By Marty Mulrooney
Papo & Yo is a downloadable puzzle-platforming adventure for the PlayStation Network that marks the debut release of Montreal-based studio Minority. Players take control of a young boy named Quico as he tries to save his best friend, Monster. A gentle, docile beast with a love of yellow fruit, Monster has a serious problem: he is addicted to eating frogs. Once he does so, he turns into a flaming, raging beast that only wants to attack people. Together, Quico and Monster must journey through a colourful and constantly shifting favela in search of a cure before it’s too late. Papo & Yo was released on the PlayStation Network in Europe on the 15th August 2012.
To my mother, brothers and sisters with whom I survived the monster in my father.
– Vander Caballero
Papo & Yo begins with a dedication from Minority’s Creative Director Vander Caballero. With just one sentence, the entire tone and meaning of a game still yet to unfold shifts dramatically. Caballero’s father was an alcoholic and the entire game is a highly personal, metaphorical tale that reflects his experiences as an abused child living in South America. Such topics are seldom tackled in video games – and if they are, they are rarely addressed properly – but Papo & Yo never shies away from its core subject matter.
That isn’t to say that Papo & Yo is a gloomy or depressing experience. It certainly has its moments of melancholy, sadness and regret, but more than any other feeling, it conveys a sense of hope. Set entirely within a dreamlike favela, little context is given or needed as the game beings. Quico chases a mysterious girl through the sunny streets who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Points of interaction are highlighted by glowing chalk lines that turn the everyday world into a children’s playground.
An early puzzle sees Quico moving cardboard boxes and placing them within chalk squares drawn upon the ground. As he does so, floating buildings shift in the background to form a makeshift bridge across a gaping chasm. Later, chalk keys are wound on the sides of buildings, causing them to sprout chalk legs and walk to new locations. Or a chalk rope is pulled, causing a building to separate into slices, creating a staircase. The puzzles aren’t difficult, but the process of interacting with the world is a continual joy.
The towering but initially gentle Monster is soon added to the mix with his own set of gameplay mechanics. Yellow fruit is useful – when shaken from trees or plucked from the ground, Quico can use it to lead Monster to new locations. If Monster eats enough yellow fruit he will fall asleep, allowing Quico to climb onto his belly and bounce to previously out of reach locations. Frogs can also be useful, although if Monster eats one he flares into a violent rage, chasing and attacking Quico. The only way to calm Monster down is to feed him a rare blue fruit.
At certain points in the game Quico is joined by his toy robot Lula, who will grab onto his back, allowing him to hover momentarily after a jump. The mixture of platforming and puzzle solving hits a sweet spot that is hard to put into words – only the youngest of players will be truly taxed, yet there is a continual sense of satisfaction as you progress. The real challenge comes in the form of dealing with Monster: he is your best friend and worst enemy all rolled into one. At turns loveable and horrifying, the faint croak of a frog in the distance should be enough to send any player immediately searching for higher ground.
Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 is used to great effect. Despite frequent instances of screen tearing and the occasional bout of slowdown – usually when Monster is charging after Quico in a fit of rage – the favela environment is beautifully realised and a pleasure to explore. It is a shame that the character’s mouths don’t move when they talk and there is no voice acting – only minimal text – but the story being told is delivered visually through the environment of the favela itself and the resonant, uplifting music by composer Brian D’Oliveira is a perfect match for the visuals.
Although Papo & Yo is undoubtedly a highly personal game – only Vander Caballero himself will know the true meaning of scenes shown involving a car accident, or the loss of a friend you hardly get the chance to know – it should strike a chord even with those who cannot relate entirely to the subject matter. The game’s underlying message doesn’t reveal itself until the very end, but when it does, it’s universal. Ultimately, Papo & Yo is about the power of imagination and the blind determination of children to fix problems that cannot be fixed. I won’t make the claim that Papo & Yo offers much in the way of challenge or gameplay. However, in terms of creating a memorable experience that will linger for days after completion, Papo & Yo is one of 2012’s most accomplished and thought-provoking titles.
8 OUT OF 10