Secret Ponchos developer Switchblade Monkeys started up much like many other independent developers do: friends in the gaming industry get together, share ideas, and come up with a project. Before they were a developer, the group of close friends that would later comprise Monkeys was working at separate larger studios in the industry. After conversations and time, the idea arose to create a game together that could rival the quality of larger endeavors but focus on the passion of a small team.
Secret Ponchos was that game, and the team — what seamed like every one of them — was on hand in Sony’s PS4 “We Love Indie Devs” booth to share their excitement about the game with others.
After my extended play session, I couldn’t help but leave charmed by both the team and the game.
On hand to show us the game were Monkeys’ Caley Smyth (UI Developer) and Jose Lopez (Art Director). Smyth guided us through the character selection process, showcasing the strengths and virtues of each of the game’s six characters. There is a lot of variety in the outlaws, the name given to the group of characters, from their multiple weapon choices to their speed to their attack styles and defense ratings. I chose Gordo, a brutish hulk of a man who carried molotov cocktails and a gatling gun. My opponent chose The Deserter, a former soldier hell bent on revenge, carrying along with him a hunter’s rifle and a medkit. Both of the characters were larger, meaning that they moved a little slower, but their weapon range and defensive skillset more than made up for that.
The game, a sort of twin-stick multiplayer PvP shooter, drops up to eight players on one of six battlefields designed to resemble Old West tropes. We played in an abandoned collapsing cabin just on the edge of a woodland area. The art and design of the characters has hand-painted influences across cartoonish proportions, and thanks to Lopez they manage to remain wonderful to look at even in the midst of heavy battle, flying bullets and firebombs. The Old West setting spills over into the game design, as players accrue reputation points for wins and can have ransoms placed on their heads. Points are used to upgrade the characters, and the game even allows betting to try and win more from opponents.
We played Free For All mode, designed to be similar to fighting game matches in that there is a time limit to be the first to acquire 3 wins. There are other modes planned as well. Ladder matches, 4 vs 4, etc will be included, and further characters, environments and modes could become DLC, though the team has no immediate plans to announce. My character’s quirks were hampering me at first, as I couldn’t avoid The Deserter’s quicker movements and range of attacks. Gordo is a slow character, and even more so when out of bullets and required to run away and recharge. It adds another layer to the game, as conservation of bullets and timing when and where to refuel them is a part of the experience.
In the end I lost 3 games to 2, my opponents smug face as he lorded his win over me. Hopefully I get my skills up before the game launches.
When that is, however, is up to Sony. The team hasn’t formally been told when the PS4 will actually launch, outside of the “Holiday” timeframe. Secret Ponchos should be available within the PS4′s launch window as a downloadable title.