If nothing else, Secret Ponchos gets my award for best named-game at PAX East. To Switchblade Monkeys’ credit, the gameplay is award worthy as well.
Secret Ponchos is a multi-player, third-person isometric shooter with a spaghetti western setting. The game allows you to choose between six different outlaws and bounty hunters. Playable at PAX was a map featuring a deserted town with a graveyard with several empty graves; perfect for hiding in or dying in depending on your luck. There were also deserted buildings to run around, and cement walls for cover. The map was several times larger than the screen, so icons were provided around the edges to track where your opponents were.
The combat system has depth, as each character has two weapons they can switch between. For example, Kid Red has dual pistols and dynamite, while the Phantom has a shotgun and an amazingly lengthy and lethal bullwhip. My favorite weapon is the Deserter’s musket, however. It has an attached bayonet that he can use to charge and impale opponents with. Then, while they are stuck in the air, he fires again and blows the enemy off the barrel for significant damage.
Also, the standard trope of bigger, more brutal characters being offset by their speed comes into play as well. For example, the massive Gordo is armed with a powerful but slow-loading Gatling gun. His drawback, however, is the brief moment it takes for the gun to start firing. Kid Red is a smaller, quicker combatant who can fire his dual pistols in rapid succession or both at once. While he can’t sustain much damage, he does have the ability to dodge attacks.
The controls use the right analog stick to direct your weapon, and the left analog stick to control your character’s movement. Markers on the ground show the range of your attacks, so you can feel for when someone finally gets close enough to pull the trigger. Characters need to be line-of-sight for most attacks, and one of my favorite graphical flourishes was the effect that happens when a character runs behind an object and you lose line-of-sight. When an enemy would run behind a wall or a rock, he would appear to freeze for a moment where he was last visible. Then, his image would dissolve and fade away to signify that the character could be anywhere since you had lost track of him.
Secret Ponchos will have RPG elements, too. As players level up, they will be able to tweak their character’s stats to better suit their play style. Character appearances will also be modifiable. The default characters are intended as templates for starting out. Ideally Switchblade Monkeys sees the game being played with unique characters developed by each player.
Secret Ponchos looks chaotic and incredibly fun. The setting is fully realized and the characters fit right in. Secret Ponchos is scheduled for a console release later this year.