Release Date: Out Now
Every so often, a game comes along that aims to do something different from the rest. In the case of Journey, it wasn't so much a traditional game as it was an interactive experience. Rather, the game focused more on the surroundings of where you were, where you were heading, and the silent narrative which followed in order to create a powerful experience.
Similarly, Papo & Yo aims to tell a story, or parable of sorts, and it isn't the easiest to tell or to listen to. But the ensuing experience and what you manage to take away from it easily makes this one of the most memorable games of the year.
Papo & Yo is, in effect, a powerful analogy about the relationship between alcohol and abuse, and how it affects those near to the abuser in such a situation. It's based on creative director Vander Caballero's childhood and thus serves as a somewhat autobiographical account of his relationship with his father growing up. The beginning of the game illustrates this as much, showing the child protagonist, Quico, as he hides from his father's destructive tendencies after a night of alcohol abuse. To escape the cold reality he lives in, Quico delves into a dreamworld of sorts, imagining a whole reality that opens up before him as a door made out of chalk appears on the wall. As he appears on the other side of the door, he finds himself amidst a favela (a Brazilian shanty town of sorts), following a mysterious girl who keeps running away from him.
In this world, he discovers that the environment can be manipulated to an end by interacting with certain chalk designs on the floor and on walls. Simply pushing in a chalk gear on a wall can literally change the world, with buildings moving and exchanging places, platforms raising up and so forth, whereas turning a chalk switch can give life to buildings, making them sprout wings or grow legs (all in a cartoonish fashion) and move away. The mechanics are fairly simple at best, mainly consisting of running, jumping, and manipulating the environment in order to let you proceed through each area.
If you're here for challenging gameplay and mind-bending puzzles though, you'll not find it here. The puzzles in Papo & Yo are never quite clever enough for their own good; rather, they serve as an impetus to further the story and narrative. That's not to say the gameplay doesn't have its share of enjoyable moments; just don't expect something along the lines of Portal 2. Many times it's just a matter of finding something to interact with in an area, which leads to something else to interact with and on, but the way it's carried out is pretty entertaining. And there are a few puzzles that did really make an impression on me, not because of any complexity, but rather for its imagination and really driving home the point that this is a world of fantasy where anything is possible.
Sometime after the beginning area, you'll then be introduced to Monster, a giant orange creature who, at first, wouldn't as much hurt a fly, and Quico soon begins a friendship as he learns to work together with him to solve puzzles and progress through the winding world of the favelas. However, though by nature he is generally a gentle giant, it's discovered that Monster has a weakness for poisonous frogs, which upon eating (and to Quico's horror) turns him into an uncontrollable beast in rage.
In this dangerous state, Monster can't rationalize friend from foe, which creates a potentially life-threatening situation for Quico, and the only way he can sober up the creature is by giving him rotten fruit. When it comes to Monster's enraged state, the game drives home some powerful imagery when Quico is unable to escape from him as he suffers the abuse of his friend, being flailed around and tossed in the air, screaming.
While it doesn't go much beyond that description, that single act alone drives home the disturbing reality of family members who are betrayed by their alcholic parents and suffer abuse. Yet there are also times when Quico must use this terrifying state of Monster to solve a few puzzles, so it creates an element of constant fear that's pretty effective. Ultimately, the purpose of your quest becomes clear as you and the mysterious girl go on a journey to attempt to rid Monster of his bad habits, and ultimately try to save himself in the process.
Analogies aside, when it comes to the visuals, the game is a mixed bag. At first glance, the graphics can be a little muddy looking, with jaggies being prevalent, almost like that of an early PS3 game. On the other hand, the art direction is astounding, and the attention to detail in the world is pretty spectacular, from the exotic grafitti prevalent in the different areas to the actual structures and buildings of the favela themselves. Papo & Yo's world is truly a convincing world that I found myself lost in from the get-go. Though the the realization behind the concept of favelas is a sad reality (one that relates to poverty, in essence), there is a subtle and inherent beauty to their design and environment in this game. Beyond that, the more fantastical elements that are found in the world push the limits of imagination - one of the last areas nearly borrows from a certain scene from the movie Inception, but for me, it was definitely one of the most memorable areas in the game.
Unfortunately, the game isn't perfect in every respect as there are a few moments and areas where the framerate drops (such as when Monster goes into a rage) and mild screen-tearing occurs. There is also some infrequent clipping with certain objects and certain strange visual choices, such as characters not moving their mouths as they speak (the characters speak what Minority calls "Latin gibberish," and is subtitled in English), but during my playthrough, none of these things were noticeable enough to truly hamper the experience.
If there's one thing that absolutely stands out almost above all else in the game though, it's the outstanding soundtrack. Composed mostly with an acoustic guitar, flute, and some percussion instruments, the music ranges from Spanish/Latin guitar to sounds that are more akin to tribal rhythms and the like. There's a beautiful melancholy feeling to it, and it works so well within the confines of the game's environment and story.
By the end of the game, Papo & Yo really took me by surprise. I thought I had the story all figured out, but the ending is beautifully crafted and will without a doubt leave a lasting impression on you, whether or not you can relate to having an alcoholic parent or family member. The fact that Vander Caballero and his team were able to convey such a powerful story dealing with a hard-hitting subject like alcoholism and abuse in such a way that anyone can understand, even a child, speaks volumes of the talent behind Minority. And though the story itself is the true star of the game, I found myself endlessly fascinated by the world created within as well. Papo & Yo may not be for everyone, but it is a fantastic game and story that I hope many get to experience, and one that has me excited for what Minority has in store for the future.
+ Amazing heartfelt story
+ Great art direction and environments
+ Soundtrack is fantastic
- Graphics can be a bit muddy looking
- Some framerate slowdown, clipping, graphical oddities
Overall Score: 9 (Out of 10)
Papo & Yo is a fascinating first game from Minority, balancing intriguing gameplay, an imaginative world, and a truly heartfelt and bittersweet story. If you love games with a unique narrative, don't miss out on this.