Papo & Yo Review: A Boy And His Monster

Ed. note: Due to Papo & Yo’s narrative premise and themes, we felt it necessary to include a few details in this review which could be construed as spoilers. We’re not spoiling the ending or anything, but you’ve been warned.

Anybody who has a family member with an addiction is going to find Papo & Yo difficult to play.

I didn’t expect much going into Papo & Yo in terms of what I would see or do. I knew there was a boy and a fierce Monster that helped him, but that’s pretty much it. When the first scene alluded to childhood abuse and the “monster’ that dwells within the abuser, I was genuinely surprised. It’s a tough story to tell, even when told straight, but Papo & Yo manages to address such emotional subject matter with much more subtlety and grace than I’ve seen in a game. It might not be difficult or long, but it’s definitely worth playing at least once.

Papo & Yo
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS3
Developer: Minority Media
Publisher: Minority Media
Released: April 18, 2013
MSRP: $14.99

Papo & Yo follows a boy named Quico as he explores a child-like version of the favelas of Brazil. He is accompanied on his journey by three characters: a girl whose chalk brings buildings to life, a robot companion named Lula that clings to his back, and Monster, a hulking beast that is frightening looking but – for the most part – peaceful. The girl and Lula actively communicate to Quico, but Monster is primal and spends most of his time sleeping, eating, or in a rage.

It’s a pretty simple narrative, but it’s one that really starts to hit home near the end. While the allegory was obvious from the start of the game, the way the developers approached it is unique. There are no easy answers in Papo & Yo, and despite the dream-like childish naivety of the world, there are some hard truths contained within. I can’t go into more depth without spoiling the ending, and it’s an ending you definitely want to see.

Quico’s imaginative adventure distills down to the bare basics of puzzle platforming: jump around (in this case, in the third person), flip switch, stuff happens, continue to next puzzle. That’s not to say it’s all switch-pressing, though. There are a few really great sequences that emphasize the fantastic nature of the reality you are in. The first time Papo & Yo unveiled just how strange things could get, I was left with a fuzzy feeling in my stomach. It clicked and felt good, and that’s what puzzle games need.

Monster is the goal of the game; everything revolves around finding him, and after he is found everything revolves around him reaching the “shaman,” a character that can supposedly cure him of his addiction to frogs. If there aren’t any frogs in the current puzzle, Monster will chase after fruits, eat them, and fall into a slumber against the nearest convenient surface. This leaves him with only two jobs: standing on a switch and sleeping so that Quico can bounce off his belly.

In addition to his hands (used for switch-flipping, rope-pulling, and general rambunctiousness) and Monster, Quico has a robotic companion – obviously based on a household toy – that allows him to hover and press distant switches. This little fella is the one truly bright ray in Quico’s fantasy world, as the girl continually says he is cursed and Monster tends to get violently angry.

Papo & Yo isn’t especially long – a few hours at most – mostly because the puzzles are all so easy that there’s nothing to challenge you. This is where the premise begins to fall apart. The puzzles are well-designed, but they lack the sort of “aha!” moments that really connect a game to its player. These moments are essential for a good puzzle game, but Papo & Yo feels at times that it doesn’t want to be a game. It wants to be a good allegory for substance and child abuse more than a fun title, and it sacrifices good puzzles for an emotionally charged and unusually dark plot.

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