Papo & Yo is a hard game to tackle in typical review fashion. Most gamesí plots donít delve much beyond defeating the bad guy that has either kidnapped the princess, threatened to destroy the world, or both of those things. There arenít a whole lot of games (especially on consoles) that attempt to tackle much more serious thematic elements, let alone approach them in the metaphorical way found in Papo & Yo. Iím fairly certain Iíve never played through another title as a young boy dealing with an alcoholic, abusive father. Thatís a fairly weighty subject matter for the medium, but does Papo & Yo successfully convey those emotions amidst a game thatís worth playing?
The young boy you play as is named Quico and the game plays out in the imaginary place he uses to escape from the horrors of his household. The surrealistic favela of Brazil that he dreams up is at the same time both heartwarming and depressing. Itís a beat up and tattered world of urban buildings highlighted by beautiful graffiti murals and childlike chalk tracings. These dwellings and chalk lines have more than aesthetic functions, however, as they are the primary elements of the gameís puzzles. The cube-like buildings can be moved about by interacting with parts of the world that have been drawn upon. This can be something as simple as pulling an imaginary handle to reveal steps from the side a building which creates a visually appealing alteration. You can turn wind-up keys to cause the structures to sprout legs and happily scurry to a new location or pick up cardboard boxes that correspond to moving buildings in the environment. In fact, most of the interactions are simple and even compounding the different elements never results in mentally taxing puzzles. Though the puzzle may not be overly challenging, they do result in inspiring and interesting uses of the world. I was particularly fond of stacking buildings into towers that could be leaned and curved to form bridges. The puzzles are definitely more visually rewarding than they are a challenge.
The lack of difficulty may turn off some people and there are technical issues that also hinder the experience. Jumps are sometimes difficult to gauge due to the way Quico animates and the fact that he often clips through ledges or runs into invisible walls mid-jump. I also had an instance where I had to repeat a fairly lengthy puzzle sequence because he fell outside of the game world. I honestly was invested enough in the world to forgive the technical shortcomings although I did become frustrated when Monster became angry. For the majority of the game you are accompanied by Monster, a rhino-type beast that is required to solve many puzzles (in addition to being the main narrative metaphor). When Monster eats poisonous frogs (which are adorable to pick up and hold in the game), he becomes violent and chases Quico. If you allow him to get too close he will grab and throw Quico to the ground. The symbolic nature of this is obviously horrible, but in the game context you can often get repeatedly thrown because the camera makes it difficult to see Quico behind Monsterís hulking frame. Iím not sure if that was intentional, but it pulled me away from thinking about the subject matter and just made me angry at the mechanics.
Papo & Yo does tug on your emotions. The musical score is wonderful at setting the tone and the imagery and actions of Quico do an excellent job of showing what a heart-wrenching scenario the game is presenting. I do think some of the impact of the game was lost on me since it was so well documented beforehand that Quicoís father was the monster. Even if you didnít know that prior to starting up the game, the opening screen contains a dedication to the developerís family about surviving the monster of his father. As such, what could have been the gameís big revelations come off as previously known metaphors. It becomes a little heavy handed, but the game still delivers a very personal experience that is matched by very few games.
For a game so focused on storytelling, there was one distraction that repeatedly tore me out of the moment. As I played through the game, I would repeatedly find little ragdolls tucked away off the straightforward path the game directs you down. Iíd maneuver to them by stacking boxes in a slightly different way than what was required to actually progress the game or Iíd halfway open a sliding door that would then allow me to use it as a platform once I had climbed higher in the level. Yet as I found these toys, I could do absolutely nothing with them. After a while, this negative reinforcement cause me to quit exploring the environments altogether and just going step by step through the puzzles as the game laid them out in front of me. Upon completing the campaign, these ragdolls are adorned with little hats that Quico can collect and wear if he finds them in a second go at the game. I guess this gives you a reason to play back through Papo & Yo, but the narrative feels a little weird when Quico is wearing things like a fishbowl on his head.
Critiquing of headwear aside, if youíre willing to experiment with the symbolic and pensive nature that Papo & Yo offers, I definitely think it is worth your time. Itís true that the puzzles may not be as fleshed out as the emotions they convey and itís not going to be the most technically thrilling game you play. But I think the positives overcome the negatives and Papo & Yo is the type of interactive experience that is going to stay with you well past the three hours it takes to complete.
Outstanding | Very Good | Fair | Poor | Awful
Recommended Buy Price: $10.00
Current MSRP: $14.99
Papo & Yo was purchased from PSN. Sony also provided us a copy that was used for Cheapyís Audioboo review. I completed the campaign in three hours accumulating 6 out of 10 Trophies. I have also played another hour to try the second playthrough. Papo & Yo is a PlayStation Network exclusive.