Released last year exclusively on the PSN, Papo & Yo received a mixed reception. While the game was applauded for its attempt to explore a rather grim subject not often touched in gaming, it was criticized due to a myriad of technical issues. A little over half a year later, the game finally arrives on PC, polished and ready to give the definitive experience the developers from Minority intended from the very beginning.
Papo & Yo begins with a boy hiding in a closet from a menacing monster lurking just outside. Its towering frame shaking the very ground with each step, it calls out in search of the boy, “Quico”. Suddenly, a portal opens up on the side of the wall in the closet and, seeking refuge from the monster, the boy dives in without hesitation to see that he’s arrived in a most different and yet familiar place.
Even from the opening, it’s easy to see that Papo & Yo is a game steeped in metaphors and while certain story elements are left open to interpretation, the hand it plays is readily visible by design. While this facilitates understanding the story and overall message of the game with ease, it’s also a missed opportunity as there is much greater impact when the player is able to piece things together for themselves. This is apparent even outside the game itself.
If one were to watch the launch trailer that was put up to promote the game, it goes into great detail on the theme of the experience, and while expertly directed, I must recommend that if anyone has any interest in playing the game, it would be best not to watch the trailer and go in with as little prior knowledge as possible. After all, I feel as though this is a game that was made first and foremost with the particular theme in mind and the game play built in service to telling that story, so it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible. Hence, I will not delve into the narrative or theme presented in the game in greater detail. Just note that it’s rather grim and ends in a way most wouldn’t expect.
As far as the game play goes, it would be accurate to describe Papo & Yo as a 3D puzzle platformer.Here is where my biggest complaint comes in. While I never saw any of the technical failings that were cited for the PSN release of the game, the actual puzzles and platforming sections that made up the vast majority of the Papo & Yo experience was simply too easy. The game spends its first few levels exploring the various mechanics it has to offer, and while there are enough to keep things relatively interesting, it never culminated into something challenging I had to overcome. I would walk into a new area, take a few moments to look at my surroundings and then immediately know what needed to be done. I don’t always play games for the difficulty, but when I play a game with a strong emphasis on puzzles, I at least expect to be challenged to some degree.
It’s really quite a shame as the level design itself was often times exquisite both in visual fidelity as well as the imagination put into them. The first time I picked up a box to see a building fly about one-to-one to my own actions, I was in awe. In fact, there were many more moments like it in the game, as buildings sprouted wings and flew away like birds and the very ground I stood on came alive and whisked me away to a whole new place.
Graphically, the PC port is superior in every way to the PSN release. The game has received a significant facelift and now includes options for settings such as motion blur, depth of field, light shafts and more. While it’s not the best looking title in the world, it certainly is a pleasant one to look at now, especially compared to its counterpart released in 2012. The game also controls well using a wired 360 controller, which I used from beginning to end and found no trouble in making even the more “difficult” jumps. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have any significant added content outside of the much needed bug fixes and graphical upgrades, so those who played and finished the game on the PS3 have little reason to pick this one up.
Given the nature of the puzzle platformers, people will have a hard time justifying another play through(inconsequential collectibles are not a strong incentive), and considering the game will clock in at around 3-4 hours, I had to wonder if it was worth the asking price of $15. Personally, I feel games like this do a lot more harm than good by overstaying their welcome so I don’t hold its length (short and bittersweet) against it. Lastly, I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention the game’s excellent soundtrack which hits all the right notes to fit the mood of the game perfectly from beginning to end.
While the trivial difficulty is certainly a glaring flaw of the game, the overall experience of Papo & Yo is a memorable one; touching upon some themes that will hit close to home to many and giving everyone else in between something to think about long after the credits have rolled.
Fun Tidbit: take note of the letters/numbers on the box at the very end of the game and then start a new game.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.