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Secret Ponchos preview: A spaghetti western deathmatch

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Iconic western movies peppered my childhood with romantic visions of the outlaw lifestyle, and yet, the genre is severely underrepresented in video games. Red Dead Redemption and Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath are the only two that immediately come to mind. The same thought must have crossed the minds of developers at Switchblade Moneys, and they remedied that by adding another game to the shortlist of westerns: Secret Ponchos.

Secret Ponchos is a top-down, spaghetti western, online shooter that brings elements from the fighting and MOBA genre to create some engaging and fun shoot-outs. Success in Secret Ponchos is dictated by how well you can master your character. At the start there are four choices, each with a varying level of difficulty to master: Kid Red, Phantom Poncho, The Killer, and The Deserter. Each class has its own unique abilities, strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited or taken advantage of during matches. It’s good to note the speed of Kid Red, the close proximity The Deserter needs to fire his weapon, and so on.

So far, Secret Ponchos feels quite balanced. I’ve never felt cheated out of a match or points. Some characters, like The Killer, have taken me more time to find his rhythm, but I’ve found a groove in The Deserter’s abilities. Players that favor tanks, run-and-gunners, and snipers will all find a character they can settle into. It is all about tactics and having the right character to match your style. Much in the way fighting games is all about positioning and mastering one person’s moves, Secret Ponchos is the same.

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The top-down look gives Secret Ponchos a MOBA feel. The bird’s-eye view has players take note of positioning between enemies and lays out the map like a chess board. You can decide to dodge, fight, or flee to bide your time or maybe get lucky with an item drop that often appear near spawn points. Items can grant speed, something the lumbering Deserter could take advantage of, or extra health for when your HP is low from a recent shoot-out.

The multiplayer modes offered so far consist of Free-for-all, where everyone tries to kill everyone else as many times as possible, Deathmatch, where the last man standing in your team wins (no respawning), and Domination, where you and a team of outlaws are pitted against another team to dominate in kills. There are several maps offered, each with a reasonable amount of space and cover spots to create an engaging environment. The only one I was disappointed with was the Boneyard. It was far too open–I often found myself lumbering about trying to happen by someone to kill.

At the matches’ end, your kill-death ratio, number of damage done to other players, and bonuses will all add or subtract to your bounty level. The more wanted you become, the more your get to upgrade your character. Everyone begins as petty criminals, but once you start raking in the kills, your notoriety quickly increases.

In between matches, players will sit in a lobby where their saloon-bound character will bide his time with some twangy guitar music that has some mariachi trumpets and rhythms mixed in, setting the mood for the next bout. It compliments Secret Ponchos’ style and setting. The music verges on cliche, it reminded me a little of Kill Bill, which was an over-the-top action samurai western. The design partners well with it. Characters and buildings resemble Team Fortress 2’s cartoonish, simple aesthetic.

Secret Ponchos is available through Early Access on Steam for $14.99 and is still in development, but I’m enjoying my time. However, this game’s success will be dependent on interest within the PS4 and PC community. I’ve played on the servers with the bear minimum of players in versus and free-for-all matches at 10am and even the smallest maps felt empty. Where players were left wandering for the majority of the match.

Site [Secret Ponchos]

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