It has to be said that, at a distance, there is very little going for Minority’s PlayStation Network debut. Despite exhibiting a gorgeous blend of fantasy and culture, pre-release media – not to mention an initial first wave of bad press – has done little to sell users on what makes this one of the most memorable downloadable games of the year.
Yes, it’s true that Papo & Yo suffers from sub-par graphics and a general lack of polish but beneath this layer of mediocrity is an extremely personal yet selfless story surrounded by creative and often visually-compelling gameplay.
Based on the childhood experiences of game director, Vander Cabalerro, Papo & Yo is the emotional story of a schoolboy whose imagination is the only barrier between him and his abusive alcoholic father.
Quico’s dream world is a fluid amalgam of reality and fiction that is brimming with seamless metaphorical representations of the character’s day to day struggle. Most importantly, there is a level of human emotion here that easily outstrips the moments of isolation and resolution other downloadable titles have been heralded for, namely Limbo and even Journey.[drop2]This sense of emotion is embodied in the parallel interactions between Quico and his father, both in the real world and the child’s imaginary realm. As mature spectators we know that his father’s problems are linked to a life of crime and dependence on alcohol. As a young boy, Quico is unaware of both influences that have effectively destroyed the man he once was. This innocence is projected straight into the game world with Quico’s downbeat, morally-forsaken father substituted by a seemingly harmless creature referred to as Monster.
Co-operative puzzle-centric gameplay is the backbone to Papo & Yo and in many ways lends itself to the game’s evolving narrative. Though there are a multitude of sections in which Quico explores the favela on his own, for the most part, Monster will remain in tow.
Puzzles are often self-contained, area-specific objectives that occasionally overlap. Players will need to use Quico’s mobility to leap from rooftop to rooftop and squeeze through narrow gaps to activate switches and manipulate the surrounding environment. Stiff animations give Papo & Yo the appearance of a sub-par platformer though the game actually handles well, allowing a decent amount of precision when traversing in-game environments.
Elementary platforming is only one part of the gameplay however. To progress from one puzzle to the next, players will also need to trick Monster into performing certain actions as well as getting him to move into specific outlined areas. This is done through a combination of environmental puzzles and the use of bait which, in this case, happens to be coconuts and frogs.
The latter, a dream-world substitute for alcohol, will send Monster into a fit of rage, changing the tempo of the game considerably as players are forced to solve puzzles and avoid being attacked at the same time.
Papo & Yo is far from challenging, though gameplay sequences are fleshed out to a comfortable degree, each one with a moderate feeling of depth and reward. In total, the game manages to stretch between the four/five-hour mark though one shouldn’t expect to find much replay value. Aside from “trophy runs” there’s the odd collectible to be found here and there but not much else.
As many will have noticed, just because a game employs Unreal technology doesn’t mean it will reach the heights of fab-looking, big budget titles such as Gears of War or Bulletstorm. Though many have used the Unreal Engine to push their games to the max in terms of visual quality it’s not hard to imagine that smaller outfits such as Minority simply use it as a convenient solution when it comes to sculpting in-game worlds. Papo & Yo may be rough around the edges but the title’s visuals are fit for purpose, despite recurring framerate drops in certain segments of the game.
With that said, Minority has done a fantastic job in melding the game’s art style and audio to create a convincing fantasy setting that adopts South American culture. A number of the game’s graffiti tags and murals are reproductions of real world art, the colour and vibrancy given an upbeat edge thanks to Papo & Yo’s soundtrack. The music, a combination of wind, percussion and other instruments also does well to carry the more isolated, though-provoking moments of the game.
- Touching narrative that doesn’t linger on its darker influences.
- Puzzles are inventive and change the surrounding environment.
- Art style and music come together nicely.
- Over-priced compared to games of a similar length.
- Offers players little incentive to replay the game.
- Lacks polish and occasionally drops in framerate.
Papo & Yo is a game that will no doubt continue to divide opinion. It’s fun, cohesive and meaningful yet suffers from a lapse in replayability and all-round polish. The game’s high-tier pricing is also another issue, especially when standing shoulder to shoulder with reasonably-pitched games such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Sound Shapes as part of Sony’s PLAY promotion.
However, if you’re looking for a game that carries a strong message which leaves plenty to interpretation, Papo & Yo is near enough perfect. It’s a meta-contextual story of escapism within escapism that keeps players guessing as to how the narrative will come full circle.