Papo & Yo (PC)

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Thursday, April 18, 2013

One topic that has continued to come up in the video game community over the past few years is how to advance the medium to break away from the notion that games are more than just child’s play. Compared to the film industry, gaming is still relatively young and despite the fact that titles like Heavy Rain have attempted to tackle more difficult topics a lot of these ideas have remained as taboos and are a rarity. Minority Media is one of the latest developers to try and tackle more emotionally heavy themes through their debut title Papo & Yo, which came out on the Playstation 3 last August and is now available for PC via Steam. It’s a game that still has some rough edges that were carried over in the transition from one platform to the other, but what Minority Media has accomplished with their storytelling is incredible.

If you have read reviews of the Playstation 3 version, it’s possible you may have already found out the underlying themes and emotional weight the game offers but I’m going to try to keep things as spoiler free as I can because this is a title worth experiencing for yourself. In Papo & Yo players take on the role of Quico, a young boy who is friends with a large monster. The game begins with Quico in a very normal looking house, huddled in a corner clutching a robot toy named Lula. Suddenly a chalk outline appears and a door in the wall opens, transporting Quico into a bright and colorful world that resembles a South American favela but with a lot of distorted elements. Papo & Yo’s story is told through a fairly sparse amount of dialogue, instead relying on what is happening around the player and some vivid flashback style scenes that allow the players to begin piecing the puzzle together. Monster is typically friendly to the boy and likes to eat fruit, but when he encounters frogs he immediately eats them and transforms into an angry beast. During these transformations Quico must run away or be tossed around in fits of violent rage. The ultimate goal of the story is for Monster to be cured of his addiction to these frogs, and as the game progresses things only seem to become more twisted. Symbolism is used throughout to represent the underlying themes, and towards the end there are a number of scenes that are so emotionally heavy that it can be a bit hard to watch/play. Minority Media has been able to accomplish quite a bit and tackle ideas that video games rarely do, and as a result it’s an experience players won’t forget once they’ve completed it. I can’t remember the last time a game’s final moments made me tear up in the same way an emotional film might, but that’s exactly what Papo & Yo was able to do.

When it comes to the actual game side of this title, it can best be categorized as a puzzle platformer. Players move Quico around and jump from one platform to the other in each location while solving various puzzles to progress. The controls are fairly simple, as the standard WASD format is used to move, shift to walk (the default speed is running), space to jump, and the left and right mouse button to interact with objects. The developers have made it possible to rebind all of the keys and change additional options for the PC port but I found that with how little buttons the game requires that it wasn’t necessary to use anything outside of the default. Typically the puzzles in each area revolve around flipping switches or using various items to get Monster to move onto a switch as the two are required to move forward together. Although the formula remains the same for the majority of the game, the various twists and different ideas that are added around each time makes the puzzles enjoyable to solve and nothing ever feels overly frustrating. Some additional ideas are added a little ways into the game, as the robot Lula allows the player to double jump/hover for a brief moment and can be thrown at faraway switches to trigger them. If anything ever becomes overly difficult, there are hint boxes scattered at key points that provide hand drawn animations to try and help players figure out what they need to do.

As the entire game is spent solving puzzles and traversing the environment, you’re probably wondering how the gameplay stacks up. This is where Papo & Yo falters slightly, as there are some technical issues that keep things from feeling quite as smooth as they could be. While the controls are responsive, the jumping sometimes seemed a bit loose and it wasn’t always clear where Quico would be landing. Sometimes the same jump made moments earlier would result in a miss, and the overall physics seemed just a bit off. It was never too frustrating as the player respawns where they started if they plummet to their death (plus there are some well-placed checkpoints), but the platforming never feels as smooth as it should be. There were also some issues with picking up objects, as there are certain sequences where the player has to pick up and splat frogs against the wall before Monster can get to them. During some of these moments I found myself clicking the left mouse button and not always finding Quico picking them up as a result. But my biggest complaint would have to be the camera, as it has a habit of zooming out to show the entire playing area while still allowing you to move your character around and as a result when it zooms back in you are completely disoriented. Also expect some hard to see angles during Monster chases as well, even when you rotate the mouse to move the camera around. But despite the slightly rougher feel of some of the technical elements, the puzzles remained engaging and the game remained fun to play and experience.

Graphically Papo & Yo looks quite nice, and while there are elements like character faces that look a little lower resolution than one might expect the amount of detail in the world makes up for it. Everything looked smooth on the PC and there were very few jagged edges when the title was running on Very High settings, but depending on your system there are a good amount of options that can be changed to improve performance. As previously mentioned, the locations are all based on South American favelas and there is artwork on some of the walls in-game that are taken from the work of real world graffiti artists. Everything is bright and colorful and each location boasts something just a little different that will keep the player wanting to discover what comes next. The animation is also quite fluid, and despite the occasional texture issue this looked and felt like a game that was made during this generation of PCs and consoles. I occasionally ran into a framerate dip here and there, but it wasn’t quite clear to me whether this was because there were too many other applications open on my system or issues with the game itself. For this review I tested Papo & Yo using a 3.20 GHz Intel Core i7, 8 GB DDR3 RAM, and an AMD Radeon HD 6970 and aside from those dips (which happened maybe three-four times total) the game ran smoothly. However, clipping was an issue and Monster had a habit of getting stuck on objects from time to time.

Sound is an area where most games are hit or miss, but it is one of Papo & Yo’s strongest elements. Minority Media recruited Brian D’Oliveira of La Hacienda Creative to create the original soundtrack, and what he was able to do was create tunes that not only matched the South American look of the game but also the emotional impact of each scene. There were a number of tracks that I enjoyed enough that I waited around in a specific area for a bit to listen to them for a bit longer, and the more powerful numbers really helped to enhance the impact that specific scenes had. Although there aren’t that many scenes with spoken dialogue the few that appear fit the game nicely, but this really isn’t a prominent enough element that will stand out as either good or bad to players.

If you take your time going through it, Papo & Yo can be completed in about four to five hours. This may seem a bit short, but it worked in the game’s favor as every puzzle remained clever and intuitive and the levels remained interesting to discover and if things had been too much longer this might not have been the case. The four or five hour time period allows the thematic elements to build up in intensity at a significant pace, and by the time it starts to sink in what the real message is the emotional final scenes are not that far away. Minority Media has offered hats for the player to collect on the second play-through as a way to convince achievement hunters to experience everything a second time, although this may not necessarily appeal to everyone.

Looking at the screenshots and trailers for Papo & Yo, it’s easy to think that this is a bright and colorful puzzle platformer that places all of its emphasis on whimsical ideas. But that’s just what is on the surface, as the player will experience ideas of addiction, violence, and loss all wrapped into these cheery exterior. It’s a little rough around the edges when it comes to technical execution, but the interesting puzzles made it fun to play and the story kept me engaged up until the end. There are still very few games that can generate the emotional weight and genuine sense of discomfort that this one has been able to, and because of this it’s an experience I won’t forget any time soon. At $14.99 I think the world Minority Media has created deserves to be experienced and while there are plenty of other elements of this game that I could discuss it would be best if you explore it for yourself.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/227080/
http://www.weareminority.com/papo-yo/

System Requirements

Minimum:
o OS:Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7
o Processor:2.2 GHz dual core or better
o Memory:1 GB RAM
o Graphics:NVIDIA GeForce 6800GT, ATI Radeon X1800 or better
o DirectX®:9.0c
o Hard Drive:4 GB HD space
o Sound:Windows compatible sound card
o Other Requirements:Broadband Internet connection
o Additional:Game supports Multi-Monitor

Recommended:
o OS:Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7
o Processor:2.8 GHz quad core or better
o Memory:3 GB RAM
o Graphics:NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460, ATI Radeon HD 5870 or better
o DirectX®:9.0c
o Hard Drive:4 GB HD space
o Sound:Windows compatible sound card
o Other Requirements:Broadband Internet connection
o Additional:Game supports Multi-Monitor

The Good

+ Powerful and emotionally charged storyline and themes

+ Beautifully designed and surreal locations/scenery

+ Strong soundtrack that enhances the intensity of the themes and fits the overall atmosphere

+ Intuitive and engaging puzzles


The Bad

- Inconsistent jumping and collision detection

- Awkward camera angles that result in disorienting moments

- Some low-quality textures, particularly on character models

- Occasional framerate dips

Verdict8.5

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