I’m going to get straight to the point, Poncho is really short. It’s beautiful, charming. It costs £10.99 on Steam, and I beat it within 2 hours. I then went back and completed the only side quest, and whittled down the remaining collectibles as much as I could manage (588/667 of the little red diamonds, that’s 88.2%!) before closing the game, satisfied, with three hours played. It’s a real shame, because despite Poncho’s problems, I mostly enjoyed my time with it.
Poncho is a 2D puzzle-platformer developed by Delve Interactive, set in a world where the human race has perished in some unknown event. The titular character, presumably named after his choice of attire, is an adorable robot with the ability to shift back and forward between 3 planes. On a controller, this plane shifting mechanism is represented by the shoulder buttons, which my mind had trouble associating with backwards and forwards movement on this new-fangled z-axis. Eventually, I switched to a keyboard, which used the most sensible choice of the up and down keys. As an exploration mechanic, it’s lovely, flipping to another plane to make your way past an obstacle in your path is a simple idea that provides immense satisfaction. However, as a platforming mechanic, it lacks development.
The only real obstacles in your adventure come in the form of plane shifting platforms, which come in two flavours; platforms that move relative to time and platforms that move relative to your own shifting. These are often combined to make clever little 3d puzzles that test your internal metronome. It’s a neat idea, but one that certainly wears out quickly. Making a jump only to see your destination literally disappear from under your feet becomes a common occurrence, then to add insult to injury, Poncho respawns back above a platform that has since moved on, or worse, inside a platform that you were moving to avoid. It’s infuriating.
So, after all that, why did I want to love Poncho? Well, despite my platforming grievances, I really enjoyed exploring Delve Interactive’s post-human world. What exactly happened to the humans is your job to discover. What remains of the world is populated by robots, which are scattered around the game in various states of deterioration, and lost without their human masters. It might seem like a simple inclusion, but it’s one that breathes a whole lot of life into Poncho’s world.
As for the world itself, it’s truly beautiful. Most of the game takes place in a city reclaimed by nature, a vibrant urban forest that begs to be explored. The coolest thing about these forest levels is that almost all of them have more than one route to completion. Occasionally, your path is blocked by locked doors, which require a key of matching colour to open. To progress, you can either explore the level and collect whichever keys are lying about, or buy a key from a creepy robot vendor using the little red collectibles you pick up on your journey. Other levels sacrifice the non-linear approach in order to provide more focused narrative experiences, ranging from something as simple as traversing a cave, to a level populated by a masked tribe of robots who claim they’re human. It’s through these levels that the quirky, yet melancholy atmosphere of Poncho is best communicated.
And so, we return to the tricky issue of the game’s length. Obviously, not everybody will finish Poncho in the same amount of time. I personally finished it fairly quickly, without being particularly good at it. There was a point in one of the vertical levels where I lost a huge amount of progress after horribly mistiming a jump and had to walk away from my keyboard for fear of mashing it into dust. Even after opening the game various times while writing this review to double and triple check things I’d glossed over in my notes, Steam tells me that I’ve only clocked 4 hours in-game. For a £10.99 game, that just doesn’t feel like enough.
Pixel graphics are lovely to look at
Charming NPCs give life to the world
Very little puzzle variety
Buggy respawn mechanic adds to frustration