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Poncho Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . Poncho may be cute, but this boxy robot is stuck in a world filled with repetitive puzzles and frustrating level designs. It simply doesn't take the clever mechanic far enough, opting instead to retread the same old ideas stage after stage. There's some fun in that, but Poncho's quest is about as satisfying as his wardrobe. Rating: 40%
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  • C-
Back before polygons turned everything into first- and third-person action games, critics would rave about the parallax scrolling backgrounds found in 2D platformers. As silly as it sounds now, the amount of moving backgrounds would often be used to measure the hardware's power. While few people think about independently scrolling backgrounds in 2015, Delve Interactive has come up with a clever way to bring them back to the forefront.

Poncho is a retro-themed platformer starring a boxy robot with an impeccable sense of style. After witnessing the destruction of the world, our hero sets off on an adventure to travel the land looking for the Red Tower. Along the way he'll meet up with a colorful cast of characters, solve the world's many puzzles and learn a thing or two about who he is. If Poncho can do all this, he may have a chance at saving humanity.

The thing you might not realize about fashionable robots is that they are able to jump between parallax layers. This allows Poncho to avoid all kinds of obstacles and solve the many platforming puzzles. Each stage is set-up to offer several different layers to jump between, each with their own paths and secrets to uncover.

Jumping between layers is one thing, but you'll quickly discover that the moving platforms make the action a lot more complicated. Instead of moving back and forth like most games in the genre, the platforms in Poncho move in and out of the screen. This adds a whole new dimension to the puzzles and forces our hero to make perfectly timed jumps. Everything becomes a lot more chaotic once the game starts filling the screen with these platforms, each moving at different times. It's easy to lose track of how to cross simple gaps with so many moving parts.

While the implementation is unique, this is a gimmick we've seen before. Nintendo toyed with jumping between the foreground and background in Wario Land on Virtual Boy, and you can see a similar mechanic employed a few years ago in Mutant Mudds. The good news is that Delve Interactive has taken a familiar concept and added enough fresh ideas to make it stand out.

Poncho (Steam)Click For the Full Picture Archive

Between the dramatic introduction and adorable aesthetic, I was immediately taken by Poncho. But the deeper I dug into this platformer, the less I liked. I began to notice a lack of variety in both obstacles and background graphics. Poncho will spend most of his time wandering through the same locations interacting with similar looking robots. There are a few stages that radically change the look and feel of the game, but those come far too late in the adventure.

I'm also not fan of the pacing, which seems to go out of its way to keep players from making substantial progress. Part of the problem is that most paths are locked away by colored gates. It's your job to locate the corresponding keys to unlock the gate and adventure through the stage. But it's not that easy. Since most of the keys are hard to find, you'll spend a lot of time exchanging red cubes for them in the shop. It's common to spend a key on a gate that leads to nowhere, only to turn around and discover you needed that key to complete the stage.

Even more frustrating is the stage design, which harkens back to the most frustrating 8-bit platformers. There are a number of vertical puzzles that require a level of precision most humans don't possess. Expect to spend ten minutes climbing the world's most aggravating obstacle course only to fall back to the very beginning because of a missed jump. This didn't happen once or twice, but rather dozens of times. And it's not isolated to a single stage; Poncho has a bad habit of forcing players to complete lengthy puzzles without a safety net. I'm all for a challenge, but the stage designs didn't seem fair.

Poncho (Steam)Click For the Full Picture Archive

It doesn't help that our hero is squat and sluggish. He barely has any moves and seems woefully unprepared for the adventure ahead. He also doesn't have much of a personality and lets the rest of the world speak for him. I see the potential of the character, but he didn't grab me. I kept waiting for something big to occur, but that never happened.

After such an impressive start, I find myself disappointed in Poncho. It nails the retro theme and employs a compelling gimmick, but the frustrating level designs sink what could have been a great platformer. It simply doesn't take the clever mechanic far enough, opting instead to retread the same old puzzles level after level. There's some fun in that, but Poncho's quest is about as satisfying as his wardrobe.
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