Developer: Delve Interactive
Publisher: Rising Star Games
# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Score: B+ (85%)
With pixel-packed “retro” games showing no signs of stopping, it’s great to see Delve Interactive shake up the scene with Poncho, a game that’s both new and nostalgic with a side of super challenging for good measure. The open world side-scrolling platformer features multiple layers of parallax scrolling to hop in and out of in order to progress and this is both excellent and a tiny bit frustrating until you get your sea legs. The game’s depth also extends to the minimalist but somewhat deep story of Poncho, a cute little robot who finds himself going where no man has gone before because there aren’t any humans left in the world the game takes place in.
There are no traditional “levels” here. You just fire up the game and start exploring, picking up story and gameplay elements as you travel around. The world is packed with robots to talk to, secrets galore and some really fun gameplay that varies from simple left to right actions and the aforementioned jumping back and forth between layers of parallax. This part of the game is a joy to play but gamers with slow reflexes or those not used to tricky platformers may find getting past some areas in the world a bit tricky. You’ll definitely need a controller that’s either new or broken in but with NO funky buttons here, as precision is key when there are invisible or moving platforms in play.
Playing through some parts of the game made me grin like an over-caffeinated loon, but I also cracked up at one point because I was gently reminded of that infamous mine cart sequence in Taz-Mania way back on the Sega Genesis. That maddening section required perfect timing and many retries because one wrong move sent you back to the beginning of the sequence until you managed to pull off a flawless ride. Thankfully, if you’re a decent enough platform fanatic, muscle memory should kick in if you’re rusty. I actually started this review a while back on PC but I was having problems with some of the faster sections along with a few bugs and was holding out for a Steam release patch. Fortunately, Delve got one up and live earlier and it fixed a couple of bugs that needed squashing.
As you can see, the high-resolution art is absolutely beautiful to look at and a bit overwhelming in the busier areas. If it were a straight side-scroller, I’d be waving some sort of award just for the art direction and use of colors. But toss in the mind-trip of hopping back and forth through the Z plane and Poncho becomes even more mind-blowing and deserving of a few more plaques and trophies. Based on the looks alone, some will probably try and compare this to Fez, but it’s a totally different and even more enjoyable bird. The game is definitely platform and puzzle heavy but it’s also more about exploration and helping out other robots you’ll encounter than “butt-bouncing” on enemies as in a Mario game.
For me, the game felt like an extension to Wall-E in terms of some minor things, but that’s only because of the cute robot headed out into the big wide world thing Poncho offers up. It’s also not too long a game so it doesn’t wear out its welcome one bit. There’s a lot of replay value here because you can complete the game and miss out on a few hidden items. I clocked about six hours through the first time, but my reflexes aren’t as good as they used to be and I was retrying from checkpoints in one particular section before I finally nailed it. Still, the blend of old and new(ish) gameplay,lovely art and great tunes (the soundtrack is also retro/modern bliss) makes Poncho yet another modern indie classic.
Even better, Delve has plans to get this one out on the PlayStation Vita and Nintendo Wii U, meaning it’ll be a game MORE people can play if they just so happen to not be able to run this on their ancient PC’s. You have to love that in this day and age of developers and publishers ignoring money thrown at them from gamers who may not have a souped up (or any) gaming rig. It’ll be interesting to see how both of those versions turn out, but I can see Vita owners who play this while commuting missing a whole lot of stops because they’re so sucked in.