As the summer of 2012 rolls along, there's one area of gaming that seems to truly stand out – indie games on consoles. While the PC has traditionally been the home for small games with big ideas, Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network seem to have come into their own over the last few months with releases like of Fez, Dyad, Sound Shapes and a handful of others. These games have proven over and over again that indie developers continually think outside the box to create new and wonderful experiences. The latest name to be added to the growing list of must-play indie games is the PSN exclusive Papo & Yo. Developed by a small team at Minority Media Inc., this release is likely to tug at your heartstrings more than any other game this summer, and possibly all year.
Papo & Yo tells the story of a boy, Quico, who has a monster, named Monster, and a robot, named Lula. He loves both of them very much, but Monster has a problem - he loves to eat frogs, and these frogs turn him into a mad beast that attacks Quico. Because of this, the boy has set out to help Monster put an end to his problem, so that everyone can live happily together. While that may seem like a cut and dry story, the game is actually based on Minority Creative Director Vander Caballero's childhood, and his coping with an alcoholic father. This sub context is made clear from the very opening of the game, right through until the ending. While it is a hefty cross to bear, Papo & Yo manages to overshadow the dark parts of the game with a bright and colorful setting and continually enjoyable gameplay.
Quico's journey begins as his imagination takes over his home, the favelas of Brazil, where he can manipulate special walls, unlock hidden doors, and even move around houses to help him create paths. The puzzles throughout Papo & Yo are a diverse collection of creative concepts that all feel unique, no matter what the task is at hand. While most of the game is really just about figuring out the right series of events, and won't strain the brain of a seasoned player, it's more about the why than the how.
Papo & Yo is more about the interactions between the characters than it is about the puzzles in the game. While there's no reason to discount the experience of the puzzles, the more compelling part of the game is following Quico as he goes on a fantastical journey that essentially amounts to him growing up – something that we all have to do. Because of that, Papo & Yo has a lot of similarities with, and actually feels a lot like Ico. It's a completely different world, but watching Quico interact with Monster, Lula, and the mysterious girl that guides him on his quest to the Shaman, one can't help but think of Ico and Yorda, solving environmental based puzzles to ultimately "grow up." In both games the protagonists say very little, but it's this minimalistic approach that lets players insert themselves into the shoes of the adventurers, and feel more connected to the game than in other titles. The scope of the games varies, in that Papo & Yo comes in at a much shorter experience, but that doesn't keep players from feeling connected to Quico.
While overall the game is a great experience, there are some small things that could cause some frustration in players. Jumping, for example, specifically platforming high above the ground, can be a bit troublesome, in that most times all you have for guidance about where you’re going to land is a tiny shadow. Fortunately, for most of the game, Minority compensated for this by strapping Lula, and her jet pack booster rockets to Quico’s back, allowing players a little extra support in sticking the landing. Other than that, most of the game’s controls and mechanics are fairly smooth.
The team at Minority set out to make an emotionally compelling, creative game, and they succeeded. Even if Papo & Yo didn’t have its roots in reality, it would still be an enjoyable experience, but the way that the real world events are interwoven into the fantastical story make it truly stand out, in a way that most games don’t even attempt. Bridging the gap between electronic entertainment and reality is a tricky proposition, but Papo & Yo expertly executes it. If you’re the type of gamer that’s looking for a game that is going to make you feel something while you play, then Papo & Yo is well worth the investment – even if it’s just to help you bide your time until The Last Guardian is released ... whenever that may be.