I feel that it’s pretty well documented by now that Papo & Yo is a game about dealing with an alcoholic father and domestic abuse. The symbolism is rampant throughout the whole game, and every design choice feeds into the central metaphor in the end. With so much emphasis on the concepts fueling the game, one needs to wonder how much of the game-play was considered during production. Does interesting concept automatically equal a great game? Did developers Minority get too stuck in their own ideals? It is possible to balance an awesome concept with solid game-play; but perhaps Minority could have spent a little bit more time tweaking that mixture.
In Papo & Yo you play as a young kid named Quico; and you have a large friend simply named Monster. Throughout the game you will use Monster to solve puzzles and access areas. The part that ties into the central metaphor of domestic abuse is that Monster is addicted to frogs. He will chase them down and eat them; and when he does, he enters into a rage and will harm anyone and anything in his way. Initially, I felt that delivery of the metaphor was a little heavy-handed; but upon playing the game and realizing that the enraged monster actually plays a part in the game-play, I was able to understand why things were done that way. It allows for a better understanding of the main idea while enhancing the game-play to a small extent.
Apparently, shoplifting from the local corner store in Brazil is not a good idea.
The first thing I noticed about Papo & Yo when I started playing is that it has an amazing soundtrack. The game takes place in a setting obviously inspired by a South American village (albeit, the location is probably a little more mystical than anywhere that actually exists); the music blends in perfectly with the setting. The soundtrack features beautiful choral work, exotic instruments and melodies, and interesting tempos that work with the game. For instance, when the Monster is angry, the tempo picks up, increasing the intensity of the game; but when everything is calm the music is docile and sanguine. The way the game blends the two feelings when things change in the game is masterful. I really could not see any seams in the transition between the two moods. The use of music in Papo & Yo is close to the level of the way it is used in Red Dead Redemption – it is that good.
Visually I felt the game was hit or miss. Textures were pretty flat throughout the game and colours seem to be a little muted; but it’s made up for in heart – the game just oozes character and spirit. Really, when buildings get up and start walking across the world, flat textures don’t really matter, because it’s all so cool. There is also a recurring visual element of chalk across the whole game; chalk outlines make up doors and offer clues. I really liked this visual style because it ties in the with the innocence of the child who is fairly central to the game. Character animations, on the other hand, could use some work. Quico has a pretty small set of animations that he cycles through constantly, and he controls very loosely. I mean to say that there is no real weight to his movements and animations. The same can be said about the Monster who only has a handful of animations as well. The result of this is that the game, as a whole, looks rather stiff.
The question is: are those buildings floating because he is touching the frog?
This brings us to one of my biggest problems with the game: technical issues. I understand that the idea came first in this game, but it really feels as though that was pretty much the only concern. Throughout my play-through, I have had issues with collision – almost constantly. At times I would get caught in parts of walls or have difficulty picking up objects that were directly in front of me. I also experienced some camera issues, especially when trying to run away from the raging Monster that was chasing me. The camera would get stuck in some corners as I ran past them. None of these issues are really game-breaking; but they rob you of complete immersion, and I really feel that a little more time spent on development could have fixed a lot of the issues.
The thing about Papo & Yo by Minority is that it is a lovely game that should appeal to every gamer that is interested in a deeper, more cerebral experience. That being said, you will need a little bit of patience when dealing with this game due to the lack of polish. As an indie game this is slightly more forgivable than if it were a title by a bigger studio; but it’s worth noting simply as a fact. Pick up Papo & Yo for an interesting experiment in game design and story-telling – not as a fun game to play over the weekend. This game has a specific time and place to be played, and if played that way the experience can be very rewarding and endearing.