Papa & Yo takes storytelling in a downloadable game to new heights, but at what cost?
Can a video game make you cry? It's a question that is asked in so many opinion pieces on the net, the answer usually being yes. Of course everyone is different, some may see crying in marvel as Master Chief saves the world in Halo is strange, while some may not feel the same emotional connection with characters in Mass Effect that brings players to tears when they reach their end. How about a story that tells of a toxic relationship, where things change from playful and loving to abusive and violent without the innocent party having time to react. A story that tells of how a single vice in life can affect those closest to you, the monster within being so full of hatred and anger that escape is the only option for those on he receiving end. This escape is Papo & Yo, a young boy's vision of his life and one of the few PSN games that will make you cry.
Symbolism, metaphor and transient dream sequences make up most of the narrative in Papo & Yo, dropped into an unknown world as young boy Quico who is left to work out the true meaning of the events that unfold. He soon encounters Monster, a huge beast of a creature who's an unknown entity for both Quico and the player. Without going into too many spoilers, the main story arc in Papo & Yo is full fantasy on the surface, with real social and personal issues bubbling under throughout. These moments where the fantasy and real world collide are heart wrenching, emotional and expertly constructed. The game hints at a message bigger than itself at the end of each of its 5 chapters, never defining anything outright, instead allowing you to connect the dots in your mind. One scene in particular did achieve that elusive tear rolling down my cheek as it played out. For a PSN game that lasts just shy of 6 hours, that is a very impressive achievement.
No matter how invested you get in the story of Papo & Yo it's a puzzle based adventure at heart. There are some platformer and exploration segments too, but for the most part you direct Monster through the urban environment to activate switches and allow Quico access to others. You have to take care of Monster, feeding him coconuts until he falls asleep on a nearby wall so yo can bounce off his belly for instance. At times you can play with a football, though the relationship can change dramatically mere seconds after this playful moment.
Monster has an addiction of sorts, and will chase after frogs if he smells them nearby. If he gets his teeth into one of them, the screen turns red and Monster becomes a fiery beast chasing you down and throwing you around. It's much less subtle than the other hints to 'real' life in the game, but as a gameplay dynamic it works extremely well. There's moments where the pace ramps up because you are forced to avoid Monster, or other times where you have to make sure there are no frogs around for him to feast on. It adds tension and drama into what would otherwise become a 5 hour escort mission with you pressing switches and turning gears to progress. There really isn't much challenge to have though, it's much more about the journey than feeling smart in Papo & Yo.
After such glowing praise, why isn't Papo & Yo one of the highest scoring PSN games? The game is a bit of a mess technically, texture pop-in, bad collision detection and artsy but technically poor graphical design. It's a shame that a game so well pitched in every other way is so plagued with technical issues. Some of the problems are easy to look past but others really diminish the goal the developers are trying to achieve. There were moments where Monster got stuck on the environment, forcing me to reload the game multiple times. The lack of animation in cutscenes is jarring too for instance, forcing you to remember that this is a downloadable game. In so many other ways it lives up the high standards of something like Shadow of the Collosus in the way it tells its narrative, but consistently comes across as the poor man's version.
PAPO & YO VERDICT
It’s really difficult to focus on the lesser aspects of a game like Papo & Yo, one of the most inventive and interesting games in recent memory. The puzzles are consistently enjoyable, while the narrative undercutting this fantasy world is truly heartbreaking. It’s hard not to be slightly disappointed with the lack of polish though, technical bugs and problems appearing far too often. This is a videogame that deserved a bit more attention, rather than being labelled as simply a fun download only diversion. That said, Papo & Yo is still a remarkable experience, one of the most emotive games of the year so far and one that will stay with you well after the credits have rolled. Papo & Yo will affect you in a way that few games could ever imagine to, setting the standard for PSN in 2012.
TOP GAME MOMENT
One scene near the end of the game is sure to bring most players to tears, linking the real and fantasy worlds together in a beautiful way.