After residing exclusively on the PS3 for just over a year, the imaginative platform/puzzle game Papo & Yo is now on PC. If you missed it in its original console incarnation, should you pick it up? Yes--but only if you’re prepared for a succinct experience that’s more about telling the author’s personal story than your own.
You play as Quico, a boy who escapes the trauma of living with his abusive alcoholic father by exploring a picturesque world of magical realism. The game is rife with allegories for creative director Vander Caballero’s traumatic childhood, and chief among these is Monster, a hulking pink behemoth that Quico is equal parts fond and fearful of. Gameplay in Papo & Yo primarily involves solving puzzles by bending the environment to your will using mystical chalk lines, and guiding your big, sluggish buddy to the next checkpoint. It’s a little like My Neighbor Totoro if it was set in a South American slum instead of bucolic Japan.
"It’s a little like My Neighbor Totoro if it was set in a South American slum instead of bucolic Japan."
But things take a sinister turn whenever Monster succumbs to his vice: scarfing down poisonous frogs. Upon doing so, he’ll fly into a fiery rage, battering Quico like a rag doll until his fury has subsided. It’s an unsettling sight to see your child protagonist thrashed by his off-and-on companion, especially when you consider the real-life meaning behind the violence. You’re not entirely alone with Monster, though--your sentient toy robot Lula and the Cheshire Cat-like Alejandra will help further your progress through platforming and puzzle segments.
The graphics look crisp on the PC, save for some slight overuse of bloom lighting, and the backdrops sway between a dingy realism and a dreamlike beauty. Controlling Quico is a cinch using a keyboard and mouse or a gamepad, and you’ll be spared from the platforming glitchiness that some PS3 users experienced last year (save for the occasional clipped jump here and there). Your brain won’t be incredibly taxed by the puzzles, if at all, but the game moves at the right pace considering that the plot is what’s most important here.
"Your brain won’t be incredibly taxed by the puzzles...but the game moves at the right pace considering that the plot is what’s most important here."
It all builds up to an emotional finale--and that climax is really what you’re paying for if you buy this game. You can feasibly finish Papo & Yo in a mere three hours or less, and once you do, there’s little incentive to go back. But the story it tells is affecting and thought-provoking, even if it won’t radically alter your view on games as a storytelling medium.
In hindsight, Papo & Yo feels like it was destined to be a PC release, given how receptive the PC audience is to brief, evocative, and risk-taking indie ventures. Added perks like saving to the cloud and adjustable graphics settings simply come with the territory. While the $15 price tag is a little steep for such an ephemeral adventure, those who enjoy heartfelt tales in games will be glad they paid for admission to this bittersweet story.
To read our review of the original PS3 version of the game, hop on over to the next page.