Secret Ponchos Review

Twin-six shooter.

Fighting games rarely do so much with so little. Don't let the isometric view and the twin stick controls deceive you: Secret Ponchos has fast-paced adversarial multiplayer combat with imaginatively conceived characters who have distinct strengths and weakness. Furthermore, its Wild West-themed combat reveals more tactical depth the more you play.

Choosing a character in a well-made fighting game is like deciding what to eat at a restaurant you frequent. There's safety in going with what you're used to, but pleasant surprises await if you dare to try something new. Both feelings initially resonate in Secret Ponchos, though sticking to one fighter becomes an easy choice the moment you discover that each outlaw has a progression system. Superb skill yields substantial rewards, and Secret Ponchos sticks with traditional upgrades toward increased health, stamina, range, and other familiar stats.

Eight-player free-for-alls are predictably chaotic.
Eight-player free-for-alls are predictably chaotic.

The diversity of this small cast of five outlaws follows the adage that "what one stat giveth, the other taketh away." The Kid Red (a blunt nod to Billy the Kid) is a dual-wielder whose high-firing rate is tempered with low health. The opposite applies to the presumptive Civil War veteran known as The Deserter. Each hoodlum performs according to seven stats, and it's refreshing to play something where each attribute feels immediately tangible in combat.

My go-to outlaw is The Matador, the obligatory left-field character in a group of Western-themed outlaws. She's not unlike the French fencer Charlotte, who equally stuck out in the predominantly Japanese-themed Samurai Shodown. This bullfighter is limited in ranged attacks, but her melee hits are especially lethal. It wasn't conscious, but this choice does reflect my tendency to rely on melee kills in first-person shooters. I simply like the immediacy and gratification of an up-close, high-damage attack. And just like with a good fighting game, there's a lot to glean from learning moves beyond the standard attack. In The Matador's case, a lunging stab is both deadly and far-reaching, though it leaves you wide open if you miss. Using her cape to throw up blinding dust is a perfect overture before unleashing a series of uninterrupted sword attacks.

If you suspect that this roster is intentionally modest, that's because it is. If you look at the Outlaw submenu, you'll notice question marks in place of two concealed desperados, saved as paid downloadable content for a future date. When the initial cast includes someone as unusual as a matador, it wouldn't be unreasonable to get a Davy Crockett-inspired frontiersman or a Rough Rider like Teddy Roosevelt down the line. My money is on a Robert Rodriguez-influenced mariachi performer with an arsenal in his guitar case, but what I really want is a broken bottle-wielding barkeep who is sick and tired of his saloon getting trashed.

No Caption Provided
Death scenes are slow, dramatic, and, of course, letterboxed.
Death scenes are slow, dramatic, and, of course, letterboxed.

I simply want more fighters because I want to see how Switchblade Monkey's artists interpret more Western archetypes, given how marvelous the current cast looks. Pointy and angular lines work for this fivesome and are eye-catching as both 2D art (e.g.. during the match introduction) and as 3D models during the match and main menu. If you told me that this game had been spun off from a cult graphic novel, I would have believed you, though the lack of an expository single-player mode is mildly disappointing.

For all the hours that one can spend upgrading the ghostly Phantom Poncho or the quick-drawing Killer, the limited selection of four maps and deathmatch modes does the game no favors in holding your attention. That said, the eight-player Free For All isn't your standard deathmatch, since the victor is determined on the best kill/death ratio, not overall kills. When you're using a fighter who cannot heal (e.g., everyone but The Deserter), hiding becomes a viable option, especially if there's a kill count lead you want to protect. Before you know it, you've become that one character in The Hunger Games (or, if you wish, Battle Royale) who manages to survive much of the story by staying out of trouble. Hiding is also tactically beneficial in one-on-one matches if you have a health lead. If the match counter reaches zero, the healthier opponent is declared the winner. If you're the more injured opponent, running around anxiously to hunt down the potential victor can leave you careless and outside your comfort zone.

The indifference of death and the unfairness of the Wild West bears out fittingly in Free For All. Managing your kill/death ratio is all the more challenging when you have seven hunters out for your head. At its cruelest, this mode lets you steal kills. When one outlaw manages to reduce another opponent's health to a sliver, you can swoop in to finish off that weakened foe, at the risk of drawing the ire of the player who did all the work. As a minor consolation for these stolen kills, Secret Ponchos does factor the total damage you've dealt in a given match.

No Caption Provided

No Caption Provided
Graphic-novel-style body distortion makes this table impractical for The Deserter.
Graphic-novel-style body distortion makes this table impractical for The Deserter.

Secret Ponchos' elegance is in its cover system. Taking temporary refuge behind a horse trough or a train car to take a breath and collect yourself is a sensible tactic for any gunslinger. Hiding behind objects to avoid gunfire is not unusual in top-down shooters. How Secret Ponchos stands out is two-fold. Depending on your outlaw of choice, getting into a proper cover pose will speed up your healing, reloading, or stamina recovery process. This heightens the tension not only for you but also for your pursuers, who know full well that the tide of battle can be rebalanced if you manage to avoid gunfire long enough. Actual concealment is the other benefit of cover. Functioning like a short-term version of fog-of-war tactics seen in real-time strategy games, pressing against an object renders you invisible unless you're within another character's field of vision. It's easy to appreciate this level of depth. Cover can turn a shootout into a cat-and-mouse hunt, especially if a team with a point lead chooses to hide while the clock runs down. On the flip side, bold hombres who do not believe in stealth can just stand in the middle of a given map's open area with the benefit of a 360-degree view and wait for would-be challengers. If you want to be Peter Fonda and yell, "Come on out!" at the top of your lungs, Secret Ponchos gives you such moments.

The first time I was gunned down by an opponent who had taken full advantage of the cover system was the moment I appreciated the thoughtfulness that has been poured into Secret Ponchos. You can always count on adversarial multiplayer enthusiasts to pick out the best-performing characters within days of a game's release. So when an eight-player ranked match features at least one of each of the five outlaws, you know to expect a beautifully balanced competition. Since it encourages replay through one fighter over a long period, it's not the small roster that limits Secret Ponchos' appeal but rather its passable selection of maps and modes. Yet Secret Ponchos is well worth falling for, if only because playing as The Killer and using cover for a speedy reload is the closest a game has ever come to depicting the first Metal Gear Solid boss fight from Revolver Ocelot's perspective.

The Good
Continual play yields depth
Diverse roster is complemented by impressively balanced matches
Character progression results in high replay value
The Bad
Modes are limited to deathmatch variations
Very few maps to choose from
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Miguel’s review is based on a 101 matches where he boasts a respectable 40% win percentage, including Free For All matches (where he had five 1st place wins). His favorite Westerns include Once Upon A Time In The West, Unforgiven, and Tombstone.
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Runningman5ksmak

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a 7 for this game .its like the worsed game of the year for me

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Harbinger_CR

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It was fun, but after a bit it get's boring quick for me.

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SterlingFox

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Fighting game? The hell? No. This is NOT a fighting game. Its called a "Twin-Stick Shooter".

For fucks sake, Gamespot. You're a gaming site. You have ONE job...

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PS4andXoneGamer

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Edited By PS4andXoneGamer

Wasn't impressed with it personally

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ArchoNils2

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I didn't like it at all in the short time I wasted with it.

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Kyelo

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Edited By Kyelo

Over the last few months I have downloaded all the PS+ free games and most I have deleted, never been a fan of indies...but this along with Spelunky and Steamworld Dig still have pride of place on my PS4(looking forward to trying The Swapper next month also).

Not my usual thing but engrossing all the same. Glad these indies come with PS+ for I would never buy them which going by the above games is a bad reflection on me.

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Renoo27

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@kyelo I'm glad you're coming around. Hopefully one day you'll think of purchasing, and you'll realize what you've been missing out on! Shame you appear to have missed out on Don't Starve. By far my favourite PS+ game for PS4 so far.

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Snyper22

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@kyelo Spelunky holds a special place in my collection too. The best indie I've ever played and the most satisfaction ever had for completion ( to hell and back).

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Gelugon_baat

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@g_vakarian

Furthermore, you are calling others "bandwagon plebeians" when you so highly rate high-profile games like the Halo series. How common and fad-chasing you are, and you don't even see the irony.

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Gelugon_baat

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@g_vakarian

Also, you are one to bash a game for being sh*tty when you had so highly rated that recycled Halo package which came out with broken features.

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Gelugon_baat

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@g_vakarian

Maybe you should be elaborating on your remarks about how this title is mediocre and half-assed before going on a diatribe which isn't even about the game.

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xantufrog

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xantufrog  Moderator

@Gelugon_baat @g_vakarian he's been grousing all day about GwG, PS+, Witcher 3, women in Witcher 3, now this...

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Gelugon_baat

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Edited By Gelugon_baat

@xantufrog @g_vakarian

Dude wouldn't be grousing if Games with Gold came without "half-assed" indies but rather games with tons of explosions and " 'Muh-rica! " characters. (He isn't blaming Microsoft, by the way - figures, it's an American brand, after all.)

As for his remark on the PlayStation Plus article, it's expected; g_vakarian's the kind of person who does not do research. The same can be said for his remark about Good Old Games too.

As for his remark on Ciri, I will just quote unreal849's remark about his remark here.

"Calling it early, but this might be the dumbest comment on GS today."

Dude's worse than that pious b*stard, guardianofhonor. Remember him? At least guardianofhonor's a bit more sophisticated for a nationalistic "patriot" with a huge tin-foil hat.


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G_Vakarian

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Edited By G_Vakarian

@Gelugon_baat @xantufrog

Well I should think that one supporting "indie" games should be able to respect an independent opinion but of course that would be assuming the people playing these sort of games passing halfass off as "different" as if being different is within its own right a quality were not fools.

I have no need to apologize for speaking my mind to a some bandwagon plebeians too dull or cowardly to think for themselves or go against the majority, I say what I think in earnest and if people do not like it is their problem not mine. That is a trait that was valued at one time.

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Gelugon_baat

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@g_vakarian

Also, you are one to make a remark of "as if being different is within its own right a quality" when you have made that remark about that "trait". Aren't you hypocritical?

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Gelugon_baat

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@g_vakarian

Oh, you are one to talk about others not being able to "respect" "independent" opinions when you have made so many remarks which ridicule other people. You conveniently make such high-horsed remarks when others mock you right back, don't you?

Also, I saw your remark about reading books there, before you edited your post. You are one to talk about others not being educated when you yourself don't do much research before making the remarks which you have made.

Furthermore, that "trait" has never been earnestness. Rather, that "trait" of yours is self-righteous egotism.

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G_Vakarian

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Edited By G_Vakarian

@Gelugon_baat

My you have left me so many comments I am afraid I have little time to respond to them all properly, yes I insult those who try to insult me because they are being foolsih so deserve insult.

As for being "self-righteous" no I am not and refute such a statement however as for an ego yes I have one, its called being a proud independent man but if you can not respect that it is your fault.

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Gelugon_baat

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@g_vakarian

If you are going to have that kind of stance, expect the same treatment in kind.

Also, all that talk about "respect" on your part is plenty pretentious.

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G_Vakarian

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Edited By G_Vakarian

Another day another mediocre halfassed "indie" title. "yaawn" Just reading the review is putting me to sleep. "Exudes depth despite it's limited features" is a contradiction. Does limited features inexplicably give it depth? How does that work?

2/10

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rasputin177

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@g_vakarian Seems pretty simple to me man. The game has limited features but offers plenty of depth within those features. Just because a game has a laundry list of features does not give it depth and the reverse is also true. Soooo, yeah that is how that works.

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fire897

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I think you should figure out what depth is and answer the question yourself.

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unfreak-believ

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@g_vakarian I don't think you understand what "despite" means.

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phrozac

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Edited By phrozac

@g_vakarian Also, just because the game has limited features has no bearing at all on the depth of the game mechanics. Are you even a gamer? If Street Fighter only had 1v1 you would still have the fantastic depth of its combat. This review is bemoaning the lack of game modes i.e CTF, Take and Hold, Objectives-based missions, etc. etc...not the depth of its gameplay...Think before you vomit commentary, man.

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phrozac

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@g_vakarian Try playing the game before scoring it. This game is hardly halfassed. The team is less than 10 people.

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xantufrog

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xantufrog  Moderator

Had my eye on this - it looks very interesting

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Secret Ponchos More Info

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  • First Released Dec 2, 2014
    released
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    Secret Ponchos is an online combat game that takes place in a dramatic Wild West setting, full of tension, stylization and attitude reflective of a graphic-novel.
    7.1
    Average Rating10 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Secret Ponchos
    Developed by:
    Switchblade Monkeys
    Published by:
    Switchblade Monkeys
    Genre(s):
    Action, First-Person, Shooter, 3D
    Theme(s):
    Historic
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    Blood, Suggestive Themes, Violence