GAME NAME: Papo & Yo
PLATFORM(S): Playstation 3
RELEASE DATE(S): August 14, 2012
Games like Papo & Yo remind me why I love video games. It’s unique, moving, and most importantly it has a message. Unfortunately, Papo & Yo also reminds me why I sometimes hate professional game criticism. See, Papo & Yo THE GAME isn’t nearly as interesting as Papo & Yo the INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE. Much like Dear Esther, Papo & Yo isn’t so much about providing a fun-filled gaming adventure as it is about offering a deeply personal tale through an interactive lens. And as a work of art, it succeeds wholeheartedly, providing a set of feelings and emotions I’ve never experienced with a game. As a game, unfortunately, it’s less successful, with technical issues and questionable (i.e. not very fun) design. However, if we are to elevate games to a proper art form, then they must be criticized as such. Papo & Yo works brilliantly as a piece of art, and only a few problems hold it back.
Papo & Yo is the brainchild of game designer Vander Caballero, who has made it apparent in both interviews and in the game’s opening message that his game is the story about the relationship between him and his abusive, alcoholic father. You play as Caballero’s stand-in, Quico, roaming the streets of Sao Paulo with a giant monster, referred to in the game as “Papo”. As you traverse the increasingly abstract, labyrinthian levels, you must use Papo to progress, be it by luring him onto switches with delicious yellow fruit or by bouncing on his giant belly to reach unobtainable heights.
Although Papo becomes an indispensable ally, you will quickly learn to fear him. Turns out Papo has an insatiable addiction to frogs, but eating one turns him into a fiery demon that chases down Quico and throws him violently across the streets. The only way to calm him down is to feed him nearby blue fruit, but frequently it will be unavailable, leaving you to fend for yourself against the monster. While Quico cannot be killed — robbing the game of some drama — the uncomfortable feeling of walking alongside a calmed Papo after his first abusive episode is a brilliant effect.
Puzzles in Papo & Yo usually revolve around hunting down switches to unlock doorways, allowing Quico or Papo through to proceed to the next puzzle. Rinse, repeat. The puzzles themselves don’t require much thought, with most of them having an obvious answer from the get go. Many of the puzzles involve platforming — aided by your doll/jetpack Lula — but are also simplistic and don’t require much skill. So yeah, the game aspect of Papa & Yo is fairly underwhelming.
However, virtually everything else is absolutely beautiful. The sun-drenched local of Sao Paulo radiates every second of gameplay, and looks especially wonderful as the setting transforms into a more abstract, Inception-esque feel. The musical score is absolutely one of the best of the year; I would often put puzzle-solving on hold just to listen to for a few minutes. The voice acting is also top-notch, though it’s a little disappointing that the character’s mouths do not move with the dialogue.
Papo & Yo may not be the best indie game, but I would argue it’s one of the best works of interactive art in recent memory. It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with Papo & Yo, it’s just that the gameplay itself isn’t very involving, instead relying on its aesthetics and symbolism to draw the player in. But as a work of interactive art, it is brilliant. Do games need to be fun to succeed? Is fun factor imperative to a game’s art? I don’t yet know the answer to these questions, but they’re becoming increasingly important to ask as games evolve as an art form. But if you are interested in the growing maturity of this medium, then Papo & Yo will not disappoint.
A copy of the game was provided to us by Activision for reviewing purposes.
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