A Mixed Cocktail
Papo & Yo is a rare game that manages to perfectly represent what it is like to be a child and the effects of substance abuse by those closest to them. This surprised me, because it is hard to tell a story with such complex themes under the guise of a game with any degree of success. Yet Papo & Yo handles it beautifully, and crafts an emotionally rewarding experience that deserves to be played. It certainly has its problems, but it manages to entertain and engage the player from beginning to end.
Robots, Monsters and Favelas
Throughout Papo & Yo you play as Quico, a young boy who explores a dream like interpretation of Brazilian styled favelas. Throughout the game you are accompanied by three characters. The first is Lula, a cute yellow robot who hangs on to Quico’s back throughout the game, and serves to help him navigate and solve the puzzles that he encounters throughout his journey. There is also a girl who uses chalk to bring buildings and other objects in the environment to life, and more often than not plays tricks rather than help. These two characters are the ones that actively communicate to you.
And then there’s Monster, a giant pink beast who grunts and roars as he eats and sleeps. Despite his outward frightful appearance, he is actually quite peaceful more often than not. I would even say that he is kind of adorable and endearing in his own weird way. That is unless Monster encounters some poisonous frogs, which he very much enjoys and consumes on sight, turning the peaceful creature into a raging beast that attacks anything on sight. Including Quico. Even though Quico cannot die, watching him be thrown about by Monster is heartbreaking, and has a real emotional impact that is often missing from other games that deal with this subject matter.
The Collateral Damage of Addiction
Papo & Yo handles the complexities of addiction and abuse extremely well, never going into lengthy explanations or long, dialogue encumbered scenes in order to convey its themes. Instead, the game mostly relies on the actions of the characters and the change in environments and scenery in order to communicate, which is a very welcome change. Using dialogue would negatively impact how the story proceeds, and it is a joy to see that dialogue is relatively non-existent throughout. In terms of the story, it is easy to see where the game is going within the first few minutes. Needless to say, despite fearing Monster and his actions, Quico still loves him, and the journey to find a cure for Monster’s addiction sets up the plot. I cannot say more without spoiling the experience, but Papo & Yo’s story, despite being a bit too easy to map out, is one that should be experienced first-hand.
Throughout Quico’s journey, he will encounter puzzles of varying length and complexity that obstruct his path. What is most amazing about Papo & Yo’s puzzles is that they involve the environment in rather stunning and wonderful ways. Turning a switch can result in a building gaining legs and moving to another position, pulling a lever could turn a building sideways to unveil a hidden set of stairs, and lifting a box can create and move giant crates that could be used at your disposal. While none of the puzzles are overly challenging, and in fact a large percentage of the puzzles are easily solvable with just a simple glance, I was still in awe at them even as I came close to finishing the game. It’s what a puzzle game ought to do: create a series of challenges that inspire you and make you want to continue completing them as you play the game. Admittedly I never gained much satisfaction from solving any of the puzzles, which is a shame, as more difficult challenges would be far more interesting to play with a second time around. While I understand the need to keep puzzles simple, I would have much preferred if there was at least some challenge in playing the game.
Nuts and Bolts
The mechanics and feel of Papo & Yo also deserve praise. The jumping and navigating of the world feels natural, and I always enjoyed how Quico interacts with his environment. And lifting up a box feels so perfect, in that upon lifting it I could tell how much it weighed and what purpose it served even though I had barely used it before. Even interacting with the abstract chalk levers and switches feels natural in how they turn and move upon your command. Despite being based in the imagination of a child, Papo & Yo feels so natural in how it operates that it could have been set in a completely realistic world.
Sights and Sounds
The favelas are simply stunning to navigate and explore. The locations feel like they have been lived in, but also are off just enough that you can tell that it is in an imaginative world. The sounds that the environment makes as you solve puzzles and move about are a delight to listen to, and credit must be given to whoever designed the ambient sounds found within the game. The way in which objects move is also charming, in that they never quite move as naturally as one would think, but nonetheless feel like they might be able to accomplish that. An early scene where a building sprouts six legs and walks like a insect had me giddy the entire time because of how beautiful the building moved. It is not often that I can say a building made me smile in a game.
Papo & Yo is a unique game. It handles its themes extremely well, and the world is simply amazing to behold. Though the game is not without its faults, chief among them a lack of difficulty and challenge, Papo & Yo should be played at least once. Trust me, the journey will be quite worth it.
Complex story and themes, wonderfully designed world and environment.
Lack of puzzle difficulty, a bit short.