With another year coming to a close, it’s time for another post-apocalyptic foray for everyone to sink their teeth into – but this time without vaults, VATS, or humans. Delve Interactive’s Poncho seeks to reminisce about indie-cult hits like Fez or Braid, going so far as to copy certain gameplay mechanics players will quickly recognize. Poncho takes place in a world where the humans have been eliminated, leaving their now purposeless robot companions to fend for themselves. Enter Poncho to save the landscape, bring back the humans, and find his creator.
The main tool at Poncho’s disposal is his ability to jump between the three parallax layers that make up the environments. The mechanic actually succeeds in feeling fresh and entertaining as the shifts in perspective allow you to reach areas and platforms which previously appeared inaccessible. It’s a neat ability certainly and one that, similar to Paper Mario’s landscape pivoting, provides the backbone to the entire experience as new pathways and secret areas open up to the player.
Unfortunately, while these layer switching shenanigans sits at the crux of Poncho’s appeal, so too do they act to its occasional detriment with the level design not always being clear on where you should make your leap. More often than not, the result is an unwanted death because you thought the platform that you were jumping towards could be landed on, when in fact it was never on your plane to begin with.
Although the game is open ended, it is divided into several different zones, which you can switch between at portals found in the world or via the pause menu. If progress is blocked in one zone, you’ll need to switch to another and find a key you missed, or look for another path. When and where you should transport to, however, is almost never suggested which becomes players’ largest hurdle
Taking all of this into account, Poncho is a game that struggles with definition. It invites you to freely explore, yet it blocks off areas with gates. It has many locations to see, but demands a lot of back-tracking. While the hopping between layers of depth is a neat idea, it doesn’t evolve beyond the first few areas. The platforming itself can be a lot of fun when it works, requiring timing and precision to succeed. However, just as much as it gets things right, it falls down and becomes downright frustrating to play.
I wanted to enjoy Poncho. From the Fez-like landscape altering to the charming pixel-art graphics swathed with vibrant colors and sprites, Poncho had a lot going for it. Unfortunately, that is precisely where it falls short, as confusing exploration elements and some incredibly frustrating platforming segments prevent Poncho from nabbing that elusive indie-hit status like its inspirations did in the past.