Papo & Yo is not quite your typical game, but what game is these days? Papo & Yo tells a magical tale that becomes a very personal message. Stock up on coconuts, we have a hungry monster to take care of.
Papo & Yo starts out with Quico hiding in a closet. Quico is a young boy growing up in a favela (shanty town) somewhere in South America. Outside his closet door a monstrous sound comes as a shadow blocks his cracks of light. Scared, Quico clutches his toy robot, Lula, tighter. Suddenly a light appears beside him in the closet. Turning towards the light Quico sees a spiral pattern on the wall. As he reaches towards it he falls through.
Quico finds himself in a back alley of the favela. On the wall in front of him is another chalk design that slowly dims of its magical light. Exploring the favela Quico soon finds a young girl drawing a similar pattern on a wall. She waves at him, opens a magical door and walks through. As he gets to the chalk drawing the magic fades. A short way down the wall Quico notices a chalk drawing of a handle still glowing. As he pulls on the "handle" chalk lines on the wall become steps allowing him to climb up.
After navigating his way through more of the town, using chalk drawings of things as varied as gears, ropes, and wind-up keys, Quico finally catches up with the girl. She tells him that he is cursed and pushes him off a tall building. As he falls he is caught by Lula, who is now fully functional. Lula helps Quico by becoming a limited rocket booster when he jumps and operating switches he can't reach. Lula tells Quico they must find Monster.
Soon enough they find Monster. Monster is a large pink beast with two horns, one coming out of his chin, the other out of his forehead. As fearsome as he looks, Monster is kind and playful. He will even toss a soccer ball back and forth with Quico. Soon though you find out that Monster has a terrible addiction. While he likes coconuts, if there is a green frog nearby Monster will go for the frog and that is when the trouble starts. When Monster eats a frog he becomes a flame covered beast of rage that even Quico is not safe from. The only thing that can help is to find a rotten coconut. When Monster eats a rotten fruit he pukes up the frog and passes out.
After the first incident where Monster goes into a rage the young girl returns. She tells Quico that Monster can be cured if they can get him to the Shaman. Quico makes it his mission to get his new found friend to the Shaman.
Controls and Gameplay
Papo & Yo is a third person game that plays part like a puzzle game and part like a platformer. Much of the game is manipulating the various pieces of the environment with the magical chalk drawings. In one section you have to cross a river chasm. There are five cardboard boxes with little windows drawn on the sides and five squares drawn in a row on the ground. When you pick up a box, across the chasm part of the favela is ripped from its moorings. Setting down the box sets down the torn piece of favela; setting it in place, the building hangs in the air as the first piece of your bridge to cross the chasm.
If you get stumped with a puzzle there are literal "hint boxes." Quico will put the hint box over his head and you will see hints drawn on the inside of the box.
Graphics and Sound
Papo & Yo is colorful and inviting with its realistic art. The beauty of the favela and surrounding mountains is enhanced by works of graffiti art found on the sides of buildings. The graffiti also reinforces the feeling and setting of South America.
There is very little dialog and it is all in Spanish, but there are speech balloons whenever someone speaks. The soundtrack is sparse, but nice, with a Latin America meets magical wonderland feel.
Papo & Yo creator Vander Caballero wanted to make a game with a very personal tale. After working on, and helping create, some of EA's bigger franchises (Army of Two, Need for Speed, etc.) he started his own studio to create his game. Mr. Caballero is frank about the tale he wished to relate with Papo & Yo; his relationship with his abusive and alcoholic father. The game starts with a dedication that sets the stage; “To my mother, brother, and sisters with whom I survived my monster father.” To say that translating a traumatic childhood into fun video game is a challenge is an understatement. Yet that is exactly what he did here and the message is not watered down in anyway.
When Monster is normal he is cute, kind, and even protective. At one point I got into a puzzle that would have killed me, but at the last moment Monster saved me. You care for Monster when he is in this state, if it wasn't for those frogs. When Monster is in the state of rage he is truly scary, especially after the first time he catches Quico. It's disturbing that while on the screen Monster has clamped his fangs down on Quico and is shaking him around while Quico screams, in the back of your mind you realize this an allegory for the abuse Vander suffered as a child. You find yourself trying to desperately avoid it ever happening again. The power of metaphorical imagery is strong throughout the game. By the final act the metaphors are mostly gone as Quico faces what needs to be done. When the bittersweet ending did come, even I felt the emotion creating a lump in the back of my throat and watery eyes.
The strength of the story in Papo &Yo is surprising considering what Mr. Caballero is relating. It is a fun and magical look at world in the imagination of a young child. How their toys and simple chalk drawings can become helpful protectors and doorways to the beyond.
While story for Papo & Yo is strong, other parts aren't. Mostly this presents itself in collision detection where Quico or Monster will partially go through a wall that they shouldn't. It also appears in facial animation where characters will speak, but their face is stoic and unmoving. None of these problems affect gameplay, they just show a lack of overall polish.
Papo & Yo is powerful. It is a game that will start a conversation about what can be done with video games. It certainly proves that if done right any story can be used. Fun yet disturbing to play, the strength of Papo & Yo's story pulls it up to 5 out of 5.
Papo & Yo is rated E+10 for Everyone 10 and older for Fantasy Violence by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
Papo & Yo is avaliable now exclusively on the PlayStation Network for the PlayStation 3. For more information visit the Papo & Yo web site.