Papo & Yo
The soon-to-release Papo & Yo, from Minority Studios, was one of the most distinctive games shown at this year’s E3. Its unique art style is what caught most people’s attention. But after going hands-on with it, it’s clear that this game is much, much more.
When the game releases on August 14, no doubt it will look to some players like nothing more than a simple puzzle platformer. That’s an unfair assessment. In Papo & Yo, the player is Quico, a young boy who, along with his friend, Monster, solves puzzles in a surrealistic South American shanty town. Monster is an aptly-named, hulking pink beast with razor-sharp teeth. Throughout the game, players will have to learn to work with Monster (and other characters the player will run into) in order to complete puzzles.
The gameplay in this title is incredibly smooth, and the title is paced in such a way that the player is always pushed to keep exploring around the next corner or past the next puzzle. When a button is too large for the player to push, it’s time to lure Monster over to it with a coconut and make him stand on it. If a wall is too high to get over, Quico simply feeds Monster coconuts until he falls asleep so he can use Monster’s height and trampoline-like stomach to jump over the wall.
In addition to Monster, there is also the robot Lula, who functions as a jetpack (while she rides around on Quico’s back), and as a guided projectile to hit certain buttons and levers. In addition to these two characters, Quico himself also has a great degree of control, since the world of Papo & Yo takes place in his imagination. He can move buildings that are in the way either by picking up cardboard-box versions of them and moving them around, or by making them sprout legs and move.
Because it takes place in a child’s imagination, Papo & Yo’s presentation is distinctive. It uses lighting and color to reflect the mood of the game, and construction plays a big role as the player progresses. Buildings are stacked helter-skelter, and with the turn of a key, walls can open up to reveal passages made purely out of Quico’s daydreams. Overall, the visuals in this game are incredibly engaging and impress upon players the power of a child’s imagination.
There are many unique elements in Papo & Yo that contribute to a thoroughly enjoyable experience. But the thing that makes the most impact is the story and underlying metaphor. Vander Caballero, creative director at Minority, designed Papo & Yo as an allegory for his own life dealing with his alcoholic father. The way this plays out is that when Monster ingests a poisonous frog, he turns from Quico’s docile friend to a flaming, rage-monster intent on killing the boy. The player’s main goal is to find a cure for Monster’s addiction to these frogs. Quico needs to use all his wits and gain a deeper understanding of what drives Monster and who Monster is, if he hopes to accomplish his goal.
After reaching the end of the previewed portion of the game, the player is left with more questions than answers. Will Monster ever get over his addiction? What will happen to Quico in the process? Most importantly, the player is left with a deep-seated desire to see the adventure to its end. Papo & Yo releases on August 14 for download on the PlayStation Network for $14.99, and $11.99 for PlayStation Plus members.