Game Review: Papo & Yo
Video games that stretch the boundaries of what defines interactive entertainment, and evoke emotions in the player that they may have not felt before – or haven’t in a long time – have always struck a chord with me.
Year after year companies churn out slightly updated sequels to their established franchises, and they do well because it’s what the consumers are familiar with. The games division at Sony, however, have continuously defied this logic, and have brought gamers some incredible downloadable titles over the years such as Flower, Outland and Journey.
Once again Sony Computer Entertainment have bestowed another gem to the PSN store in the form of Papo & Yo, which brings a sense of childlike wonderment when you play it. Sadly, it does get tripped up along the way – and that holds it back from true greatness.
Papo & Yo is the first project from Montreal-based studio Minority, and is a Sony-published title under their Pub Fund program, which offers smaller developers financial support. Under the supervision of lead designer Vander Caballero, Minority venture into complex, uncharted territory: offering players a look at a relationship between an abusive father and his young, imaginative son in the guise of a puzzle adventure game.
The story begins with boy, Quico, weeping alone in the corner of a darkened room. To escape his haunting reality he turns to a world which he creates in his own imagination, taking the form of a South American town that is deprived of life besides one lone soul that taunts Quico to follow her.
The environment around Quico becomes his playground. He can maneuver structures around to meet his own desires, and to do that the player must solve the puzzle laid out before them. Some of the areas may take a lot of trial and error to figure out, but easing some of the frustration are hint boxes that Quico can climb into, with crayon drawings illustrating tips on what you should do in that section of the world. Little things like that bring a smile to your face, and you wish other games would be as creative with their hint system.
As Quico moves around the world he will interact with glyphs on walls reminiscent of those seen in Shadow of the Colossus, and more recently in Journey, and once activated these will moves structures around or even create stairs out of a nearby house. There are varieties of things that Quico can interact with and many of them have amusing results, such as feeding humongous frogs to a hungry sewage pipe to making a towering bridge made up of small favelas.
The world that Quico creates in a visual treat. It’s hard not to be amazed the first time you pick up a box and a house moves in accordance to where you place it. The dreamlike imaginings are well represented here, and letting yourself fall into that sense of wonder will result in a more exciting gaming experience.
Not too far into the game Quico will find the Monster – a representation of his own father who can be seen in human form during interactive cutaways. This is where the puzzles become more interesting and more difficult to accomplish. To move the monster Quico will have to find a yellow fruit that the Monster likes, and avoid frogs that will give the Monster a raging fit – leading him to thrash Quico any chance it gets. Many of the puzzles involve either keeping the Monster away from the frogs and moving him into certain areas, and then there are times where you will need to see the angry side of the Monster in order to progress through a section.
Papo & Yo is a beautiful game and much of this can be seen in the Monster itself, as well as the interactive environments. The towering, lumbering Monster with horns on its head and small beady eyes is a perfect visual representation of what Quico thinks of his own father, and when caught in his fits of rage it becomes even more demonic-looking.
The glowing, interactive glyphs look great, but unfortunately the environments that host them are made of low resolution textures that look like they belong in a game from a previous generation. Character’s mouths don’t move with their dialogue, and the stiffness in making a jump is something that could have benefited from more development time. The music is also not something that stuck with me, and besides a few short conversations Papo & Yo is actually a very quiet game.
In terms of length this is certainly a short experience and will take only 4 – 5 hours to complete, but the time spent with it is more than worthwhile. The trophy support is well done here as well, and may require another playthrough as one award tasks you with completing the game not using any hint boxes.
Papo & Yo has heart, and is really about the emotional response you may feel interacting with the story it has to tell. Aside from the technical hiccups, you can expect an enjoyable time in its haunting world.
FMV Rating : ***½
Papo & Yo is available to download from the PlayStation Network for $14.99 ($11.99 for PS Plus Members).