Review: Papo & Yo (PSN)
Title: Papo & Yo
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1.3 GB)
Release Date: August 15, 2012
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Minority Media
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: E10+
Over the past few years, Sony has earned the reputation of the system where indie developers can take risks and push the envelope of interactive media. With games like Journey and Dyad, 2012 has been a stellar year for indie games on the PSN, and Papo & Yo is no exception to that. Developed by Minority Media, Papo & Yo looks to break the boundaries of interactive storytelling by wrapping the players up in a story filled with childhood innocence, alcoholism, and personal struggle. While Papo & Yo falters with certain game mechanics and visual aspects, the story alone elevates this game to challenge the statement “games are not art”. The most important question it asks is this: “how do you love something that hurts you?”
This is the story of a boy. A boy who loves to play. He loves to play with his toys, with his father, or with his imagination. There’s a problem though. This boy is afraid. Afraid of his father. His father isn’t always nice to him. Every time he gets angry, he hurts the boy. He yells at him, runs after him, and hurts him. The boy’s only safety is his imagination. In his mind, his father is a monster. A monster who can be fun to play with at times. Monster loves to sleep. He loves eating fruit. He even kicks a soccer ball around with the boy to pass the time, but Monster has an addiction. The boy wants to save Monster, but the only way to do that is with Monster’s help. This is the story of Papo & Yo.
Papo & Yo puts you in the shoes of Quico, a young boy who retreats into a magical world to escape the harshness of his father’s alcoholism. The story is penned by writer Vander Caballero, and it comes from personal experience. Papo & Yo tells the story of Quico’s relationship with Monster, a giant creature who accompanies Quico throughout most of his journey. In this story, Monster is the embodiment of Quico’s father, and the game plays out showing you the true nature of his father, the Monster. Monster begins as this lovable, towering friend who can help you around the world. You can lead him over to switches for him to activate with his enormous girth and jump on his belly to reach out of the way places. He’s a great companion at first. After all, you’re trying to help him. He’s the strong person in your life, your friend, but after a while, Monster starts taking a turn for the worse. He starts to eat these green poisonous frogs, and then Monster gets angry.
He chases you down. He growls and snarls at you trying to reach you so he can hurt you. He finally gets a hold of you. He thrashes you back and forth and tosses you to the side like a rag doll. How can he do this to you? All you want to do is love him and help him. You have no choice but to carry on. You run away from him, desperately searching for the blue fruit that can calm him down. You finally find it and feed it to him, and Monster slumps over and passes out. Everything is back to normal, but deep down, you know it’s not. Monster could do that again, and you fear another relapse. The beast you need for protection, for travel, for help, is also your greatest enemy. This sense of tension and love drives the plot forward in Papo & Yo, and its sense of emotional connection drives you to complete the game, for Monster’s sake.
The game is a puzzle game at its core. As Quico, you must run and jump around the world, pulling levers, pushing gears, and activating switches to progress in your journey. At first, the game can start out rather monotonous as the puzzles are very easy, but as you progress, the puzzles become multi-faceted, requiring the use of skillful timing, Monster’s help, and some clever platforming. Papo & Yo is a game that never makes it too difficult for the player to solve, but doesn’t do anything to push the boundaries of puzzle games. This is a game that can be beaten in one sitting in just a few short hours (I would wager probably around 2.5 – 3 hours depending on the player’s puzzle solving skills).
It’s a game that is easy to pick up and play, requiring little to almost no explanation. The game presents its goals in a very clear manner, so it’s hard to get lost or have no idea what you’re supposed to do. Some of the puzzles can be a bit more mind bending than others, but thankfully, Minortity has programmed in hint boxes around the world to help you solve puzzles. They’re designed in this very cute cardboard art style. Quico puts the box on over his head, and looks at each side of the box for a different step in the clue. The clues are hand drawn in a very kiddish style, adding to the overall aesthetic. The clues are specific enough to give you hints, but vague enough as to not tell you exactly what to do. Overall, it’s a fun little game that provides a little challenge, but nothing that’ll make you tear out your hair.
The visual aesthetic of Papo & Yo is well executed. The world feels whimsical, childlike, and fantastical, which emulates the mind of a child perfectly. Buildings float and move around the world as you manipulate puzzles. Giant centipedes sprout from plank boards as you need to move Monster around, and the graffiti and colorful architecture evoke the location of Brazil. The game executes it’s visual style, but as you start to play, you notice the graphical flaws and lack of polish that plague Papo & Yo. Character models look polygonal and lack a high level of visual fidelity. Both Quico and Monster will constantly clip through objects, whether it’s a soccer ball, staircase, or even entire buildings. These instances can go from minor annoyances to completely breaking the experience. At one point, I was being chased by monster and I was running up a staircase. When I reached the top, I turned around to find Monster half buried within the staircase, still stuck in it’s run animation. Moments like these break the sense of cohesion and polish in this fantastical world. Even though this world is whimsical, things like that shouldn’t happen.
Other problems plague the gameplay side of things. The frame-rate constantly dips, making timing jumps during heavy action sequences hard to nail. Sometimes, Quico would jump towards a ledge and get caught on the edge. With Quico stuck in his falling animation and unable to move, I had no choice but to reset the game and reload my save. This happened to me once, maybe twice in the game, but it just furthers the idea that parts of this game remained unpolished. Certain aspects of Papo & Yo took my breath away though. The sun, skybox, and environmental objects in the distance continued to surprise me and take my breath away. Looking up and seeing a rainbow arch across the sky is one of the more beautiful sights of the game. As far as tone and idea goes, Papo & Yo nails its whimsical world, even if graphical problems abound.
The audio would have to be the best part of Papo & Yo. Composed by the team over at La Hacienda, the native instruments of South America, combined with other ethereal instruments create a magical and wondrous soundtrack that’s part realistic and part fantastical. You feel like you’re in a part of Brazil, yet you feel like you’re floating in a dream scape. The roars and growls of Monster when he’s angry add to the tension, but part of me wishes they were even deeper and harsher. Maybe it’s the sound set up I was using, but they didn’t come across as having a lot of bass. Either way, the soundtrack alone makes Papo & Yo a wondrous journey into fantasy, and it truly makes this game better in every way.
This game is single player only.
Overall, Papo & Yo succeeds in what it sets out to do. It tells a heart-wrenching story about a boy who wants nothing more than to save Monster, even if Monster wants to hurt him. The team at Minority should be congratulated for creating an interactive experience that pushes boundaries when it comes to storytelling. Games like this rarely come along, and when they do, everyone should take note. It’s a shame that graphical issues, engine hiccups, and a lack of polish hold this game back from truly being a masterpiece. Even with these issues, Papo & Yo is a fantastic game that should be experienced by anyone who owns a PS3 who is looking for something different. This game isn’t for everyone, but neither is this story. If you’ve ever wondered how you can love something that hurts you, then this is the game for you.