Poncho is a cute 2d-platformer with a unique control twist, some beautiful pixel-art graphics and a simple but enchanting soundtrack. Also it’s not Fez.
Poncho’s gimmick is that you can teleport between the parallax layers of the level at will with the left and right triggers.. Using this system you can avoid obstacles and find novel ways around things, but essentially it just adds an extra layer of complexity to a platformer game that revolves around exploration. You move from level to level collecting gems and keys (you can use gems to buy more keys), rescuing robots and more as you try to move towards the teleporter in each level. You don’t have to find everything to exit the level, if you miss a key you could always just buy one instead (with gems) and often the locked doors can be jumped around if you’re clever. This all adds up to a game where the exploration feels a little more organic and occasionally you can outsmart the developers and make jumps or layer switches which perhaps they didn’t even intend.
The world themselves are beautiful, filled with other harmless creatures and characters and plenty of text-dialogue, it’s very easy to get wrapped up in the atmosphere of the game. The titular character is a tiny little robot wearing an adorable red poncho, which would be brilliant if it wasn’t so reminiscent of the little red hat of what appears to be the game’s main inspiration. Parallels to Fez are inevitably drawn and this game consistently comes up weaker. The worldl may look great, but it certainly doesn’t have the depth that Fez’s world had, and while you may have reasons to come back to collect everything, there’s no new insights that dramatically add to your enjoyment, it’s just more of the same.
The puzzles aren’t as interesting, often revolving around some pixel-perfect jumps or timing layer switches with moving platforms. Due to the slightly clunky and basic controls (you move, you jump, you switch layers) these sections are more frustrating than fun. Often you’ll find yourself dying repeatedly (thankfully you come right back with no penalty) even though you can see exactly what you need to do. This is one game where 3D would actually be a benefit as sometimes it’s difficult to see which layer moving platforms are on, and when they start moving in time with your layer jumps it can be very difficult to judge where pieces of the level are. That’s not an interesting challenge because you end up just solving it through trial and error, instead it’s just an irritating barrier to progress. Twice we got stuck in a loop of respawning right over a pit, having to restart the level.
Overall this is an interesting game for platformer and puzzle enthusiasts, but it lacks the polish and depth of its more accomplished counterparts. If you’re a fan of pixel art and retro music, the game is worth it for that alone, aesthetically it’s a wonderful little game. Sadly the gameplay still leaves much to be desired and the difficult tends towards frustration over fun.