OXCGN’s Papo Y Yo PSN Review
The Monster Within
by Nicholas Capozzoli
©2012 Nicholas Capozzoli
Papo Y Yo is an aspirational video game.
It aspires to things that few games have been able to realize well: an overtly personal story, thoughtful treatment of troubling topics, cathartic release.
By and large, it achieves all such goals, a truly impressive feat. But its achievements vie for your attention with the consequences of low production values.
Those seeking games that push against the boundaries of the medium will be drawn to Papo Y Yo, and rightfully so. It takes such an outlook to see past the game’s rough exterior to the unique offerings within.
By contrast, those who prefer their games to be the kind with a capital ‘G’ will likely be turned off by Papo Y Yo‘s rough visuals and unremarkable gameplay.
Minority Media’s first effort is marked by such dualities. Subjective strengths, objective weaknesses. Low-budget imperfections, indie charms. Lackluster gameplay, an ambitious message.
Papo Y Yo makes for an effective benchmark against which one can measure personal values; you probably already know whether you’ll enjoy it or not.
Abuse by the monster
There, the trappings of his life are transformed: his home gives way to a magical favela, his cherished toy comes alive, and his father is a giant pink monster, named, well…Monster.
If you were previously unaware, it’s also made clear from the start that the story is symbolic of creator Vander Caballero’s struggles with his own abusive father.
The game begins with a quote: “To my mother, brothers and sister, with whom I survived the monster in my father.”
That father’s taste for liqueur is Monster’s taste for frogs, which send him into a berserk rage. He crashes through the environment, setting it aflame as he single-mindedly pursues Quico with ill-intent.
But absent the amphibians, he’s a docile creature who’s compliant, if a little disinterested.
Quico can use him to help navigate the otherworldly favela, triggering switches, or acting as a springboard from which Quico can vault to tough-to-reach places.
A mysterious girl also makes an appearance early on, telling Quico that a shaman exists who can cure Monster of his affliction. And so he ventures forth into the dream world for answers.
Papo Y Yo weds that environment to a child’s whimsy, allowing Quico to manipulate his surroundings with simple mechanical devices that magically push and pull at the world’s makeup.
A pull of a switch might cause a building to sprout legs and walk away. Picking up a cardboard box might make a distant building float up in mirror image.
Chalk ley lines tie the causes to the effects, and lend the world a strange sort of tribal mysticism. It really takes off towards the game’s latter stages, when the world breaks apart in amazing, Inception-like ways.
It’s evocative of a child’s cardboard forts, at once playful and full of mysteries waiting to be discovered. The game’s subdued acoustic soundtrack is a perfect compliment.
Sadly, traversing the favela isn’t quite as fun as it could be. Quico’s animations are limited, and the environments are spartan.
And though the environmental manipulation is inventive and often surprising, there’s an element of predestination to it all that undermines the theme of imagination.
Why is Quico so restricted within his own daydream?
Indeed, Papo Y Yo has a laundry list of graphical problems. Rest assured, at least, that the major issues cited in many early reviews have been addressed via a day one patch.
What remains are clipping problems, severe frame rate dips, and some seriously violent screen tearing.
Stack those on top of the bare-bones environments, rough textures, and last-gen animations, and it’s not always a pretty picture.
But considered in the context of Minority Media’s shoestring budget (really, chickens were too expensive to include) and the game’s modest purchase price, they’re not too hard to forgive.
What’s more detrimental to Papo Y Yo are the occasions where the resources that the developers did have are mismanaged.
Camera angles are occasionally awkward, and don’t do the rudimentary character models any favors. The dialogue is clipped and unnatural.
It’s that, more than any technical issues, which keeps you from being wholly subsumed by the experience. There’s at least one notable event in the game where an emotional gut-punch gets undercut by an inelegant transition and some brusque wording.
And though Papo Y Yo is a puzzle game, few of the challenges that you face really qualify for the term “puzzle”. In most situations, the solution is either self-evident, or spelled out for you, so it’s more about going through the motions than using your brain.
That’s certainly a deliberate design choice, of course.
I’d imagine that it’s done to keep the focus on the story. Yet for a decent portion of the game there’s little plot development, and so the steady stream of puzzles grow a bit tedious.
Your heart breaks a little as Quico’s sentient toy bravely promises to protect him, when you know that it’s just a product of a child’s desperate imagination. A futile one, at that.
Every time Monster hurts one of Quico’s few allies, your awareness of the ‘real-life’ version that it’s analogous to makes the tragedy doubly potent. Quadruply so, if you’ve any personal experience with the subject matter.
Papo Y Yo isn’t content to simply play with that subject matter, however: it bravely puts forth an answer to the question that it poses. How do you cure an addict?
It’s a fairy tale, where the world’s wrongs can be solved via deux ex machina. You need only beat the last boss, solve the last puzzle. Liberation is but a key’s turn away.
But just when you start to really buy into the game-ness of it all, reality comes crashing back with its hard truths.
Papo Y Yo‘s conclusion is one of the best around, a jarring set piece that confronts the bitter axiom at the heart of addiction.
©2012 Nicholas Capozzoli
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