Papo & Yo is a story, almost a fable, about alcohol abuse and the damaging effect it can have on families of different races, cultures and religions. That’s a pretty hefty theme for a video game, certainly not one that’s often touched upon. Drinking too much in Grand Theft Auto IV does nothing but make it difficult to drive around, leading to often hilarious situations in which you crash, climb out of the car and then fall over. Fallout penalises your intelligence for drinking too much, but offers boosters to strength and charisma as a reward for partaking in too much beer or a whole bottle of vodka (or four). Neither is a very realistic portrayal of the alcohol abuse you’re allowed to “simulate”, with little to no consequence and, to be fair, we wouldn’t expect much more. That’s why Papo & Yo pushes new ground.
Quico is a small boy in a magical, beautiful world. His best friend, Monster, is a giant, lovable creature with a penchant for coconuts and, unfortunately, poisonous frogs. The former will allow you to lead Monster around, to use him in pressure plate puzzles and his belly for a trampoline of sorts to increase the height of your jumps. The latter has a much darker effect, turning him into a rampaging beast, attacking and hurting anybody in his path. It’s quite shocking to see for the first time, as Quico is picked up, beaten and thrown. He must calm down Monster by any means necessary – usually involving solving some sort of puzzle – and then move on through his dream world.
The level design is absolutely stunning. Beautiful locations are twisted and manipulated by the player as they explore: houses will move and dance and twist to create bridges, stairways will burst out of light, and fantastic graffiti adorns wall after wall. Thankfully, the graphics are largely good enough to display all of this in as perfect a way as needed. Textures on buildings look good, the colour in the graffiti is mind-blowing, and the constant flow of rain is enough to set a mood but not distract. The downside of having such decent graphics is the fact that there’s far too much framerate slow-down, sometimes not even in areas that seem especially dense or impressive. It’s very annoying, especially mid-puzzle.
That isn’t the only glitch you’ll come across; both my girlfriend and I have come across glitches that have, for example, forced us under the map. I can’t say for certain that it’s a glitch that will occur for everybody, or even the majority, but in my experience it’s happened twice during two play-throughs, so keep an eye out. Other than that, there are puzzles which aren’t quite as clean-cut as they should be, or platform sections that are overly hard and sometimes confusing to the player, almost to the point where it just isn’t as enjoyable as it should be. Both the puzzles and the platform sections are made more frustrating by wonky controls that, while they work for the slower sections of the game, just don’t hold up during the more action-centric portions on offer.
As a game, Papo & Yo suffers in several areas and there’s no chance you won’t notice. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s game-breaking, or even that it’s necessarily down to bad development (although another patch wouldn’t hurt). After all, ICO had annoying controls and anybody that played it for any length of time will still wake up after nightmares about that damn waterwheel. Instead, Papo & Yo should be viewed as an experience, as a celebration of a different culture. The music is beautiful and addictive, and the locations are quaint and natural, even on the more complicated puzzles. To be fair, there’s not a huge amount of depth in the way that puzzles are presented, although you’ll still come across the odd head scratcher.
Here we have a perfect example of the narrative game: Papo & Yo is an adventure, a journey that has you taken by the hand and led through a different world, through a dream state created by a little boy who doesn’t understand the harsh realities of the world. It isn’t a game for people who want a perfect playing experience – you’ll be disappointed if that’s what you’re looking for, and it probably won’t take long for you to realise it – but for people who want to see things outside of their comfort zone, who want an intimate journey through somebody else’s life. Lead developer Vander Caballero has allowed you a surreal glimpse at his his sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful childhood, and it doesn’t get much more intimate than that. If you can get over the little problems, this is a game you should try immediately.