Review: Papo & Yo successfully takes its sad tale about child abuse to PC
Physical abuse is one of the worst things that a kid could ever possibly go through. When that physical abuse is at the hands of a loved one, the emotional and psychological effects can be drastic, taking an immense toll on the child. Papo & Yo attempts to tackle the subjects of child abuse and addiction through fantastical imagery and metaphor. Ultimately, the game succeeds in getting its point across, creating a world that's equal parts wondrous and dreadful and an antagonist that's so unpredictable that you can't help but feel constant fear whenever he's around.
Papo & Yo has finally made it to PC, allowing a new group of video game fans to experience all of the wonder it has to offer.
You play as Quico, a young boy who takes it upon himself to explore a magical shanty town. This imaginary world is rife with secrets to discover and puzzles to solve. The land that Quico has created for himself really is quite special, boasting a childlike innocence that will remind you of the days when journeying through your own imaginary worlds was a total blast. Within this world we also see a little girl, presumably Quico's sister, a little toy named Lula that acts as a jetpack, and a large beast named Monster, who can be considered the father figure. These characters add several layers to the land in Quico's head, creating both problems and solutions for him.
Progression in Papo & Yo is fairly smooth for the most part. None of the game's puzzles ever get all that daunting, and most of the time you can solve each of the simple brain teasers without putting too much thought into them. Some individuals may scoff at the puzzle design, but ultimately, this is a game about a kid's imagination, and while the world itself is certainly full of mystique, the puzzles don't necessarily need to be too tough to decipher. The result is a place that you're constantly moving through without many interruptions.
Unfortunately, there are a few puzzles that don't present their solutions very clearly. The problem with these is that they often border on frustrating, and having to figure out what to do next can be a bit annoying. Despite the fact that there are hardly any cues to point you to your next objective, you kind of always know where to head next. That's why it's such a pain that a few sequences leave you completely befuddled.
The aforementioned little girl is an especially intriguing part of Quico's world, and she's easily the most mysterious character in Papo & Yo. Oftentimes she'll run away from you, prompting you to give chase. Sometimes she'll mess with the environment, taking items you need and running away with them until you can finally catch her. She can be obnoxiously troublesome at times, but then again, what kid isn't? When you're not simply running after her, you'll be tasked with solving a puzzle that triggers her next move, allowing you to progress further.
The other major element in Papo & Yo is Monster. This massive figure can be quite helpful at times, providing a big belly for you to bounce off of in order to reach higher platforms. He can also trigger switches by standing on them, though you'll need to place coconuts on certain panels to keep him occupied long enough to set off said switches. Whenever he eats frogs, however, Monster becomes a raging, fiery beast. The frogs are a clear metaphor for addiction, and they cause violent feelings within Monster, prompting you to run for higher ground. If he gets his hands on Quico, he tosses him around savagely, physically hurting him and tearing him apart both emotionally and mentally.
Monster is a character that you just can't help but fear. Visually, he looks pretty terrifying, even when he's not hostile. The unpredictability of child abuse means you need to be wary of his behavior at all times. It's a bit scary seeing Monster chase you when you have a coconut, even though at these moments he's not a threat. He even kicks a soccer ball around with Quico, providing a few moments of respite. But when he consumes those frogs and gives in to his vices, Monster earns his name and becomes a dastardly, fearsome creature.
Mechanically, Papo & Yo feels just a tad bit dated. That's not to say that it's flawed in the way it plays, though. Quite the contrary, actually. Despite the fact that character movement and animations appear to be a few years behind, Quico controls really well, and the camera isn't fidgety at all, making navigation extremely comfortable. Sadly, a few frame rate issues do take away from what could've been a much smoother experience.
The art of Papo & Yo is easy on the eyes, though like the game's mechanics, it definitely shows its age. This is true regardless of how high the settings on your computer are. Thankfully the technical graphics are overshadowed by the dreamlike aesthetics. Cool lighting effects and surreal landmarks add to the other-worldly vibe of Quico's imaginary place.
Rounding out the presentation is a stellar soundtrack of acoustic, almost earthy music that really brings to life the environment of this imaginative quest of escapism. The soundtrack remains strong throughout, and it's never overbearing. Instead, it offers a calming sound that accompanies you as you solve puzzles and deal with the happenings of this magical land.
You can get through Papo & Yo in about four hours or so. Some may find extra incentive to return to this magical quest, while others are likely to enjoy a single run. The game is certainly not for everyone, especially when you take into consideration the overly simple nature of the puzzles and modest design. Still, those who do play the game and take in its personal, emotional, and saddening plot will get a glimpse of something truly special and thought-provoking.
[Reviewed on PC]
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