Developer – Minority Media Inc.
Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform – PS3
Papo & Yo is a prime example of show-don’t-tell, and boy does it excel at that with flying colors. From the start, you’re thrust into a narrative with just enough context to have a vague understanding of what’s going on. Watching the cinematic launch trailer is really helpful in understanding the game as a whole, so I highly recommend checking it out before playing.
As the young boy known only as Quico, the player has to navigate through a rich fantasy world set in the favelas of Brazil. The locale is so iconic and the attention to detail so complete that it makes for a thorough immersive experience, pulling players into the world. In fact, the graffiti in the game was designed by the graffiti artists themselves.
The visual detail leads to a stunning and distinctive-looking game. The sun creates beautiful lighting effects and the white part (which shows sometimes when the ground or buildings are peeled away from the world) looks as breathtaking at times as the sand from Journey. Yet, there are some parts of the game where the visual effects are lacking, namely the human character design. Compared to the rest of the visuals, the character design looks outdated and pulls the player back into the realization that Papo & Yo is just a game.
The music also contributes to the immersive experience. It creates the right atmosphere and sets the mood for nearly every situation the player encounters in the game. The really intense parts of the game were all the more gripping due to the music, and the sounds lent a mystical feel to the game. The only complaint I have about the music is that, especially early on, the music sometimes cuts out in certain areas rather abruptly.
The strongest part of Papo & Yo is definitely the story. The premise of the game is that Quico is struggling with a tumultuous relationship with his father, who is an alcoholic. In order to deal with this problem, Quico escapes into a fantasy world of magic realism. If I had to sum it up, I would say that the game is about Quico coming to terms with his real life situation in the context of his fantasy world surroundings. I felt like I was playing the video game equivalent of Pan’s Labyrinth at times.
The story doesn’t pull any punches either. It’s brutal, it’s emotional, and it will probably make you cry. It has already made plenty of people cry, and it made me cry, too. But unless you absolutely cannot handle tragic stories, I would urge you not to allow the emotional nature of the game to deter you. I think Papo & Yo should be played by everyone; it is the kind of story that must be heard.
The game actually plays out much like Ico: players must work together with Monster and lead him around in order to solve puzzles and move on to the next area. Players use coconuts to lead Monster around and Lula (a toy robot brought to life in the fantasy world) to activate switches and enable longer jumps. In this case, Monster isn’t just an ally, however. He is Quico’s father and although he helps Quico, he also becomes enraged when he eats frogs (yes, frogs). When enraged, nothing is safe from Monster, not even Quico, and he will fling Quico around mercilessly. You can’t die, however, unless you fall off of an edge into some water or something similar to that.
My main complaint about Papo & Yo is that it is still fairly buggy in spots. There was one area early on in the game where I got completely stuck and had no idea what I was supposed to do (and no this wasn’t the “soccer puzzle” area that was fixed in the day one patch). So after wandering around for probably 15-20 minutes, I gave up and restarted from my last checkpoint. This time, Monster actually moved where he was supposed to and then the puzzle was very easy to solve. There were other instances where, say, Monster was able to reach through walls to grab me. Little things like that were a tad frustrating but overall did not damage the experience very much.
All in all, Papo & Yo is a very good game. The story is tragic, but the execution is excellent and beautiful. It is the kind of game that is a good example for video games as art and video games as a great medium for storytelling.