I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Papo & Yo is the most personal game you will play this year. You can only find a handful of games that can truly be classified as Games as Art, and this is definitely one shining example. But don’t be confused – this isn’t a game you want to play to feel good. Creative Director Vander Cabellero had a story to tell, and he does so in a way that few have done before him.
For those who may need a refresher, you play as a young boy named Quico who goes on an adventure with a monster simply called Monster. While most of the time Monster is friendly and can help you solve puzzles, he has one big problem – he is addicted to eating frogs which, though delicious, turn him into an enraged, violent beast. Monster can, and will, thrash you around if you get in his way while he is in this altered state of consciousness.
Yes, in case you’ve guessed it by now or read our interview from last year, the game is really talking about substance abuse, in this case an alcoholic, abusive father. This is some dark subject matter, but it is presented in a colorful, mostly cheery world. Yet in this world, apart from a mysterious girl who helps you move in the right direction, there are no other people. The reason for this is likely to create a stronger bond between you and the monster as you depend on each other to progress and solve puzzles. Admittedly, the only ways that Monster helps out is by following you when you’re holding coconuts, and you can use his stomach to jump to higher locations or have him step on a switch to trigger some sort of mechanism and move on. Anything that helps you move on has a very surreal look, hinting that things are not really what they seem. You learn to love Monster and your friend, as well as your anthropomorphic robot toy named Lula who can fly around and activate a lot of out-of-reach switches. Towards the end of the game things really start to get real, and then there’s the ending…Well, we’ll just let you play the game and get hit with the emotional punch to the gut that the ending evokes.
Although there is some platforming in Papo & Yo, it is pretty light. There is no double-jump thanks to Lula, only a hover that allows you to jump further than you normally would be able to on your own. You then press square to interact with various things such as fruits and frogs found throughout the levels, or switches, doors and other objects that appear to be made of a glowing, magic chalk. One notable usage of this comes when you can pick up a cardboard box and suddenly an entire house levitates and follows your every move. Utilizing that, you can craft a makeshift bridge to get to where you need to go. The last usage of this is particularly impressive, and it will no doubt be compared to the movie Inception, which is a pretty apt comparison indeed.
While the story gravitates around your search for a cure for Monster’s problem, on more than a few occasions the fact that you’re playing a game gets in the way. Hopefully a patch will be released, but when we were playing there were a number of times where the game had to be restarted from the last save point due to bugs. Jumping on some platforms would every now and then not stop you – you would fall right through it, towards a black abyss below the game’s map. We saw both Monster and Quico get stuck in between structures, and even invisible walls showed up in the middle of a platforming section, necessitating a restart of the entire section. It’s a shame the game has these issues, because to some gamers the glitches will be too numerous to handle. However, the experience of going through such a personal story is worth the small frustration these issues can cause.
Without spoiling anything more, this is a game you and your loved ones should play/watch together. It tells an incredibly personal story about love, loss, and growth that serves as an example of how far the video game medium has come as an art form. Like any good story, the ending leaves some room for interpretation, and it can serve as a focal point for discussions for a while to come. While some glitchy game mechanics can get in the way of the experience, these can easily be overlooked to take in the story being told here. With the discount currently being offered for PlayStation Plus members, Papo & Yo is an easy buy.