On this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog: I fed a monster frogs, tore apart reality, lost (and then found) a friend and came to terms with a tragic childhood
Papo & Yo, pronounced Papo Y Yo, is a puzzle platformer that tells the story of a little boy called Quico who lives in the slums of Rio De Janeiro. The game reminds me of Jazzpunk and To The Moon in a way due to the core of the gameplay (the jumping and puzzle solving) not being the best part of the game. Saying that, it would make sense that the story is theoretically the best part of the game. But the story-telling is lacking in pace which robs the emotional core of Papo & Yo of punch.
Playing Papo & Yo is very easy, but not without some interesting mechanics. First, there is the basic running and jumping, you get a jet-pack early in on to help cross larger gaps. Yet there are no stakes as Quico just re-spawns at the beginning of the platforming area. Sometimes you have to ‘create’ your own platforms by either pulling out bits of scenery that have chalk tabs on them or lifting up boxes (which represents houses and stuff) and placing them in a row. They both look really cool. The platforms you pull out are pure white – which contrasts well with the more natural looking scenery – and watching the houses float, fly or walk to where you place the boxes is fun to watch. It’s not great, but it is serviceable. The one interesting mechanic is Papo itself. Papo is a huge monster that Quico uses to solve puzzle. You do this by either leading him (by picking up his favourite fruit) to, say, a button that requires a lot of weight or feeding him said fruit to make him fall asleep so you can use his stomach as a spring to jump higher. Yes, the interaction is very basic, but Papo has a lot of character which helps.
There is a dark side however, sometimes frogs appear. Papo is addicted to frogs and will glady stop whatever he is doing and eat one. When he does he turns into a flaming beast that does nothing but run at you and throw you about. The first time this happens is terrifying. That is, until you realise that when he catches you…nothing happens a part from Quico being thrown about for a second or two. Again, the lack of any sort of stakes just really kills any tension and most of the fun to be had in the game.
As previously mentioned, the story does make up for the lack of compelling game-play. For the most part, anyway. The entire premise is that the world you explore is from the imagination of Quico. You quickly meet a girl called Alejandra who eventually guides you through the world, an animated toy robot called Lula and Papo. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the entire game’s allegorical core quickly becomes clear (especially when Lula appears). There are some cool little twists and the ending is an excellent gut punch. But the game meanders between each plot point to such a degree that it is difficult, despite the brevity of the game, to remember what the hell is going on.
I liked Papo & Yo despite it being problematic. Graphically it is rather flat but it can be capable of beauty. The music is, much like a lot of ‘Indie Games’ is utterly sublime. The places the story goes is something many games don’t touch on. But…I can’t recommend this wholeheartedly. Temper expectations, go in with an open mind and you can find something worthwhile through the murk.
Next time on BDTB: Condemned: Criminal Origins.