Papo & Yo is art. Over the years there have been many arguments about whether games can be art or not, and Papo & Yo is hopefully the last nail in the coffin of that silly debate. Minority Creative Director Vander Caballero sets out to make you feel a certain emotion with his game, and achieves his goal beautifully. When you realize it is an autobiographical tale, it makes the impact that much heavier.
You play as Quico, a young boy living in a South American favela. Quico has to look after his friend Monster, who pretty much just sleeps and eats coconuts. Monster does have a serious problem though, he can’t stop himself from eating poisonous frogs, and when he does he goes crazy. Once Monster gets a hold of a frog, he literally bursts into flames, and will chase Quico until you find a special blue coconut.
Quico lives in a surrealist world where the laws of physics don’t always have a lot of meaning. You might be surprised by the graphics when you first play Papo & Yo. It runs on the Unreal Engine, and is very realistic. Rarely do you find a puzzle/platformer made by an indie developer set in a realistic world. Once you delve into the mechanics of the game, you can see what a smart choice it is. Quico can interact with chalk drawings that change the buildings around him. The impact when he pulls on a chalk rope and the walls of a building literally peel back is astounding.
The contradictions in the world of Papo & Yo are what makes it special. You are in a grimy, realistic world, but then the a building will sprout wings and fly away, or grow legs and hop around. It is a whimsical world where you can stack dozens of buildings and create a bridge with them, but there is still a menacing undercurrent felt in the moody interaction between Quico and the other characters.
The puzzles in Papo & Yo are fantastic, mostly because they allow you to interact with the environment in such a unique way. You might pull a stairway out of the side of a building that wasn’t there before, or figure out a way to move a building that is blocking your path. You have a number of tools to work with. You can coax Monster to help you, you have a robot friend named Lulu that can let you double jump and unlock certain areas that you can’t reach. You also have a mysterious friend who leads you through most of the game. The puzzles are never going to really challenge you or blow your mind, but there is still joy to be had just by completing them and seeing what will happen next.
Papo & Yo is a reasonably short game. You will be able to finish it in a sitting or two. It also has a linear story line, and while you can probably solve the puzzles in a few different ways, there isn’t much reason to play through the game again. The one caveat is that if you are a trophy hound, there will be an incentive to play through multiple times. All that being said, I am completely okay with a game not over-staying its welcome and being a contained experience. Every second I played of Papo & Yo was an enjoyable one, and I have no interest in them watering down the experience for the sake of adding a few hours of play time or some bullets to the back of the virtual game box.
Papo & Yo is an experience that you probably haven’t had before, and it is well worth your time and money. If you have a PS3 and a soul, I highly recommend that you give it a try.
This review is based on a retail copy of Papo & Yo provided by Minority. It is a PSN exclusive.