Sometimes I really wonder what goes on in this industry as things are kind of in a weird place. We see entertaining games hit the market but many of those are simply retreads of one thing or another and in turn lack a certain weight to make the experience truly impactful, whether it’s in respect to the gameplay or the lasting impact it has on gamers. It’s also depressing at times to see how creatively bankrupt the industry can be since half a dozen games are often under a veil of being “original” yet they’re doing things that have been done three years ago or are simply tired tropes of that particular genre. Well for once my cynicism about the industry was completely erased as playing the new PSN game Papo & Yo showed me there can be a bright moment within the industry as it’s easily one of the most creative and compelling games ever to be released in the sometimes uneven industry that is the video games business.
Papo & Yo is simply a powerful game as its crafted in a unique way and tackles narrative elements which up until now most games have shied away from. I know we all like our video game experiences to sometimes be mindless fair in which we become the hero of the hour or a martial arts expert that has no problem removing the spine from a man, but Papo & Yo in a way shows video games at its highest peak as it embodies what they truly are: outlets to tell compelling stories that otherwise couldn’t be told in any other way.
Tackling the subject matter of the relationship a young boy has with his father may be strong material for a video game but it works brilliantly in Papo & Yo. Far from being amplified in a sense that makes the experience sappy, it’s amazing to see such a thing turned into a metaphor and especially one that resonates despite the fantastical elements that are presented – which of course serve as an escape in the mind of Quico, the young boy gamers play as. With Quico’s pet monster, aptly named Monster, representing his alcoholic father the game reaches areas we haven’t been before in video games. It may seem alarming to those who may not want to play a game in which action and humor are pushed aside in favor of drama but as someone who actually came from a similar background to that of Quico (my father wouldn’t exactly win a Dad of the Year Award either), the experience in Papo & Yo is rather cathartic.
Seeing Monster be a relatively docile and at times a rather typical creature (he eats lots of food and then sleeps) really instills a sense of character but so does seeing the other side of Monster. Merely eating coconuts within the environment may do no harm to Monster other than put him in a slumber here and there, but eating frogs will turn Monster into a complete rage beast that has absolutely no regard to those near him – even Quico. The obvious metaphorical shift in Monster’s demeanor may sound a bit too obvious for some gamers, but it’s amazing to see how the game changes as the immediate tone is one of complete sadness; basically mirroring the feeling Quico has when he knows his father is no longer the peaceful and loving person he wants him to be.
The obvious metaphors and thematic changes in Papo & Yo may sound heavy handed but they’re far from being such a thing. At times the game does reiterate certain things, such as how Monster is a representation of Quico’s father, but aside from that the tone of the game is complete brilliance. Escaping to the dense wonderland imagined by Quico has its moments of pure bliss but not everything is peaceful since Monster will occasionally flip out to serve as an unpleasant reminder that despite what he wants and hopes Quico may ultimately need to part from trying to save his father. The really interesting thing about the game and how it presents the narrative is that there isn’t a lot of dialog or even exposition. Yes, Quico does speak as does another character that appears, but in a way the game leaves it up to the player to soak in everything and feel their own emotions whilst playing instead of being told how to feel and when to feel it.
Almost mirroring the classic experience that is Ico, Papo & Yo simply puts gamers in a beautiful world with a narrative that isn’t bashed over the head continuously and in a way lets them fully feel and experience everything that’s offered to them. Going on the path of Quico and his relationship with Monster is ultimately empowering despite all the moments of sadness that it has since it shows in the end that despite what the circumstances are that you can eventually rise up and still live your life – a lesson that I think proves immensely valuable to those who have been in positions similar to Quico.
It’s utterly amazing to me that the development team at Minority managed to take such a heavy subject matter and make it into an interactive experience since at the end of the day Papo & Yo is still a game and its one that’s crafted in an amazingly perfect way. Set within a dense favela that isn’t dirty but is beautiful and brimming with breathtaking vistas and color, Papo & Yo proceeded to take me on a guided but always inventive path that is by far one of the best gaming experiences that I’ve had. Set within the mind of Quico does allow the game to do some interesting things as I completed puzzles that saw buildings sprout legs and wings to suddenly move so I could continue on my journey. Yes, Papo & Yo does have puzzles in the sense that they’re environmental based feats that need to be completed in order to continue.
Again drawing a comparison to Ico, Papo & Yo’s take on puzzles is interesting since there’s a level of challenge yet the solution is never too far out of reach or entirely unknown. Just taking a moment to look at the environment, figure things out in your head and then perform those actions in a simple way that doesn’t require too much effort or constant retries provides moments of utter enjoyment as opposed to complete frustration. With a base that’s grounded in platforming, Papo & Yo provides very simple game mechanics that end up being perfect for the tone of the game and more importantly they’re just fun to play.
With the aid of Lula, Quico’s robot toy brought to life within his mind, platforming is relatively painless and in some cases can be fun given the lack of it these days in other games. During a few times the platforming did feel floaty as it was difficult to gauge where Quico would land, but such a thing was never a major problem as it didn’t impede my enjoyment nor did it result in sections of the game being long simply due to continuous failed attempts at making a jump.
Doing a few jumps here and there in order to reach a high area is ultimately easy and the payoff for such a thing is often worth it as seeing the world come to life in a sense and move or in some cases morph never gets old. Being set within the mind of Quico means that the rules of reality and gravity are a thing of the past as buildings will move and contort in unimaginable ways or the environment will fold back to provide a pathway. In fact I think one thing that the game does which will have universal appeal is that it’s beautiful to look at. While not being the best game out there on a visual fidelity scale, Papo & Yo is never in short supply of vistas that took my breath away or areas that exhibit a natural beauty to them that while stylized has a hint of realism to it through the stunning graffiti that appear in the favelas at times. The game has a lushness to it that works and made me never want to leave certain areas as I wished I could stay and merely roam the lands with Monster and Lula at my side since they’re simply that beautiful.
The relationship Quico has with Monster obviously plays a part in the game as in a few cases I had to herd Monster to a particular area, either to use his bulbous belly as a bounce pad or to move him to another area. Monster never gets tiresome as an occasional companion and the team at Minority doesn’t overdo the angry Monster elements so they never lose their impact, which as previously mentioned is one with a solemn and frightening nature. Monster’s performance in the game is one that does bring a lot of character to the game as his interactions with Quico are often comical such as when he’ll pick Quico up if he’s holding a coconut, once again instilling the rule that you never step between a Monster and his food. Technically the A.I. for Monster is good as trying to make him move from point A to point B wasn’t a chore, but during a few times he did get stuck in the environment, which while not a game breaking bug did result in a rather odd looking glitch that kind of broke the mood of the game for a split second.
Despite having a few minor imperfections here and there, the overall strokes made in the canvas that is Papo & Yo are so masterful that in the end it’s hard not to be impressed with the final product. Filled with emotion and presenting a subject matter that hasn’t been seen in a game before, Papo & Yo is an experience that will make people think and actually go through a personal journey of their own, even if they didn’t come from a position similar to that of Quico.
Serving as a perfect example of what video games can do, Papo & Yo is a shining beacon of originality along with showing how games don’t need to follow an established formula and can indeed branch out to do things that can tackle a heavy subject matter without being too abstract in the process. At times it may be an experience that has true moments of sadness, but Papo & Yo is easily one of the best games to not only appear on the PSN but in our industry as well since it shows that games can evolve beyond where they are now.
A review code was provided for this game.