Papo & Yo is the simple story of Quico, a young boy who, while exploring a surreal favela (Brazillian suburban slums), encounters a monster he names Monster. While exploring the world, Monster eats a poisonous frog and enters a fit of rage, destroying Quico’s jetpack-companion Lula. With the aid of a little girl and an occasional non-murderous Monster, Quico must seek the help that his friend Lula so desperately needs.
Actually… the above story is a metaphor for Quico escaping the rage of his alcohol-abusing father. But this isn’t the amazing plot twist at the end that I’ve spoiled for everyone. You’re aware of this from the very start. The surreal imaginary favela is the world you escape into to escape your father, Monster is your father and the poisonous frogs are alcohol. The name Papo & Yo, translated to Father & I, is also a bit of a give away. Alcohol abuse can be a sensitive and personal topic and in this game it’s presented in a blatant, realistic and yet tasteful manner. This is due to the game being well designed, possibly due to the creative director’s own experience with an alcoholic father.
An example of this is while playing the game, you never quite know whether Monster is your friend of your enemy. You have this constant sense of unease around him that he might find a poisonous frog and turn on you. But Monster is incredibly useful when he’s not charging you down. I also have to hand it to the composer, Brian D’Oliveira, for creating a light, flamenco soundtrack that ties in well with lightness of Quico’s steps and scenery. The story is well-presented and well-plotted, both visually, aurally and through the gameplay.
And on the note of gameplay, Papo & Yo is a puzzle platformer in it’s entirety, a genre I am generally sceptic of. I find a big issue that a lot of puzzle platformers have is they are more platformer than puzzle, or the puzzle is merely the timing of your jumps from platform to platform. Minority Media Inc. has managed to avoid these pitfalls (see what I did there?) by allowing the platforming to merely be a medium, or means of delivery of the puzzles. This is partially because many of the puzzles involve manipulating the environment.
I have said the word ‘platform’ six times in that last paragraph and and so will try avoiding it as much as possible from now on. The puzzles themselves aren’t overly-challenging or complex, but it’s still fun to solve them nonetheless. The only thing better than a good challenge is a good challenge you can do.
This praise all being said, the game isn’t without its flaws. Like many platformers, the game has an element of exploration which the designers failed to… explore. There’s plenty of nooks, crannies and hidey holes, but nothing in them. I even managed to find trapped teddy bears in many of them, but they seemed to be nothing more than coincidently-placed scenery. I felt that this beautiful and unique world was just a bit too empty, nothing to encourage me to play again and no reward for getting to these hard to reach places, not quite what I expect from a platformer
There was another issue I had at one point when Monster got stuck on a ledge, meaning I couldn’t proceed with the current puzzle or with the game at all. Luckily, Papo & Yo autosaves frequently and before the beginning of each puzzle. And because the transitional platforming isn’t difficult, it means that was no real time lost.
I’ll leave you with the whole reason I wanted to play this game. One of the best cinematic trailers I’ve seen in a long time, a nice blend of live-action and in-game footage.