the Switchblade Monkey team for being so kind taking the time to talk to us about the game and show off their PAX demo. The PAX demo stations allowed attendees to cut their teeth on the game’s Free-For-All and 2 vs. 2 modes.
As the E3 build was still pre-alpha, plenty of what Secret Ponchos will eventually become is up in the air. That is certainly the case as the PAX demo sported some refinements. The controls had been retooled to be more intuitive making gameplay easier to pick up and play. Where in the E3 demo the regular weapon and secondary weapon were tied to the same button, but differentiated by holding the button down or rapidly tapping the button. Now the main actions are tied to the shoulder buttons, so taking cover, firing a special weapon and firing a regular weapon map to those. While the face buttons are used to reload, switch between weapons and dodge. The E3 control scheme was competent, but the PAX build has much smoother and intuitive controls, which dramatically improve combat fluidity.
Additionally, the derelict bandit hideout map that they showed off at E3 now has health drops and power-ups hidden around the map to add a layer of strategy to the frenzied shoot outs. This means players should be aware of their surroundings and utilize these item drops to their advantage or to prevent enemies from using the items against them. For certain characters they have added additional moves such as the ground slam for Gordo, which allows him to stagger enemies and control the area around him.
With more time at the PAX demo station and a partner who picked up things quickly, the complexities of Secret Ponchos revealed themselves. While Free-For-All was more about learning how to use a character well, know their shot limits and how to utilize their secondary/special weapon, 2 vs. 2 became much more about working closely to find characters to complement each other. FFA matches go quickly with four people gunning at each other. On the small map, dodging becomes hugely important and timing when to switch weapons to continue punishing enemies. One thing that is important in both modes is using cover from time to time to reload a weapon rapidly without exposing yourself to damage. Secret Ponchos gameplay makes FFA seem like a perfect fit for those looking to play quick and harried matches on the fly.
Not to say that team matches are much longer, but they lend themselves to a bit more give and take. Since the matches we played were first to five, matches could take up to a minute or two or up to 10-ish depending on the skill of the opposing team. In 2 vs. 2, communicating with your teammate is hugely important because the game does have friendly fire and certain characters have area attacks that cause huge amounts of damage. So, with poor communication, a teammate could get caught in a dynamite blast and die. Pairing characters is important in 2 vs. 2 because certain characters have better fire rate or bullet capacity, but suffer from a lack of power. So, pairing that character with a more powerful character that has a smaller clip capacity can result in a strong combination. Or covering weakness in health, fire rate, range or stamina is important. When the first character weakens enemies before having to reload then the second character comes in to lose off a quick shot killing the enemy. Working together will help the team reach 5 kills quick.
There is a good variation between the characters in Secret Ponchos, no one seems vastly overpowered and depending on how players use characters they can rack up kills easily. There is a good sense of balance so far. Obviously that is going to be tinkered with plenty before the game’s 2014 release, but it has a solid base right now. The combat runs smoothly with a decent amount of strategy and complexity to gameplay. Matches are fast, fun and frenetic.
Secret Ponchos appears to be shaping up nicely with Switchblade Monkeys constantly adding smart improvements to the solid framework of the game. The game’s art is absolutely amazing, which gives it a distinct visual flair. When it launches, Secret Ponchos will support 8 players online with 2 vs. 2, 4 vs. 4, FFA and custom matches. So, gamers can do handicap matches with 3 vs. 1. As with more and more online based multiplayer games, Secret Ponchos will support local/online mixed play. As stated during the Sony E3 Press Conference, Secret Ponchos will be free as part of PS Plus when it releases. Even if it was not part of the PS Plus program, Secret Ponchos seems well worth the price of admission.
Keep an eye out for Secret Ponchos on PS4 and Steam sometime in the first quarter of 2014.