‘Papo & Yo’ Review

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Papo & Yo is the debut release from Quebec-based Minority Media. Spearheaded by creative lead Vander Caballero, the studio is attempting to tell a very personal story, which revolves around Caballero’s own troubled youth. Originally released for the PS3 in August of last year, the puzzle-platformer has now made its way to Steam, and the port works swimmingly.  Simplistic puzzles and a slow start might turn you off at first, but great atmosphere and a very strong finish make it worth your time.

Papo & Yo places you in the tiny shoes of Quico, a young boy living in a Brazilian slum. Minority strays from presenting a distinct narrative, in favor of a more symbolic approach to storytelling. Most of the events are told from the perspective of a child, with your main companions being an animated doll and a lumbering monster. As events unfold, the monster occasionally falls into an uncontrollable fury, and attempts to unleash its anger on the much weaker Quico. Lead designer Vander Caballero has been pretty open about his inspirations, noting overtly that his own abusive is paralleled in the character of the monster, and this message is portrayed quite effectively.

Without ever hammering home the key themes too directly, Papo & Yo provides glimpses of real life events sprinkled throughout the fantastical adventure. And just as the monster is occasionally an obstacle, it also becomes a key mechanic, helping the player progress. The interplay between these two types of encounters isn’t always seamless, as gameplay imperfections sometimes get in the way, but the attempt is still commendable. There were story beats I could relate to, and some I couldn’t, but I always felt a resounding empathy for Quico. Minority then does an amazing job at transferring the perspective of Quico onto the world around him.

While the look of Papo & Yo may seem bland at first, it’s what Minority does with the environments that brings the seemingly dull world to life. Reality is quickly thrown out the window, as the world soon reflects the imaginative mind of a child. Simple drab houses sprout tiny legs and scurry about, chunks of buildings break apart and pile atop each other like toy blocks; nothing is really what it seems. The reality-bending nature slowly ramps up throughout Papo & Yo, while still keeping a dreamlike consistency. Overall art design is not what makes the game a spectacle, but what the team does with the realistic locales makes the world intriguing.

Accompanying this fantastical world is a downright pleasant soundtrack. Latin inspired pieces blend in and out of the background noise as Quico moves from one city block to another. Dramatic flares accompany the raging monster, but the average track melds well with Papo & Yo’s aesthetic. That said, once one digs into the actual gameplay, problems begin to materialize. Imperfections do exist, and they do make themselves quite clear.

As I traversed from area to area, the puzzles sometimes seemed to get in the way of the game itself. Hint boxes are placed around each puzzle, all of which essentially tell the player the solution, but none of the puzzles were ever so complicated that they became necessary. Repetition is where the real frustration comes into play. Solutions are never hard to deduce, but often require small bits of backtracking, or the collection of a great many objects that aren’t exactly hidden well. If there’s one major flaw with Papo & Yo, it’s exactly that. Overall puzzle complexity isn’t deep enough to be truly engaging, and the puzzles often require a number of steps, which left me impatiently waiting for the story to continue.

Even with these faults, I always did want the story to progress. While the platforming isn’t as accurate as it could be, and the puzzles could use a few more layers, the story Minority tells is well worth the time. From beginning to end, Caballero presents a cohesive story with a singular voice. Papo & Yo may not be perfect, but it does enough right to offset its imperfections.

Papo & Yo was developed by Minority Media. A Steam copy was provided by the developer for reviewing purposes.

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