Poncho Preview

Robots in Ponchos, Tophats, and Monocles. 

I saw Poncho a couple weeks back at a San Francisco event put on by publisher Rising Star Games and hadn't gotten around to a preview write-up before PAX hit. To no real surprise, the game had a long line at Nintendo's pre-PAX Indie Showcase [email protected] event. Like a lot of the indies on Nintendo's slate, Poncho aims for a certain retro-cool nostalgia while mixing it with gameplay elements that would have been impossible in the era that it references—and it thoroughly hits the target.

In particular, everything about Poncho—from your squat, cute, super-deformed serape-wearing robot; to the mode-7 style visual extensions and pixel art—screams the era of the SNES. Combine that with it's Mega Man-precision platforming and Mutant Mudds foreground/background switching, post-apocalyptic narrative, and you have a game that just breathes nostalgia for a certain era combined with themes of longing and decay.

In Poncho, you awaken in an era devoid of man, receiving a message from your father, a scientist who believes that you can save the world and return it to the way it once was. Venturing out, you encounter a world overgrown with plant life, robots, but no animals or humans. The robots you do meet are particularly amusing, from monocle-wearing ones that aimlessly spout information, to others that form an army that you grow by re-activating bots throughout the levels.

Game progress is unlocked by using keys to unlock certain barriers. Keys can be purchased with red collectible pips you find scattered throughout levels, but they become progressively more expensive the more you buy. Keys can also be found through specific platforming and exploration challenges.

Poncho's main gameplay mechanic, augmenting the normal platforming, is the ability to transfer immediately between foreground, middle, and background sections of the game. This becomes a series of precision challenges when encountering blocks that shift forward or backward on a short timer, or shifting based on how many times you shift while nearby; certain platforms shift every second or third time you shift, meaning you have to be careful when you shift and in what direction you hop from one to another. It's a devious mechanic that adds a puzzle element to precision platforming.

Poncho just about perfectly sits in that indie design space where nostalgia meets contemporary innovation, effortlessly summoning up memories of Mega Man and pixelated post apocalypses, like Robo's world of ruin in Chrono Trigger while adding to that with hopping to and from one level forward or back. Poncho will chugging along on Steam, PS4, PS Vita, and Wii U this fall.