The small 11-man studio Switchblade Monkeys is looking to shake things up in the world of competitive, hardcore gaming with their latest creation, Secret Ponchos, and considering how beautiful and streamlined every aspect of the game is, they’re probably going to succeed.
Secret Ponchos manages to straddle a thin line between being a fighting game and a MOBA, offering a new twist on two genres that have been stagnating for some time. Instead of being played side to side, like most fighting games are, Secret Ponchos is viewed top-down, lending itself more easily to multiplayer gameplay. In contrast to traditional MOBA mechanics, however, which tend to have auto-lock targeting, all combat in Secret Ponchos is entirely manual. “We wanted to make an unforgiving, high-ceiling, competitive PVP game for hardcore gamers rather than holding people’s hands” Creative Director Yousuf Mapara noted. “You can’t feel the thrill of victory without defeat being a real possibility.”
Mapara also noted how much Secret Ponchos had changed over the last two years. Because the game isn’t quite one thing or another, the studio wasn’t really sure at first how to present it to the world. When it was initially released on PlayStation 4 last December, the game was a lot more casual, but after showing it off at Evo this past year the studio realized it was actually meant to be more competitive. Despite the tremendous cost associated with substantially altering a game after launch, and the 5 years of development time already sunk into the build, the folks at Switchblade Monkeys rolled the dice a second time, revamping Secret Ponchos from top to bottom in order to give the players what they wanted. When the game ports over to PC later this year, it will feature twice as many characters and maps as the version already released on PlayStation 4.
Perhaps the most enticing aspect of Secret Ponchos though is its art style, which the team describes as “comic book spaghetti western.” Instead of designing mechanics and then having artists attempt to visualize those concepts, Switchblade Monkeys takes an art first approach to game development. “Our competition is Heroes of the Storm and Defense of the Ancients. Those companies are huge, so it’s very hard for us to enter that space,” said Mapara. “We may not have the same resources that those studios do, but we have the talent.” Being that Secret Ponchos has been made primarily by former Art Directors from AAA studios, it’s easy to see why it isn’t hard on the eyes.
If the appearance and the mechanics of the game aren’t enough to lure you in, then the way the developers think about creating it should. Because the studio is comprised entirely of men, the developers of Secret Ponchos were very concerned about doing a good job with representing women. “It’s creatively lazy to only focus on women characters being hot,” said Mapara. To solve that problem, the studio decided to create the classes first, and then assign a gender later. “In this game, gender is incidental.” The result of that approach to game design is a robust, dynamic product that is well worth a try.
The studio hopes to release Secret Ponchos to Steam on September 29 for $14.99.