Telling an emotional story through a game can be an iffy thing. Sometimes you can pull it off, sometimes it falls short of the impact you wanted. Papo and Yo, released earlier this summer via Sony’s Playstation Network, does fairly well and seems to hit most of the goals it was trying for.
Telling the story of Quico, who journeys through his own imagination to escape the abuses of an alcoholic father, Papo & Yo allows you to wander through beautifully realized Brazilian neighborhoods. The artwork is both realistic and surrealistic: The photo-real homes stacked atop the heights of the hills will float or twist as Quico uses his imagination to shape the world around him as he solves puzzles.
If you’re used to difficult puzzles, you’d think that the gameplay is the weakest part of Papo & Yo, because the puzzles are straightforward and easy. There are only a few times where I had to ponder the solutions. Because the creator wanted to focus on an emotional story, he eschewed the typical mind-bending puzzles usually found in platformer games. There are good number of puzzles, though, where you’ll need to use a second person to move past. This is where the main storytelling device comes into play.
Playing as an allegory for Quico’s alcoholic father is a giant pink monster named, appropriately, Monster. You’ll use Monster’s super-bouncy stomach as a trampoline to reach new heights and will have him help you by activating pressure plates. However, you’ll also run from Monster when he’s eaten a poisonous frog that he seems to be drawn to, transforming himself into a raging fire-beast. When he’s not raging, he will kick a soccer ball with Quico or chase after thrown coconut-like fruits.
You’ll find yourself working to manipulate Monster’s emotional responses, good and bad, into helping you solve puzzles while trying to keep him from the poisonous frogs. The dedication shown at the beginning of the game reads: “To my mother, brothers and sister, with whom I survived the monster in my father.” No, the storytelling may not be subtle, but it is effective.
Papo & Yo isn’t a long game, by any means, nor is it difficult. But, like Journey, it tells an emotional story and it tells that story well. I’d recommend it.
There’s also a release trailer that blends live-action with in-game footage, if you’d like to experience a bit of the game’s style for yourself: