It's a difficult proposition to critique a game that has a story that can hit close to home for some gamers. Is the story strong enough to carry it past any technical shortcomings? Am I forgiving of unpolished platforming because I'm captivated with the world that's been created and presented to me? With Papo & Yo, Minority Media Inc. and specifically their creative director, Vander Caballero have taken a very brutal period of his life and turned it in to a whimsical yet poignant adventure on dealing with physical and substance abuse, and how a child can hope to cope with such troubling aspects of their life. The game may not be the most clean title in terms of technical achievements, but the world of Quico, Monster, and the favelas of Columbia make for an interesting adventure, which starts with a simple dedication from Caballero to his sisters and mother, who survived their monster of a father.
Papo & Yo stars a young boy named Quico, who finds himself in a strange world while hiding from one of his father's rampage, taking refuge in a closet. This new world is a cluster of homes that make up the favelas that fascinated Caballero and form natural platforms and puzzles for Quico and his big hulking pink pal that is aptly named, Monster. Quico is able to manipulate this normally mundane environment by picking up blocks, pulling switches, and with the help of Monster can navigate through the roughly four hour experience. Through the journey, Quico hopes to cure Monster of his anger and rage with the help of another resident of this world, who will guide Quico to the shaman that is able to administer this cure. There are some moderately challenging puzzles in Papo & Yo, but overall the game is a bit on the short side and once it is complete there isn't a great deal of content that makes it worth revisiting, outside of some collectible hats that become available after the first playthrough. The hats offer a bit of a different way to tackle the puzzles but don't contribute to the real star of the show, the interaction between Quico and Monster.
Throughout the journey, players will control Quico and indirectly control Monster, who loves to sleep and laze about, giving him the outward appearance of a father figure, amused by his child playing with a soccer ball, and taking fruit from Quico that he happens to be carrying. Players will use this fruit to lure Monster in to position for puzzles, but players also must contend with frogs. A normally harmless animal, frogs are Monster's favorite thing, and once he consumes one he turns in to a literal manifestation of his name, stalking Quico and throwing him around like a rag doll, and only a specific rotten fruit can get Monster to calm down, knocking him out for a short while in the process. The metaphor of a drunken father couldn't really be more obvious in this situation, as Quico has his clothes torn from his body and will lose his shoes. Meanwhile players are able to prevent Monster's rampages by taking the frogs and throwing them at a wall.
Playing through Papo & Yo the world is a character all its own. The sprawling favelas have a building block feel as Quico navigates through them, moving, flying, sliding in to place with the actions of Quico and the player. Buildings do strange things like sprout wings or legs to move in to place or simply hover in place, held there by an unseen force. Toward the end of the game and Quico's adventure, the world starts to take on more drastic changes as Quico pulls back the layers of metaphors and makes his discovery about what's really going on in this world, and it's an amazing and tragic sight to behold.
As far as gameplay goes, its a very straightforward adventure, there's a lot of picking up blocks, flipping levers, and plenty of platforming, which is unfortunately the weakest aspect of Papo & Yo. Collision detection issues make it awkward to even run through some portions of the levels, with Quico getting hung up on random pieces of scenery. Platforms also behave strangely, especially in one portion late in the game the features the famous Mega Men disappearing blocks, and even though it's just two blocks, the timing and collision are so awkward it caused me to have to repeat the segment multiple time, all while Monster was breathing down my neck, drunk on the power of frogs. The addition of Monster to the mix makes for some interesting puzzles, and a few of them left me scratching my head as to how I'd figure them out, especially when the frogs were in play. How do I keep Monster from turning in to a fiery beast? I wonder if that kind of thoughts went through Vander Caballero's young mind while dealing with his own problems. The journey is also punctuated with moments flashing back to the real world, showing Quico what happened during a rainy night that may have been the start of his problems.
The melancholy and Latin-inspired soundtrack of Papo & Yo features a lot of pieces that fit the mood perfectly for this game, offering upbeat tracks while things seem to be 'normal.' It doesn't take much to swing the mood though, once Monster eats one of those frogs the music feels a lot more menacing, giving players that sense of urgency to hurry and find that poisoned fruit. The tracks can loop in rather short segments, but the music overall is enjoyable and complements the game greatly.
Papo & Yo is a flawed but ultimately enjoyable game. The dodgy platforming may hamper the experience but the story, setting, and soundtrack combine to form a rather unforgettable experience. By the end of the game I was utterly enthralled with Quico's journey and experience and wish nothing more than for people to get out there and give this game a try. Vander Caballero's experience makes for a journey that feels both heartfelt and personal which is a rare quality in games these days. The shortcomings are definitely visible, but this is an adventure everyone should see through to the end.