Where the child with the awesome robot is
So, if you’re the average gamer you might be thinking “Uh oh, it’s a game about a child beater.” Well, it is. No, don’t run away. Don’t even think about running away. I’m far from done and Papo and Yo is a lot more than that. There’s been big controversy of late about whether video games should be considered art. Many of those people or as I like to call them ‘muggles’ who haven’t discovered the joys of video gaming, don’t think they can. Papo and Yo is one of the games trying to change their minds. Putting ideological goals like this at the head of your production is always risky - it’s a bit like communism/capitalism/globalisation. Sure it works in theory, but does it work in practice?
Yo Papo? How you play?
Ok, let’s just sweep all the ideology under the rug for a moment. After all, Papo and Yo is a game and it needs to be treated as such. You play as Quico, who is being beaten by his father. He’s quite a forgiving chap and decides to live and let live. After all, he is his father, and Quico remains hopeful of a cure.
Enter Quico’s strange imagination, where houses fly and the world is bright. The developer, Minority Media, has done a terrific job in making a bizarre world that really could have come out of a child’s imagination. I found one of the biggest joys of the game was just stepping out to see what magic they had concocted for me to play with. You’re not alone in this world of course. You’re accompanied by Lula, your awesome robot. Lula acts as a centre of calm in an otherwise crazy world. Your childhood toy after all would be the most loyal thing in the world, if it could be made flesh. You’re also accompanied by Monster, aka your father. He’s a huge lumbering beast and a terrifying presence in the level. But remember, he’s all nice and calm most of the time, until he eats a frog...
Last but far from least is a strange girl you encounter at the very start of the game. It’s never made clear who she is, it’s left open for interpretation. Most of the time you’re left to follow in her wake as she guides you through the ever more complicated levels.
All these characters form a sort of rag-tag team that you as Quico must manage and use to solve puzzles. Lula gives you the ability to double jump and can activate certain switches that will allow you to progress. Monster stands on large pressure pads to open doors and move obstacles. He is a little uncooperative though, and must be lured through the use of coconuts or even frogs. Just watch out if he eats a frog, or you’ll pay for it. You can also use monster’s belly as a trampoline if he’s sleeping.
My life and my goal
Quico is the one who does all the grunt work though. You as the player must pull levers, flick switches and turn keys to make the world change to accommodate your needs. Often these puzzles are quite enjoyable to figure out, but what really stands out about Papo and Yo is the range of solutions. I found myself constantly amazed by what happened when I pressed the button and finally worked out what to do. It all comes together in a conglomeration of strange impossibility and simplicity. It’s a case where the solution is better than the puzzle. Although that sounds like a criticism, it’s really not. Unlike in so many games nowadays I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I knew where I wanted to go and what I needed to do, what I didn’t know was how I was going to end up getting there. If you find yourself stuck however you can always look at the game’s many hint boxes which, if you’re unsure of yourself, will shove you in the right direction. Not that you should really need it. I didn’t find the puzzles that challenging, nor was the platforming very hard.
The game also seems obsessed with forcing you into a linear path. You start off not entirely sure of what to do, lacking direction and any idea of a goal. The game instead pushes you in one direction through a very linear level design. This gives you at least some measure of where to go, but it meant as soon as I tried to be clever I was met with invisible walls. After a while though I found I didn’t mind, half way through the goal becomes obvious and all the elements come into play. It’s also at this stage you get the rather wacky set pieces rendered superbly in the ever brilliant Unreal Engine. These set pieces play a crucial role in the puzzle solving and platforming aspects as well ranging from simply floating houses to a multiverse crossing football field. The latter I found to be really fun. Disappointingly the more complicated set pieces are somewhat gimmicky but it makes each level stand out in your mind as something special and unique adding a bit of replay value.
The dark story
Ok, so game aside, let's talk narrative. The story is very dark, Quico is the victim of an abusive parent so decides to escape his troubles into a world of his own imagination. There he seeks a cure to his father’s rage and the strange girl appears to know the way. Suffice to say it’s rather bleak subject matter, but it doesn’t show itself in the game directly. Instead it is told by metaphor and inference. This is probably for the best seeing as it’s incredibly hard to market something like this. In fact the game is rather jolly, the occasional flashback is all that really alludes to the darker underbelly of this fanciful world. I was expecting it to be a lot more apparent but it’s not really there at all. The main story elements only touch on what might be happening rather than explaining it outright. On one hand this works perfectly, as safeguarding your vulnerable mind from the horrors of the world is exactly what the game is all about. On the other it does mean there isn’t much structure to the game. You know your aim and your ultimate goal, but you sort of end up ambling towards it without really having a clue what’s going on. It’s sort of a double bladed sword.
Cats in the random African town
All in all I rather enjoyed Papo and Yo. It’s a simple game about a simple premise, how far will you go to save your monster of a father? It’s a great platformer with some great ideas, not to mention a few really epic set pieces. You definitely need a little grey matter to figure out what the ending is all about. But hey, I’m sure that’ll be no problem for anyone with good enough taste to pick this up and give it a go!