Papo & Yo is a puzzle platforming game available via the PSN that is based around a personal and deep concept. The game is an allegory for how the game’s creator, Vander Caballero, felt growing up with an abusive alcoholic father.
You play as a young Columbian child traveling through a favela, a Columbian slum of small, tightly arranged shacks. The child moves through these areas by completing puzzles that bend the setting to his imagination. Walls curl open, houses sprout insect-like legs of light to walk, and shacks can be manipulated by small boxes to hang in the air, creating a bridge. It has a definite sense of wonder to it, mixing a realistic setting with such fantastical elements.
The game centers around Monster, Caballero’s representation of his father, who is a giant pink horned beast seemingly obsessed with little else than eating and sleeping. Most of the time the creature seems fairly docile and you can use it to help you move forward in certain areas. Things become more intense whenever the creature gets its hands on a frog. When this happens, Monster’s flesh glows like flowing molten lava, fire bursts from its body and it chases you with the intent of vicious harm. It’s a fairly powerful image, especially considering what this feeling of powerlessness and fear was for the games creator.
A girl is trying to lead you to a shaman she says can cure Monster of his rage. Much of the narrative surrounds the concept of trying to get Monster to the shaman. However as you continue, the frequency with which Monster becomes enraged increases, and there are instances where it destroys something the boy cares a great deal for. The conflict of emotions is clear to see.
The presentation is quite striking, from the whimsical nature of the gameplay to the moments where reality breaks through the imagination as the child confronts suppressed memories. It is an intense journey from the suffering to the conclusion which deals with the concept of letting go of the trauma and commencing one’s own life. Emotionally it hits all the beats it intends to.
While the visuals of this game are good at conveying the wonder that it’s going for, it did bother me that during none of the times the characters spoke did their mouths move at all. Especially during close up shots between the boy and the girl.
The games technical aspects are another matter entirely. The game is not without its annoying glitches such as clipping issues or a camera straight out of the depths of hell. The combination of the 2, plus the increased amount of times Monster flew into a rage had me thinking quite a few times that perhaps it’d be better if the child just re-enacted the end of Old Yeller. I mean putting Monster down would really be just a mercy killing at this point (yes I am aware of what I just suggested).
There is a sequence where you have to move overhangs to make a bridge, but every time you move one, a frog pops out. Now the annoyance of trying to prevent Monster from getting the frog is instantly compounded if he grabs it. The camera pulls back for a long shot to show all the overhangs moving back to where they were, whether or not you can see the child in the frame, which would be fine if the action stopped during this moment, but it doesn’t.
So while this is happening, Monster has decided you look like a delicious chew toy, and you can’t see where you are or where you’re going for a few seconds and can very easily come back to see yourself getting tossed around like a rag doll.
Then while you’re running from him, Monster tends to overshadow you, so instead of seeing exactly where you’re going you just see its hulking back. There was a number of times this lead me to running into a wall next to the gate or stairway I was heading for, leaving me open to once again getting tossed around.
In all honesty, by the end I held a huge amount of contempt for Monster. I’m not entirely sure whether it’s just because of how annoying of an impediment he became in the game or because of my feelings toward my own experiences with childhood abuses. Needless to say, I felt far less compassion for the thing than I’m sure the creator feels. It is clear that the guy does love his father, despite the fear he felt and the pain he’s carried. I’m not sure I am as forgiving.
Outside of that, the games controls feel a bit inexact at times. There were a number of occasions that the platforming lead to me cursing at the screen. Of course, having Monster waiting to juggle me if I fall toward the end of the game did little to improve my mood.
It should also be made mention of that this is a fairly short game. It took me maybe 3 or 4 hours to complete and I wasn’t exactly trying to speed through it. Aside from being a potentially useful experience for anyone who has dealt with similar trauma as a way to confront the emotions they have, I can think of very little replay value for the average player. For the experience it offers, it is memorable, I’m just not sure it is a trip worth taking more than once.