I finished Papo & Yo with strong feelings of sadness, joy, and amazement. There have been few video games that have pushed me to a “real” emotional level, and Papo & Yo did just that. As the credits rolled, it dawned on me that this game is going to be talked about for quite a bit in the upcoming weeks. The game itself (or the mechanics of it) is broken and there are several technical issues inherent in the title, but the story is an emotional ride through a child’s hell, which speaks volumes. It is not a spoiler to say that Papo & Yo is about a boy dealing with an abusive father, and it details how he moves on from that. The subject matter is dark, especially for a video game, and I think Papo & Yo will be discussed in length about how it presents its narrative as well as where it takes the player. The game will split audiences with its style of gameplay, but those who stick with it will find something that will shake you to your core. Minority Media, which is headed by Vander Caballero, has created something truly groundbreaking on a story level, but they need to work on that whole game part to make it complete.
You play as Quico, a young boy who transports himself to an imaginary version of a South American village. He was hiding in his closet from a monster that was lurking outside of it, but he walked through the wall into a new land that is bright with color. As you wander through this new land, and transform the environment with your imagination, you meet several characters. Lula is your trusty robot friend who gives you the ability to jump further distances and hit distant switches. You also meet Monster who is a pink, hippopotamus looking fellow who loves coconuts and goes insane if he eats a frog. Quico is also guided by a girl who seems to know more about Quico than he knows about himself. As the game progresses, these character’s stories come together for a riveting, and most unforgettable story.
The mechanics of Papo & Yo are quite simple, but they allow of some complicated situations in the environment. I made the comparison in my mind with something like ICO, in which there are few button commands but you are required to survey the entire environment to figure out what to do next. Scattered throughout the South American town there are white outlines of gears, handles, and keys. Quico has to hit these to make the environment change so that he can get to the next area. Things become a little more complicated when Monster is introduced. Monster loves coconuts, and it more curious about frogs. You can lead him to switches with coconuts, and keep him preoccupied with frogs if they are in a drain. Now, if he eats a frog, Monster will turn red, and go insane. This can be used to your advantage, but most times you have to try and calm him down with a special fruit. It’s a rather basic puzzle game, but things get a little more intense towards the end when you are shifting whole houses to suit your will.
So, I want to talk about what makes Papo & Yo a difficult game to endure, first. I could excuse the developers for a few reasons but a final product is a final product and has to be put under the scrutiny of people like myself. Papo & Yo is an ugly game, besides the Monster and a few environments, Papo & Yo is bland as well as brown looking. Aesthetics aside, there are numerous issues with the technical side of things. Later in the game, the framerate drops considerably and trying to run through a level can be a chore as Quico chugs slowly along. There are clipping problems too where Quico can get stuck in geometry or Monster can get stuck in doors, with half their bodies in and half out. There are moments which can be game-breaking too where Quico can fall through the world or hit an invisible wall. Quico doesn’t control right, either. The jumping feels wrong, the running feels loose; he just doesn’t feel like a kid moving through a level, he feels airy. These things are frustrating, and even though I enjoyed myself because of the story, you can’t ship a game in a sloppy condition (in the technical sense). It’s not fair to those who pay their money to play what it is you have to offer.
The Reason to Play
So, how do I sell you on a game that has problems with its gameplay? Well, it comes down to what kind of player you are. Did you like thatgamecompany’s Journey? If you did, then this is a game for you to check out. Most gamers who do not take to these abstract games will not find joy in Papo & Yo, because it requires a certain level of appreciation that is for those who want something different in their gaming experience. I’m not trashing anyone, I’m not saying that this is high-brow stuff, it’s just for those with a different perspective on games. Even though it’s a puzzle game, it is not difficult in any way. I was able to figure all the puzzles out easily and there are hint boxes all throughout that make getting through the levels a breeze. But, the gameplay is not why you come to this game, it’s for the story and the outcome of these characters.
I feel like I should write a whole other article on what I think Papo & Yo is about, and what the subtext of the game means. It’s hard to spell out what makes this story great without ruining too much. Like I said earlier, child abuse is a weird topic to pick to place in a video game, but it works really well. Minority wanted to take the Pixar route with how they made the game, in that they took some heavy material and inserted it into a bouncy, cartoon world. The emotional journey I went through it unlike anything I have experienced in a game before and by the end, I was moved to the point of having to walk around the house a bit and figure it all out. It’s a game for those who are willing to put up with the broken side of the game in order to witness a powerful story.
Overall – 3/5
It’s hard for me to just recommend this game because I loved the story so much. Papo & Yo has severe technical issues that can ruin a gamer’s experience if they are not willing to persevere. Underneath those problems, though, is a game that grabs you and shakes you to your core. Fans of games like ICO and Journey will see the merit in this title, even if they get frustrated along the way.
Papo & Yo is available on PSN for 14.99 and 11.99 for PS Plus Members.