Thanks to Rising Star Games for the review code
System: Wii U (eShop)
Release Date: 08/18/2016
This review has been on the backburner for quite some time now, all thanks to the busy review queue late in 2016, my focus on reviewing simpler games first, and the personal problems that plagued my spring months.
Thankfully, I’m starting to catch up these old eShop titles again, which is fitting since in the world of Poncho there is no catching up to do, as the world is in total ruin! As a small, blue robot named Poncho you must set out on a quest to shift through layers and explore this ruined land, seeking for a way to return things to normal and start the planet anew.
While it seems that this is almost a given for any platforming game I review these days, this is yet another retro-inspired throwback game with 2D sprites and backgrounds. Thankfully the developers didn’t go with the boring 8-bit style that’s been done a million times already, as they instead chose what seems to be a mix of late era PC Engine for the character sprites while item and background objects are similar to what would be found in a typical Sega Genesis game. It’s a refreshing mix that at least make the game look good enough to be differentiated from the many other throwbacks out in the wild.
The game can also be played in both on and off-TV modes, but only on one screen at a time for some stupid reason. That being said, the pixels look sharp no matter which monitor you display them to, and outside of an instance where a layer of flowers on a blossom tree decided to fade in and out of existence, the game looks great.
The music also does a great job at averting the common chiptune plague, but unlike the visuals it doesn’t appear to be inspired by any particular system, with not much to comment on outside of how there’s a funny horn sound that plays whenever you try shifting at bad times.
Poncho is an open-ended puzzle platformer with multiple routes to choose from in each of the game’s levels, which in turn make the individual levels their own separate maps of sorts. The main power that the titular character uses is the ability to shift between planes at the press of a shoulder button, so think Mighty Switch Force, but with the character shifting between the planes rather than the world itself.
Can’t cross a long gap on the current plane? Shift to the back plane, land on a platform and then shift forward to cross that gap. Puzzles like these are what populate Poncho’s levels, and in each level there are several items to collect, from colored keys to red plus symbols. As a matter of fact, those colored keys are essentially all you need to revisit older levels to increase the completion percentage, since there isn’t much else in the realm of cool secrets. You can’t really die in this game either, so the only thing stopping you from exploring every bit of a level are the plane-shifting puzzles scattered about each level or the occasional field of particles that disables your plane-shifting abilities.
While the first level does give a nice impression of length (with a reasonably sized, multi-screen level with several locked doors that you’ll have to return to later) some of the other levels don’t offer nearly as much cool stuff to find. For example, I went to the Junkyard level, expecting a smaller level due to the low amount of red pluses to collect, but nothing to the extent that I ended up with, as by the time I made it to the portal I had already found every single gem in the stage on my first attempt, with only some keys I couldn’t locate MIA. For a game that encourages revisiting stages multiple times, having a stage that you can mostly complete in such a short length of time seems pointless, especially if it isn’t an intro stage.
Aside from the occasional lame levels, there is one glaring, major issue with Poncho that ultimately made the overall experience a chore to play, reminding me why I didn’t feel the need to get right back to playing for the review after recording my gameplay vid. That issue is none other than some dreaded performance problems. Multiple times when I went back and spent some time exploring old and new levels to collect leftover items, I noticed that the game would drop frames incredibly frequently. Sometimes it would seem like the game was at 60 FPS for a quick second, all nice and smooth before going back to a slightly choppy framerate that barely stayed consistent.
Minor drops like this can be forgiven if the game still moves at a decent pace, but the worst performance issues of them all came from when my Wii U HDD autosaves the game. For these brief, short moments the game stops to a halt for what feels like no good reason whatsoever, and then the game goes back to a slightly chuggy state. Since the game tends to autosave at least once on every screen, this got annoying very quickly for me, and it was only made worse when on some screens shifting planes would cause brief pauses. I know for a fact it can’t be my hard drive as it still works fine with every other game I throw at it, plus it’s one of the official ones NOA themselves recommend, so this leads me to believe that Poncho wasn’t optimized properly, which is a shame as I did see a good narrative and some cool concepts forming together.
In conclusion, Poncho is a mess, at least on the Wii U. What started off as a promising platformer with small metroidvania levels quickly broke down to a game that felt as if it was being held together by loose pieces of tape with some mediocore levels thrown in from time to time. I have a feeling this bad optimization was due to the nature of the port’s release, (look up that story on your own as I have no comment or thought on it) and considering how it’s been nine months now with zero patches to improve the optimization, I don’t think this game is getting fixed on the Wii U anytime soon. That being said, it’s still technically playable and some fun can be had from this port, just don’t expect anything above average quality here.
While I didn’t deliberately intend to hold off on this review and push it to the back of the queue for so long (with it mostly being because of the issues I mentioned in the story section), I think the fact remains that this game proves how poor optimization can really mess with a game’s performance to the point that it can make an experience something you’d rather put behind you and forget about. I give Poncho a 5 out of 10, since as it stands right now Poncho feels like a game that’s right in the middle. It does some things right, but there’s also a lot of silly technical problems that keep the Wii U version from being engaging enough to be worth the $10 purchase. If you have any other platform that the game is out on, I recommend you buy PONCHO for those systems instead if the core concept seems fun to you, as it’ll (hopefully) run much better. But now that the Wii U is pretty much a dying platform, I think there are better eShop games (and ports) that you can spend your hard-earned money on.