Gaming has progressed to the point where we can sit down, turn on our system of choice, and step into the shoes of just about anyone. Uncovering espionage, fighting through nuclear fallout, saving princesses, or even taking over as our favorite super hero all quickly become possible. Games today evoke excitement, visually inspire awe, and intrigue us with unique story lines. Unfortunately, it seems as if a heavy focus on gameplay and graphics have caused AAA titles to concentrate less on the plot. Coming across a game that creates a true emotional connection to the protagonist is rare. In a world of Call of Dutys, Gears of Wars, and Diablos, Papo y Yo is a puzzler that offers something most don’t seem to consider important; complete emotional involvement.
Papo y Yo pulls you in from the powerful beginning cut scene and doesn’t let go until the troubling conclusion. As you see the main character Quico whimper quietly in a dark closet and what seems like a terrible monster drunkenly grumbles right outside the door, it becomes obvious you’re about to experience something truly unique.
The childhood imagination is a powerful thing. Boxes become forts, toys have their own personality, and adventures arise out of nowhere. Papo y Yo lets you step into Quico’s imagination, and the art direction of this game plays off this childish theme. While playing the game, some moments made me actually sit back and say “woah.” Buildings grow legs as you control their path, the ground rips up revealing a whitewashed underground dimension, and houses even stack on top of each other to create a bending bridge. Hint boxes are scattered throughout the game and add to the overall childish feeling it creates. As you put the first hint box on your head and run around, it’s hard to not smile. I have never played a game that looked or felt like this, and probably never will.
Everything seems lighthearted and fun filled for the first hour, that is until the first slow-motion real world cut scene. As you slowly walk through the foggy night to a parked car, you start to realize there is something serious going on here, more serious than just hanging out in a child’s imagination. The entire game quickly becomes a shared emotional experience between Quico and the player. There is very little dialogue, but Papo y Yo doesn’t need it. The farther you progress, the more of the story you uncover until you realize the gravity of this situation. Quico escapes to his imaginary world from his alcoholic abusive father, who is represented by Monster, your big orange companion. Coconuts make Monster happy, but if he eats a poisionous frog, which is symbolic for alcohol, he charges you constantly, drunk with power. As soon as the story progress to the point you realize creating Monster is how Quico copes with real world abuse, the game takes on an entirely new meaning.
The story of Papo y Yo all happens in an expansive, poverty stricken town. For a downloadable title, the environment boasts incredible depth but also lacks a certain aspect of uniqueness. Regardless, Quico’s world really looks impressive. The longer you play, the more you realize that with a shiny coat of polish, this game could have been truly visually impressive. As it stands however, this game is living proof that the use of Unreal Engine 3 does not guarantee powerful graphics. Character models are a bit lacking. Both Monster and Quico look great, that is when then they’re standing still. Movement looks awkward, and in game, where platforming is a key aspect, it becomes cumbersome. The base environment is so-so, but what really stands out are the enchanted environmental interactions. Buildings move, walk, float, or stack and the magic gives a imaginative childish feeling while simply looking cool. The graphics may not be technically perfect. Still, you can see what Papo y Yo is trying for and the environment and characters still manage to fully engage you regardless of their flaws.
Papo y Yo definitely has its moments that make you sit back in awe of the creative power of Quico’s imagination all while you battle the war that is your home life. However, this game would be nowhere near as immersive without the practically perfect soundtrack. Simple, yet enchanting music fills the air and continues to play off the childish theme. While solving puzzles the lighthearted tunes complement the environment and gameplay. However, the music really starts to pull you in during the real world cut scenes. It helps creates a tense, creepy atmosphere where you wonder why things just got so damn intense, just like Quico feels during his interactions with his drunken father. It really creates a connection between the player and Quico. Sure, I would not sit down and listen to the soundtrack on its own, but it simply is just not that kind of music. In the context of the game however, it becomes just as powerful as any scene.
Papo y Yo may boast a powerful story that is presented in a unique and intriguing fashion through creative visuals and near perfect music, but the actual gameplay really cripples this title. Immediately, you notice the troublesome camera. It took me a solid hour of gameplay to get used to it, making the first two puzzles frustrating. Actually frustrating doesn’t completely cover it. When you take 30 minutes to create a pathway to the next area but can’t jump across it without falling, you want to chuck your controller through the TV. But relax, as you progress you get used to the awkward camera and movement. Yet, as soon as you get used to game and are able to focus completely on the puzzles and story, you soon realize they don’t have very much to offer. To solve a puzzle, you explore the area until you discover and switch, which you press square to interact with. You rinse and repeat these steps until you create a path to the next area. Blah, the presentation and story are unique and powerful and the gameplay is the exact opposite. There are about two really challenging puzzles in the entire game. As someone who is a fan of puzzle games, the potential Papo y Yo’s gameplay squanders is disheartening. Sure Monster and Quico’s favorite toy, which is a Robot named Lula, add different cooperative aspects to solving puzzles like bouncing on Monster’s stomach or sending Lula to press a switch, but the formula remains. Explore, press square a bunch, and traverse your path. That being said, the puzzles seem a bit disjointed from the story. Sure you need to get from on area to another, but sometimes tasks just become tedious. You know exactly what to do from the start of a level but it still take 20 minutes to do.
While playing through Papo y Yo for the first time, you don’t want to put it down. The story unfolds as you progress through the unique experience and you genuinely want to help Quico. Unfortunately, once the game is over, there really is no reason to revisit it. There are no unlockables, no hidden Easter eggs, and no collectibles. Sure, you can experience the story again, but there will be no challenge and the presentation won’t be as powerful.
In the end, Papo y Yo achieves what most modern games cannot. You truly feel emotionally connected to Quico the entire game. You feel what he feels. The first time time Monster rages, you feel scared and powerless, just like Quico. The first time you witness magic take over your decrepit city, you’re in awe, just like Quico. When Monster catches a soccer ball you just kicked at him and starts to play, you feel sympathetic and terrible for his father’s situation, just like Quico. With another coat of polish, this game could have truly been something to behold. The gameplay and lack of puzzle variety hold back a game that is nothing like I have ever played, and probably will ever play in the future. Most impressively, you understand the story and feel powerful emotional connections with little to no dialogue. This is all achieved through presentation and the soundtrack, and that in itself is amazing. There may be next to no replay-ability, and the actual gameplay may not be perfect, but Papo y Yo is a game everyone who considers video games an art form needs to experience. You won’t regret it.