Platform: PlayStation 3
Rating: 12 (PEGI) / E (ESRB)
No other game in recent memory has tapped into my dreams the way Papo & Yo has. While it may have some slight technical issues and the story may feel lacking in some ways, Papo & Yo is a beautiful display of imagination with the inclusion of emotion that is rarely found in video games.
When I started the game, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It stars a little boy, and contains an unusual cast of characters. At first, I thought I was playing an adventure game. Though correct, some of the usual characteristics that help identify an adventure game didn’t make their appearance. After some time with the game, I felt like I was experiencing something else. After I finished Papo & Yo, I decided that I played a puzzle game with an emotional emphasis given to the characters delivered through a storyline woven throughout. The characters compel you continue your journey through the game by bringing a real-life story of addiction – referenced by the antagonist monster’s addition to frogs. The ending is one grander and more personal than expected, and brought to the game a feeling of reflection that is not common when games sometimes at best provide a sense of accomplishment.
The setting is that of a South American urban landscape, occasionally stepping away from the streets to get a beautiful view. Not to be outdone, the inner streets of the setting look just as good at times, with graffiti on the walls and various touches made to give it a feeling that this is a lived-in community. The cast of characters look good, but don’t stand particularly stand out. Oddly enough, for a game bringing an emotional story to tell of alcoholism and a father and son, they weren’t the graphical highlight of the game. Quico looked and moved well in the environment, as did the supporting case. Monster is meant to be a character that both exists in the world to assist and be feared under different circumstances, and he definitely looks the part. What stands out most about Papo & Yo is the environment. There are some scenes that just looked absolutely stunning to me, and I was surprised by how well some of the effects looked when inanimate structures performed in ways that really added life to the game. When thinking of the characters, I cannot help but want more. More cut-scenes delving into the story. More ties to those Quico interacts with throughout the game. More reasons to feel for them. But why is this? Because the game delivers a connection that leaves me wanting more out of it. Going back to the setting, however, I should mention that the environment merits a mention based on the considerable personality it lends to the game. The music is something reminiscent of what I’ve heard played by local Natives in New Mexico, though I’m sure by the attention given to the landscape in the game that it is in reference to culture farther south. It helps immerse you in the game, and the sound is not commonly heard in gaming.
Papo & Yo provided me something else in terms of entertainment. It felt at times as if I were experiencing a dream. Maybe it wasn’t intended to do so, or maybe I was given access into the designer’s head at the time he experienced the inspiration for this game. Buildings floating in the sky being shifted by my hand, and chalk lines allowing me to turn gears, pull strings, and manipulate the urban scene has caused me to look at my everyday surroundings differently. Pulling a handle jutting out of a wall to cause stairs to appear is weirdly satisfying and had me looking forward to what I could do next.
The game is not without its minor technical flaws, however. There were a couple times where I experienced hiccups that were likely the side-effect of pulling off daring with the environment. This didn’t happen often, though. Also, according to the trophy list, there are some hidden items to discover. While I’m not a trophy hunter, I did try looking for them and feel as if this addition to the game could have been better fleshed out as I never found even one. While I do stink at the trinket-discovery part of video games, at least leave the first one nearby so I know what I’m doing.
Now, why did I decide earlier to peg this as a puzzle game? Because while there is a developing story that is much more than your average game full of simple puzzles, the way you proceed through this adventure game is broken down into challenges for you to solve in order to proceed. Maybe you need to create a bridge in midair out of shanties (which just looks cool), or accomplish a task with your flying toy robot. They are broken down in such a way that I could get through one or two and come back later, and each time one is completed I am shown the basic steps needed to get through the next area. Barring an angry Monster engulfed in flames, it is a genuinely calming experience, where you figure out what you need to do without even raising a fist. Also, there is one section near the end where the environment is altered in such a way that simply making my way through the streets had me pausing for a moment to savor what was happening. Play this game thinking it is an adventure game as they tend to go – with character progression, level bosses, and such – and you might become frustrated at the game. Play it as a puzzle game, enjoying each upcoming challenge as the story of Quico and his father is told, and you’ll have a much better time.
Papo & Yo is a gaming experience you won’t find anywhere else. The imagination behind the animate environments and the emotions put into the story bring a sense of depth. While it might leave you wanting more from the game, to me it is because it has much more to offer. Don’t look to it for your next adventure game, though Quico does go through quite the adventure. Play Papo & Yo if you enjoy puzzle games, and you’ll find it is much more than that. There is a personal touch found in Papo & Yo that will leave you feeling as if you participated in something deeper than just a game.