Puzzles and metaphors abound
Papo & Yo tells a different story. There are no worlds to save, no wars to win, and no damsels to rescue. Instead, it centers on abuse, addiction, and betrayal. Acting as a metaphor for Minority creative director Vander Caballero’s childhood growing up with an alcoholic father, Papo & Yo is about Quico, a young boy who wishes to cure his friend Monster of an ugly affliction. Monster is addicted to poisonous frogs, which have the side effect of turning him into a, well, monster.
If nothing else, Papo & Yo should be commended for addressing subject matter that video games have otherwise barely touched. You are constantly reminded of the parallels between Monster and Vander’s father, occasionally in somewhat hamfisted ways, — one scene depicts liquor bottles turning into frogs — but Papo & Yo’s biggest success is in its ability to communicate that metaphor through gameplay.
Monster is a selfish character. He is more interested in sleeping or eating coconuts than he is in helping you progress. And when he does eventually get his hands on a frog, he becomes a genuine terror. Although you can’t take any actual damage, Monster will chase after you and violently toss you aside.
In some cases, it’s possible to prevent Monster from getting hold of any frogs, and failing to do so is disappointing, not just because it makes completing the puzzle more challenging, but because you know the image of a young boy running for his safety was inspired by true events. In other cases, Monster’s transformation is unavoidable. These moments are possibly the most saddening, as they exemplify the boy’s — either Quico’s or Vander’s — helplessness.
It’s a shame then, that such an emotionally powerful game can sometimes be so mediocre. Unlike other puzzle titles such as Fez or Portal, Papo & Yo’s puzzles aren’t built on a central gameplay mechanic. Instead, Quico is only capable of interacting with various types of switches and levers. The closest thing Papo & Yo has to a unique mechanic is Monster and the ways you can interact with him, but he works better as a metaphor than as a compelling puzzle mechanic.
Puzzles often boil down to finding the nearest switch or lever, which usually makes accessible yet another switch or lever. With rare exceptions, the solutions are obvious, and the puzzles more often feel like busy work. There’s nothing glaringly wrong with them, but they aren’t exceptionally clever or interesting.
Papo & Yo also suffers from numerous presentation issues. Character models look ugly and animate stiffly. Though there is voiced dialogue, the characters’ lips don’t move when they speak. Texture pop-in and frame rate drops are frequent, and short draw distances prove troublesome in some of the larger scale puzzles.
Luckily, the environments look consistently interesting. Papo & Yo takes place in a surrealist fantasy favela. Some levels look like something out of an M.C. Escher painting, while others seem to take inspiration from Inception’s folding city scene. The soundtrack is equally impressive. The acoustic guitars and soft flutes do well to set up the calm before the storm, as energetic percussion takes over when Monster turns into a raging beast.
Papo & Yo manages to tell a meaningful story with almost no dialogue and even fewer cutscenes. The uninspiring puzzles and lackluster production values keep it from becoming something great, but Papo & Yo is moving nonetheless.
Tested on PS3
Review Copy Supplied