E3 2011: Papo & Yo – hands-on with impressive indie

Platforming puzzler is charming look at substance abuse

All we could think while demoing Papo & Yo was just how bad we felt for the creator's past. See, Papo & Yo on the surface is an endearing platforming puzzle game about the relationship between protagonist Quico and his best friend, Monster. Quico is a young boy who runs around an idealized favela, or slum, while solving puzzles with his robot friend Lula. Monster is a pink rhinoceros beast – not unlike Barney the dinosaur – who is needed to move objects and aid Quico on his journey. Underneath this PSN exclusive however, is an allegorical look at coping with substance abuse.

You see, Monster – a fitting name to say the least – is addicted to poisonous frogs. One bite and he transforms into a freakish fire-breathing beast who wants to kill Quico. Your goal is to traverse the game and find the secret to saving your best friend. Kind of a heavy premise when you actually think about it. We were also told this game is the lead designer's cathartic way with dealing with his father's alcohol abuse, making this an oddly personal journey not often seen in the game industry.

We began the demo running around, searching for Lula. Lula is a miniature robot doll that clings to your back like Yoda in Empire Strikes Back. We had Lula hold a rope and called our pint-sized friend to come near us, pulling the rope backwards. This caused a stone stairway to appear under us, granting a means of reaching the exit to this area. Papo & Yo is filled with this sort of magical realism.

Another section had us lift and set cardboard boxes in a straight line, which actually moved whole buildings to create a bridge for us to the next path. The following section introducedMonster to us, whom we had to control by tossing either fruit or soccer balls in the path we wanted him to go along. We led him to an area that depressed the pavement and caused a drawbridge to lower. That enabled us to proceed.

Eventually we came to an area filled with poisonous frogs and were terrified that Monster would show up at any minute. Keep in mind: you don't have any weapons (Monster's your friend!) and Monster is religiously addicted to the frogs. We were able to chuck a few into a nearby well, but Monster eventually appeared, ate one and went into a fiery rage. At that point the demo ended, which actually relieved us because we were terrifiedabout what to do with him, much like a real friend with a problem.

Sadly there doesn't seem to be any interventions, so you'll inevitably have to figure out a way to stop the beast without harming him. Besides the looming threat, Papo & Yo's subject matter is offsetby its portrayal of the topic. Quico is a fun-loving kid and your world is a sun-baked favela, seemingly only populated by you. Lula is a cute little robot. The only one posing a threat is Monster, who normally acts like a huge puppy dog.

It makes us sad to think about a normally happy friendship that will go to shit without question or warning. If we already have this much of an emotional response after a few minutes of playtime, we expect the finished product to really tug at our heartstrings, while being a total blast to play. Look for Papo & Yo exclusively on PSN in early 2012.

Jun 9, 2011

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