It's not every day that you get to see a Wild West themed competitive online multiplayer twin stick shooter. Secret Ponchos fits this description and delivers a ton of fun to be had for up to 8 players. So, grab your controller (and maybe a stick of dynamite) and be prepared to be the baddest bandito in all the West.
Secret Ponchos is played by creating an outlaw and having them battle in order to increase their reputation as a true badass. The battles are played online in a few various modes where players control their outlaw to kill as many other outlaws as they can while trying not to die. This is done with an overhead perspective and a control scheme similar to a twin stick shooter. The basic controls are simple although more advanced actions will require some memorization. There are too many buttons in play which slightly convolutes the overall experience. You can get away with only knowing the basic controls (running, aiming, shooting, and evading), but pulling off more advanced moves can be cumbersome. This being said, everything is responsive and satisfying.
The Wild West setting is reflected well in the game's graphic novel imagery. Each character appears deadly in their own unique way. The maps mostly look the same with the only notable differences being the time of day that they take place in and the props that are scattered throughout. Character animations are smooth as they run and fight. These animations make the main menu more enjoyable as you can see your outlaw lounging around before the impending battle. The music is a mix of Old West and Mexican guitars (both acoustic and electric) which adds a layer of authenticity to the atmosphere. Sound effects make everything from shooting to jumping out of harm's way satisfying and audio cues do a great job of informing the player of events that they may not notice otherwise. Overall, the game is presented with a cohesive theme that will immerse you into a truly gritty Old West world.
You will probably only play Secret Ponchos online as the other ways to play are quite meager. As you play online, a dollar amount pertaining to the bounty on your head will increase depending on how well you do. Your outlaw levels up after reaching certain thresholds and this allows you to assign points to their attributes such as the damage they'll do, their speed, and maximum health. This system establishes a strong sense of progression as the very basics of it depend on the bounty that's placed on your outlaw. However, this is the only significant way to customize your outlaws. You can type a name for them and dress them up in DLC costumes, but that's it. You will definitely feel underwhelmed after you create your first outlaw because of the lack of customization. But, after applying a unique name and sending them off to battle, you may become a bit attached to them.
Playing online can be done in a few various modes. The main mode that most players will stick to is free-for-all where eight players have four minutes to battle. You get a point for taking out an opponent and lose a point for dying. The player with the most points wins. These simple rules add to the fun as you are constantly aware of the current highest score and whoever has that score will be pointed out with an ace icon. Taking this player down and watching the scores change creates a constant tug-of-war struggle until the bitter end. These mechanics also allow less skilled players to sometimes win so you will rarely feel overwhelmed no matter how unskilled you are. Generally speaking, these battles are a chaotic and frenzied contest of domination and can be quite exhilarating.
Battles can be played in rookie or rank difficulty (the latter will offer both more rewards and penalties) and private or local matches (which will not have an effect on your bounty). Besides free-for-all, online battles can be played in either deathmatch or domination modes. Deathmatch will pit you against another player and whoever is the last outlaw standing will win. Two players can also team up to take out another team of two (or four versus four in rank mode). Domination will have two teams of either two or four players battle it out until one team reaches five points. These variations help to diversify the rules slightly although they don't deviate much from the more enjoyable free-for-all mode. Playing locally consists of a practice mode where one player basically takes out their frustration on stationary enemies and another mode where you can fight a friend in a one on one battle. But, why bother when you can have more fun online?
Although Secret Ponchos can be a lot of fun, its content is quite lacking. You only have the choice of five characters, four maps, and the few previously mentioned modes. Considering the little amount of content, the game quickly becomes repetitive. You will battle the same characters over and over again within only a few locations. The gameplay just isn't enough on its own merit to keep you coming back for more. Don't get me wrong, you will have fun but not for as long as you would hope.
Secret Ponchos is a solid online experience that gamers with a fondness for competition and twin stick shooters will enjoy. However, its lack of content will make you run out of enthusiasm well before high noon.
- + Chaotic multiplayer matches where almost anyone has a chance to win
- + Level up system is rewarding
- + Unique Wild West graphic novel atmosphere
- - Very few characters, maps, and modes
- - Characters are prebuilt and uncustomizable
- - Gameplay doesn't have lasting appeal