Platform: Playstation Network
[Editor’s Note: Before I begin, I want you to know I’m going to be as vague as possible with the story elements. There’s truly an experience to be had here that the less you know about, the more you might appreciate despite some of the game’s flaws. I’ll point out some other articles to read over in another post that I’ll have up in a day or two that will elaborate more on the less than subtle undertones of the game.]
I remember seeing screenshots and videos of earlier versions of this game. I remember having a monster for a friend follow you around and helping you through some of the game’s puzzles reminded me a bit of the oft overlooked Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom. I remember thinking that the monster going into a blind rage when he consumed the frogs he was addicted to might add a fairly unique play mechanic to your helper. When I sat down and played Papo & Yo, I found my memories and expectations had been thrown out the window and I was in for a darker experience than I was being led to believe.
Papo & Yo takes place in a version of a shanty town seen through the eyes of Quico’s, the character you’ll be playing as, imagination. Chalk drawings and lines hold the power to manipulate the environment. Your toy robot, Lula, is alive and will help you hit switches and give you the ability to hover briefly after a jump. You’re led along by Alejandra, who has created the chalk drawings and serves as a device to move the story forward, both narratively and mechanically.
Your monster companion, simply named Monster, is mostly calm and enjoys eating lemons and napping. Taking advantage of these traits, respectively, you can lead Monster to switches he needs to be on to activate or climb up on him and bounce to normally inaccessible areas off his belly. Monster does have an addiction to frogs that, when consumed, will have him turn into a raging, uncontrollable beast that will go berserk on anything in his path, including you. There is an instance where this comes in handy, but that instance is also caused by a previous incident of Monster eating a frog. Basically, nothing good happens when Monster eats a frog, so your best bet is to splat those things against a wall as quickly as you can to avoid him going into berserk mode whenever possible.
What Papo & Yo boils down to, from a purely gameplay point of view, is a fairly simplistic puzzle platformer. Not only is it simple, but it’s also fairly short and quite easy. I’m famously terrible at puzzle games, as I seem to lack the proper wiring to get a Tetris in any manner but accidentally, but I never found myself struggling with a single puzzle in the game. With no real penalty for failure and even the most challenging of puzzles only taking me a few minutes to figure out my own, Papo & Yo is a short experience that will probably never find you stumped. The puzzles are clever in their execution, but are essentially just hitting the next switch in sequence than any sort of exercise in trial and error.
Graphics – The art direction is whimsical and stands in stark contrast to the game’s tone. Animations are fairly smooth with occasional slowdown.
Sounds – The experience sonically is a delight. The little voice acting found is well done and the soundtrack is something I’ll be trolling iTunes looking for.
Gameplay – The puzzles are cleverly designed but all rather simple to figure out. Quico’s movements are fairly floaty and you’ll find yourself missing jumps with a bit of regularity.
Story – Dark. Surprisingly dark. It starts off dark, seems to go in one direction, and goes back to a bad place well before the conclusion is reached.
Replay Value – If you’re into unlocking hats for Quico that are purely for aesthetic purposes, you could get one or two more playthroughs of it. Otherwise, coming back to catch some of the references that you missed originally might really be the only reason for another pass.
Overall Length – One playthrough will net you four to five hours. If you’re looking to unlock all the trophies, you can get one more playthrough that will be decidedly shorter since you should have the puzzles figured out and none of them will differ.
Overall Score – 7
None of the basic information I’ve given you will likely prepare you for what’s to come. While the game’s art direction is wonderful, it hides an ugliness that contrasts the story you’ll find yourself wrapped up in. I found myself enjoying the game, but that may have more to do with some of my own life experiences being realized in the game as much as seeing the story unfold. The story isn’t for the easily troubled, as it might stick with you longer than you’d think (or like). Go in expecting a tale to be told with some easy puzzles to solve and some average gameplay mechanics and you’ll likely not be left disappointed.