Secret Ponchos: Multiplayer misfire at the O.K. Corral

December 16, 2014


Life as an outlaw in the Wild West must have been rough. Secret Ponchos focuses on the romantic notion of the Western shootout, and allows up to eight players to simultaneously enter an arena and duel to the death in a variety of score-based modes. Occasionally I would feel completely untouchable, a dead-eyed outlaw taking no prisoners and gunning down my opponents while ducking in and out of cover and evading the bullets that could end it all.

Much more often, however, I felt like a clunky joke that was constantly out of bullets and missing point-blank shots. When everything clicks just right, Secret Ponchos is a lot of fun, but things never seem to do that often enough.

Secret Ponchos is a multiplayer-only arena battle game in which players customize their own Western-themed characters and engage others in score-based deathmatches. The game is zoomed out and third-person and it controls like a twin-stick shooter, with movement mapped to the left stick and aiming mapped to the right. Each character archetype has a different primary and secondary weapon, and each of these weapons has two different modes of fire. There are buttons for weapon reloading and taking cover, as well as quick-dodges, which use one of three available stamina charge that replenish over time.

It’s generally fast-paced and seems highly chaotic, but to truly succeed, there is a lot of strategy involved with managing your resources (ammo and stamina) and effectively using the available cover system. There is practically no tutorial on how all of this works, and it took me a long time to realize exactly all the options available to me. I often felt my opponents were cheating because they seemed to do things I had no idea how to do, and the first few hours were especially frustrating, attempting to wrangle the controls to do what I wanted.


There are a variety of outlaws available to choose from, and you level each one individually as you play. The outlaws fall into familiar roles, like the high-damage but low-health rogue, or the big and burly (but slow) tank. The play style of the different characters is really dictated, though, by the weapon choices they have available. For example, one character is armed with a six-shooter and a knife. The revolver does a lot of damage, but is somewhat slow to fire and limited in range, while the knife can be thrown, but then can’t be used again until it’s recovered.

Each character has fairly distinct play styles due to these weapon choices, and this actually lends a good amount of variety to the combat as you learn the strengths and weaknesses of each. These characters can be further customized as you level up by allocating stat points into categories like firing speed, reload speed, damage, health and stamina recovery, allowing you to really customize an outlaw to a play style that suits you best.

The actual shootouts are fairly intense affairs, as a typical eight-player free-for-all involves people scrambling everywhere attempting to shoot and dodge their way to the top. In the intensity it’s easy to start firing wildly and scramble forward haphazardly to get a kill or avoid an enemy. The game punishes this type of behavior heavily through its reload, stamina and cover systems.



Each ranged weapon has limited capacity, and when the chamber is empty, you are required to manually reload. This process can be excruciatingly slow. The speed of the reload, however, is variable, and is faster if you stop running or take cover. This forces you to be smart and reload at opportune times, or else find yourself in the open with nothing in the way of defense. The stamina system gives a number of quick-dodges, and these, too, refill very slowly. This brings with it a decision you make often: do you chase an enemy for a kill, leaving yourself with no exit strategy should someone be chasing you?

The cover system works fairly well, as it only requires a quick button tap when up against any flat surface. You can’t fire from cover, but you become completely invisible to any enemy that doesn’t have you in its line of sight. This gives you the chance to make a quick ambush when someone runs near. This was one thing I really liked, while also causing me the most grief. It is very difficult to tell when exactly an enemy has you in sight. With the timing and precision required to fight effectively, the moment you jump from cover is crucial; too early and the enemy has a chance to react, but too late and you’ll been seen.

The actual firing system is also a major headache. The aiming is handled via the right stick, and as you swing it around, a “firing cone” moves with it and shows range and location. From the top-down perspective the game uses, however, it is very hard to tell exactly where your bullets will go, and there were so many rage-inducing moments when I was positive I had just shot someone repeatedly but they were left unscathed.


There are a limited number of game modes available, and they all play similarly. The game allows for one-on-one, two-on-two, four-on-four and free-for-all matches, and score can rely on kills only or a kill-death ratio. It could use more variety here, as there is a lot of potential for interesting game types with the given perspective and control style. A capture-the-flag setup would work well, as would an assault mode, but neither are present here.

A multiplayer-focused game will ultimately live and die by its ability to retain a devoted audience, and I’m not sure that there will be enough incentive for people to remain committed. There is a reputation system that gives your outlaw a “wanted” dollar amount, and the better you continue to play, the more you’re worth when you are killed by others. Ultimately, though, is just another paint of coat for the progression system that’s done better in other multiplayer games. While it’s new and distributed to PlayStation Plus members, I’ve already had big issues finding enough people to play a match. I have had to wait 15 to 20 minutes already, and it will likely only get worse.

Secret Ponchos is a lot of neat ideas in a good-looking and highly-stylized package, but it misses the mark on execution. I really like the things it brings to the multiplayer arena genre, but it’s rough around the edges. If a community forms around it and if it gets support in the form of more game modes and game types, it might be worth a look, but in its current state, there are better ways to get your Wild West fix.

Pros: Stylistic western setting, strategic combat, weapon variety
Cons: Clunky aiming system, lack of game mode variety, long lobby wait times for games

Score: 2/5

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