Very few games tell deep, personal stories that we as an audience want to hear. Most games try to mimic Hollywood’s bombastic nature, and while there are many that succeed in creating great experiences following that template, it never hurts to have a bit of variety. Papo & Yo wants to set itself apart from these types of games and tell a story that’ll stay with you long after you’re done with the game. While it succeeds greatly in this regard, it doesn’t always hit the right notes when it comes to the actual gameplay.
Quico is the star at the forefront of Papo & Yo, a boy who flees into his imagination to hide from a monster that constantly terrorizes his life. Creator Vander Caballero didn’t have the best of experiences with his father, and although this is a moment that deeply affected his life, he’s decided to share it with us in the form of this game. That intro with Quico and the monster is the first of many father/son parallels, which while heartbreaking, will keep you glued to the TV screen until the phenomenal conclusion.
Quico’s imagination takes after the Brazilian favelas, but nothing quite follows the laws of physics. You’ll see the world coming apart at the seams, walking houses, gears that cause walls to open up or stairs to protrude from walls, ropes that will rip buildings down and a lot more. At first, the favela seemed like a bleak, uninteresting place to have this story take place in, but as soon as Quico’s imagination starts filling it up, it creates a great contrast between the mundane and the fantastical elements of the environments.
In these environments, walls and gates will usually block your progress, so it’s your job to solve the puzzles to keep going forward. Now, I use the word puzzles loosely, because here’s where the game falters a bit. Although I was constantly enthralled by the visuals and the story, there was barely any challenge in the puzzles presented save one or two. Most revolved around turning keeps and pushing in gears, making most puzzles feel like your checking off steps on a checklist instead of actually using your brain to deduce the solution. As soon as you entered a new area, the solution was immediately obvious and all you have to do is follow the simple steps laid before you. Soon after the game starts, you get a robot, Lula, who gives you a hover jump and can help you hit switches from far away. This character could’ve been used to give the game some much needed variety but ultimately, he’s sparingly used.
The game tries to introduce a bit more of challenge once Monster comes into play, a creature that follows Quico around and seems nice enough as you jump on his belly or feed him fruits. But this creature has one addiction: frogs. As soon as he partakes in eating one of these frogs, he enters into a rage and will try to hurt Quico if he finds him in his way. This is another parallel, referencing substance abuse, and it’s a very interesting one. But in the end, Monster just proves to be an extra item on the check list. In addition to turning keys and pushing gears, you have to make sure he’s following you through the gates and doors.
Sadly, my issues with the simplistic gameplay are compounded by the great amount of bugs in the game. While for the most part, the game does a good job of painting a pretty and alluring picture, low-res textures tend to pop-up here and there, and the world seems to be completely filled with invisible walls. Quico will often get stuck in the environment as he simply walks forward, and even though a patch was released to fix the issue with your character falling through the floor, it still happened to me on two different occasions.
Nonetheless, the game does a great job with its story and delivers such emotion that the trip, no matter how bumpy it is, is one worth taking. This game is about story first and gameplay second. It is apparent all throughout the game that this was the focus. The story is fully engaging and will probably hit some closer to home than others, but the gameplay isn’t good enough to sustain those looking for a good game in addition to a good story. If you can look past the game’s simplicity and various bugs, you just might have an enjoyable time with Papo & Yo.