By: Brian Gunn
Puzzle platformers seem to come out every week, and it can be a tough crowd to stand out in. Poncho from Delve Interactive invites you to enjoy the story of a robot named Poncho that, fittingly, wears a poncho, as he seeks to return home to his creator.
Poncho only really has a few functions, running and jumping being the primary ones. However, the most unique aspect of the game is that Poncho can shift between the background and foreground of a scene, similar to Mutant Mudds.
Almost all of the puzzles require puzzling out how to get somewhere with the shifting mechanic and often require split-second precision timing, and Poncho acquits itself quite well in that regard.
It’s very likely Poncho is going to get a lot of comparisons to Fez given the nature of shifting around the world as well as the aesthetics. The pixel art style is one that’s a bit overabundant in indie games in general, even more so in platformers, but the cute and deformed characters give it a sense of style.
Some of the backgrounds can look a little bland and repetitive, and, more importantly, can be visually busy enough to distract during some of the more intense segments.
The world has effectively ended in Poncho, and the music often reflects that. It is light and eerie, reflecting the quiet and loneliness of a mostly empty world. It does get a bit more chipper in certain areas, often when related to specific character types. The songs are fun and catchy, though I can’t say they stood out too much.
Our titular character, Poncho, starts the game lost and alone. It seems some great calamity has befallen Earth. It’s overgrown and there are only other robots around. He has a compulsion to reach the top of a great tower, and sets out to solve the world’s mysteries along the way.
Poncho is an open-level game, dropping you in the middle generally and letting you go left or right to explore at your leisure. Each level has a portal to reach, but it’s often in the middle of the level and you can go right on past it to continue to collect various doodads. Generally a key or two might be needed to access the exit, but they tend to be plentiful and won’t block your path often.
Despite the cute veneer and simple controls, Poncho is a deceptively difficult game at times. Areas start off simple with just needing to shift between planes but quickly introduce moving platforms that require good timing to land on. Soon enough things like platforms that shift with you or against you come into play and can create quite the puzzle to navigate.
Sometimes these new mechanics feel introduced a bit early, creating a frustrating spike in difficulty. The game is relatively friendly to failure though, offering an instant respawn a few feet away from your failure. However, this can actually create its own issues, as the game does not use checkpoints and can very easily respawn you into an area that’s a death sentence if it involves moving platforms.
There are loads of goodies to collect for enthusiasts, and there’s some charm in the world design, which includes randomly spawned NPC robots that will have amusing things to say. Along the way to the tower you’ll encounter robot dance clubs and junkyard robots that give the world some needed color and personality.
As the game heads toward its conclusion it gets a bit more somber, including an ending that feels like a bit of a jarring tonal shift. I found the game more enjoyable when it was being sillier and didn’t feel they necessarily pulled off the moments that are meant to be sad.
Poncho is a well-crafted platforming game, one filled with some real tests of skill. The cute style and brain-bending puzzles give it some distinction, but the overall package is likely to appeal mainly to people that are already big fans of the genre.