Welcome to Papo & Yo, a game that will undoubtedly leave a huge emotional impact on you when the credits roll, despite flaws in other areas.
Platforms: Playstation 3, Microsoft Windows, Linux
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Puzzle, Platformer
Papo & Yo, created by Minority Media Inc., and written/designed by Vander Caballero, is a fantasy adventure game where you play as Quico, a young boy who enters a dream world through a closet in his house. There, he explores with his best friend robot Lula, the giant Monster, and a young girl named Alejandra. Over time, you realize that Monster has a problem; when he eats frogs, he goes into a state of rage.
The gameplay consists of mostly puzzles, with some platforming as well. You explore different areas of the dream world and interact with various pieces of the environment, sometimes moving entire homes and buildings, to progress. Monster also comes into play, as you can lure him to different areas using coconuts and use his big belly as a means to jump to higher platforms that would normally be out of Quico’s reach.
It is a very meaningful game, and you feel the emotion behind it from start to finish. It hits hard, and tugs at the heart of players, but there are some heavy and highly noticeable bumps while playing.
+ The story is told through an allegory and a metaphor of sorts. It tackles very serious themes that visibly come from the writer’s soul; you can tell that it meant something to the creative force behind this game.
+ The ending does not disappoint. From a certain point forward, the game avoids sugarcoating the themes that the rest of the story has set up. Instead, it takes a more realistic approach to commentate on them, and the final sequence made me cry with how honest (brutally honest, to the point of being heartbreaking) it was. It treats the player like an intelligent human being, capable of understanding the reality of the world, and I love that about this game.
+ Although not as memorable as the ending, the very beginning is great at being an intro. From the moment the game begins and you see the opening cutscene, you’ll know things are more serious than the imaginative world around you may imply. The thought of that first cutscene will keep you playing when the gameplay fails to do so.
+ The artistic style and environments are beautiful. They’re filled with heart, and they fall right in line with the imagination of a child like Quico. They also act cohesively as a creative take on Brazilian villages, which works well in the game’s favor.
+ The progression of Quico and Monster both set up the emotional impact of the story very well. As Monster turns from one thing to another, some of Quico’s clothes begin to fall off, representing the deteriorating state of both of them. You truly feel the toll that both characters take thanks to Monster’s actions. It’s small things that add up to be major things.
+ The music is pretty nice. I can’t put my finger on what is so good about it, but I enjoyed it.
= The gameplay has shining moments (most notably the snaking house tower, pictured right), and then some dragging, even flat-out boring moments. The controls are also somewhat awkward, especially when gliding with Lula. At first, I’d say the gameplay is more of a con due to the slow areas, but then I am reminded of the good parts. I can’t quite determine which ones are more apparent.
– From a technical standpoint, this game is one of the worst I’ve played, ever. Characters frequently clip through walls, you can get yourself and Monster stuck to the point of needing to exit to the main menu and reload, etc. There’s just tons of bugs that are horrifically annoying and they detract from what the game is going for (and there are far more reported than I experienced).
– Aside from the stylistic aspects, this isn’t the prettiest game in the world, especially due to the character animations (or lack thereof, as characters’ mouths don’t move when they speak). Quico’s movements definitely aren’t super graceful all the time, and I don’t think that Minority meant to make his flow look so awkward.
– There are a few scenes that either don’t make much sense or just don’t feel right. They disrupt good moments in the story, and act as flaws in what is otherwise an excellent piece of storytelling.
– Thanks to the gameplay dragging at times and the off-putting scenes mentioned above, the pacing here can feel a bit off. It’s not the most noticeable flaw that the game has, but it is a problem.
– It’s not the shortest game out there, but it is pretty short, maybe 3-4 hours.
Papo & Yo is a great example of art in games. It is a very sloppy piece of art, sure, but also one of the most powerful that I’ve ever played. Of course, the glitches, gameplay flaws, and graphical flaws are setbacks, but I think those can be ignored and forgiven when you’ve got a game as powerful as this one. Some of you will not agree with me, and think that the setbacks are too major to brush aside, and I can respect that. But for me, I wouldn’t let things like that take too much away from such an incredible narrative experience. That’s not to say that the negatives don’t take anything away from the game, because they do, but you shouldn’t let them ruin your time with Quico and Monster.
Basically, Papo & Yo not only dealt with a very serious and real theme in one of the most graceful and truthful ways possible (at least in terms of the story), but it also moved me to tears. The only other game that has ever made me cry is The Last of Us, and that speaks volumes of Papo & Yo, regardless of whether it’s a masterpiece or not.