Alice: Madness Returns is the much anticipated follow up (by me, anyway) to 2000’s PC/Mac game American McGee’s Alice – the dark and gritty telling of Alice’s post-Looking Glassadventures in what has now become a twisted version of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. The original game had Alice following an anorexic, pierced Cheshire Cat around a grotesque Wonderland, presumably due to Alice’s inclement insanity, slashing her way through the Red Queen’s guards amongst other familiar faces from Carroll’s universe with a bloody knife, and the sequel delivers more of the same.
As I was wandering the show floor at this year’s PAX East (while trying desperately to avoid the dreaded PAX POX), I stumbled across Secret Ponchos, the latest (and only) title from Switchblade Monkeys. While there were hundreds of games at PAX to be played, something about Secret Ponchos’ raw style really drew me in. I guess I’m a sucker for a good poncho.
The oddly titled Secret Ponchos allows players to control one of six outlaw fighters in an arena style class based top down shooter. If that sounds at all confusing to you, it should be, because the “secret” of Secret Ponchos is that it’s unique.
The combat system in Secret ponchos is simple. Each character has a number of abilities, similar to an arcade brawler, that he or she can utilize after meters recharge and weapons reload. Gordo for example can hurl a Molotov cocktail, light the ground on fire creating a wall of flame, or simply unload with his comically large Gatling gun. The action is quick and brutal, and can get downright nasty with six gunslingers running around a single map. Controlling your character is similar to modern FPS controls with aim, reload, and fire right where they should be. It only took me a single match to figure out how to play, denoting that much time was spent getting things to “feel” right.
I briefly talked to Switchblade Monkeys creative director Yousuf Mapra who mentioned that the team was comprised entirely of friends who were hoping to build something that hadn’t been built before. Seeing as how I couldn’t recall any top-down class-based spaghetti western style shooters, I think they may have pulled it off. Stylistically, the game’s characters reminded me of something that a young Rob Schrab (creator of SCUD) would have conceptualized. Each of the six playable characters were drenched in style; from the lightning fast Kid Red, to the gargantuan Gatling gun wielding Gordo. After spending a good thirty minutes with Secret Ponchos, I managed to play all of the characters currently available and was eager to try out even more. I even managed to get pretty good with my boy Gordo.
Yousuf mentioned that the build available on the show floor was actually in pre-Alpha, which hopefully means that some of the minor bugs and animation issues I encountered while playing would be gone by the time the game launches. It never pays to gripe about an alpha build, so I won’t bother going into detail.
Secret Ponchos was a huge surprise with a ton of potential. Should Switchblade Monkeys work out some minor balance issues, expand their character roster, and expand upon their leveling and/or skill progression, they will have a spaghetti infused hit on their hands.