Papo & Yo review
Sony’s done pretty good with its PSN Play program thus far. While The Expendables 2 left a lot to be desired (we’d rather watch the movie again, honestly), Sound Shapes more than covered the slack with excellent gameplay and a soundtrack that we’re still humming in our heads. Now the third game in the program, Papo & Yo, has made its way to PSN, and it’s far different from the first two, relying more on the power of a child’s imagination, and how he uses it as sort of an escape from turbulent situations in real life – even if they still manage to play a part.
In the game, you’re Quico, a young boy who’s working his way through a ramshackled village, made up of small huts and other buildings. But this is no ordinary city, as it harbors a number of interesting secrets, usually activated by interacting with chalk drawings on the side of walls. Panels move, stairs come out of nowhere, and huts gather a life of their own, shuffling around as if to create a new path for you. While these puzzles aren’t incredibly hard to figure out, a lot of them do use inventiveness in a certain way, and it’s enjoyable watching this world come to life.
That’s just part of Quico’s interaction. Throughout the game, he’ll follow his little sister, who’s a runaway one minute and a deviant little brat the next, stealing a block from you that’s required to get across a chasm, forcing you to find a way to keep her in one place to retrieve it. (That’s just part of the intuitive puzzle design – again, not impossible.) A little toy by the name of Lula also lends a hand, as you can pitch him to hit switches out of your reach, and also enable him as a jetpack that gets you further on jumps.
But perhaps the most interesting creature is Monster, who’s neither considered a friend or foe. He’s the most captivating part of the package, as there are times you can rely on him to be friendly (mostly while you feed him melons) or helpful (like bouncing off his tummy to reach higher areas). Other times, however, he becomes a viable threat, eating a toad and rampaging everywhere. Though he cannot kill Quico in the game, it’s terrifying watching him get your character in his cluthes.
And yet, there’s an emotional story lying beneath all this, one that actually relates, in a way, to child abuse. The Monster could equate to the role of the father; the Frogs his alcohol or stimulant that makes him go off; and Quico the receiver who just wants to find a way to make things better for him. This makes the journey much more emotional than expected, and you’ll want to get to the end just to see things come to a rightful conclusion.
Fortunately, the gameplay has enough going for it to keep you sticking around. The way you interact with the small shacks is intuitive and smart, moving smaller ones around to put bigger ones in place (like forming a bridge for example). There are times your jumps can be inaccurate, due to technical glitches within the game, but overall, there’s hardly any frustration here, though you will still feel a bit of emotional pull for everything Quico’s going through.
The developers at Minority have also put together a great presentation. The levels themselves are wonderful to run through, filled with color and odd structures that you’ll actually work your way through. The animations are good as well, and though Quico isn’t given much to do, watching the Monster stomp around angry one minute, and calm the next, is an interesting sight. There are mild camera problems, but nothing you can’t look past. The audio consists of a decent music score, thematic to the surroundings you’re going through, and the sound effects are quite capable, between Monster’s roars and the occasional gibberish dialogue.
Papo & Yo may not sound like the best platformer out there, but it carries a deeper meaning than you might expect. The gameplay and presentation are solid, and the story is definitely original, a feat you don’t see too often in games nowadays. Not everyone will be able to soak in the powerful message lurking underneath (nor the lacking replay value), but the real crime would be to ignore it and miss out on the magic that Papo & Yo possess.