Poncho

Game review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
Poncho Game Poster Image
Retro platformer with poor controls, frustrating design.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Premise involves near destruction of humanity with robots taking over in their stead. Not a particularly positive message.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Poncho, the robot hero, is a cute little guy trying to save what's left of humanity by meeting his Maker.

Ease of Play

Gameplay can be challenging thanks to limited visibility, timed gauntlets, unforgiving jumps. Using keyboard controls, it's downright punishing.

Violence

Things get destroyed, structures sometimes crumble, but there's no outright violence. 

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Poncho is a challenging downloadable adventure-platformer that's nearly unplayable on a PC without a game controller. Though characters and content are kid-friendly, game levels are designed such that gameplay can often be far more frustrating than fun thanks to poorly designed environments and a clumsy control system. Things get destroyed, but there's no overt violence to most characters in the game.

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What's it about?

PONCHO stars a blocky little robot whose destiny is to find his Maker and, in accomplishing this task, save what's left of humanity. The world's undergone some kind of apocalypse, and centuries later, all that's left are crumbling structures and robots. Like an accident victim with amnesia, Poncho wakes to find himself in a world created and run by various robot societies without knowing what he's meant to do. He starts walking and, along the way, meets various quirky characters who guide him toward his destiny.

Is it any good?

Nothing kills a video game faster than bad controls, and this one's hindered by them from the get-go. The PC version has it the worst, with keyboard controls seemingly designed to eliminate fun. Exaggerating the control scheme's built-in problems are difficult puzzles (some of them timed!) that insist players have exceptional coordination, perfect timing, and, in some instances, the ability to see into the future. Without the latter, you're likely to send poor Poncho to an untimely death more times than you can count and/or get stuck in a perma-death loop that can only be fixed by shutting the game down and restarting it.

On a more positive note, the game's graphics exhibit a distinct retro charm that's well matched by its sophisticated 8-bit-style soundtrack. Randomly generated levels and an interesting collection mechanic provide ample reason to replay the game, but the retro charm is undercut by vague storytelling. The abstract introduction doesn't do much to fill players in on what they're doing or why, and this makes it hard at first to care about Poncho or his objectives. In fact, it only serves to remind us of other stories (such as Wall-E or The Iron Giant) where well-meaning robots become heroes we can care about -- and to point out how Poncho suffers in comparison.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how robots are shown in movies such as The Terminator, Wall-E, and The Iron Giant or in the Transformers films. Do you think it's a good idea to create intelligent robots?

  • Discuss the differences between retro video games and modern ones. Which style do you prefer, and why?

  • Think about robots as story characters. Do you think they make better heroes or villains?

Game details

Themes & Topics

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