Papo & Yo is a metaphor for the relationship between an alcoholic father and his son, a very personal story that just happens to be communicated in game form. As such, it’s difficult to judge it like just another game; intensely personal experiences communicated through metaphors aren’t easily compared to the most recent installment of Dubstep Face-Shooter (I think we all know the kind of game I’m talking about), with each type of game facing completely different pitfalls.
Is it heavy-handed?
When dealing with metaphors, this is usually the most important question. It is, after all, easy to bombard the player with a ton of out-of-context emotion by pushing too hard too early, forcing that emotion before the player has become invested enough to care. The result is rarely pretty, but Papo & Yo isn’t like that—while there are rare moments where the metaphor is broken and you see Monster as a man rather than a giant pink-skinned beast, most of the game is cloaked in a friendly metaphor that avoids cramming emotion down your throat. Instead, your investment is built up gradually as you grow attached to the characters.
However, the end pretty much does away with the metaphor altogether, literally matching up the metaphors with their real-life equivalents. While this is unnecessary and a bit forced, the end of the game as a whole is so enjoyable and worthwhile that I’m willing to overlook it.
Frogs are the enemy
Frogs represent alcohol in the game, and Monster is hopelessly addicted to them. If he gets his hands on one, he flies into a fiery rage and throws playable character Quico around. As far as I could tell, it’s not actually possible to “die” in the game, but the metaphor makes being attacked by Monster uniquely disconcerting.
It’s not a one-sided portrayal
It would have been easy to make Monster a mindless beast, casting the alcoholic father as a hopeless, malicious drunk who’s good for nothing. Instead, Papo & Yo opts for the more difficult route of making Monster likable in many ways; not only is he represented as a huggable-looking pink dinosaur type of creature, but he’ll play catch with you if you kick him a soccer ball and follow you around like some kind of adorable dog if you have a coconut.
All of this makes the complex relationship between Quico and Monster—a difficult thing for those of us who haven’t experienced anything similar to grasp—easily understood. Still, toward the end I wanted to jump into the game and shoot Monster in the head. There simply isn’t enough fire in all of hell for some people.
The metaphor isn’t perfect
While the obvious metaphor works well enough, there are elements of the game that are ultimately so unexplained that you’re bound to be left confused. For example, the girl who guides you throughout most of the game, Alejandra. Not only is her name not revealed until the end credits, but what she represents is a complete mystery. The “Monster is Quico’s father and frogs are alcohol” parts of the metaphor are simple enough to grasp, but Alejandra is just present, never really getting the explanation she deserves.
This makes scenes like one where she says “we are one now” far more confusing than they should be, and that kind of vagueness is the problem that metaphors so often face; without enough information, anything could represent anything, and this either renders certain parts of the metaphor entirely meaningless or moves into overly-artsy “it means what you want it to mean” territory. Both are terrible.
It’s incredibly short
Playing through Papo & Yo can take anywhere from 3-8 hours. I’m not really sure why there seems to be such a discrepancy between how long the game took people, but there you go. If you figure out all of the puzzles (and they’re pretty simple, barring a few more complicated ones), you could easily get through the entire game in a single night. It should be considered an accomplishment, however, that many scenes in the game manage to feel like gut-punches despite how little time you get with all of the involved characters.
Puzzles are magical and tedious
That might seem like an odd mixture of descriptive words, but it really is accurate. Most puzzles are tedious, consisting mostly of looking around for chalk gears on the walls or chalk keys to spin (in this game, chalk can do pretty much anything, much like Harold’s purple crayon). However, what those gears and keys do is nothing short of magical. Buildings turn into stairs or spout wings and fly, while other switches cause entire portions of the city to defy gravity, allowing you access to new areas or peeling open solid objects to allow Monster to follow you. “Magical and tedious” is really the best way to put it, because while the puzzles themselves are often so-so, what those puzzles actually do is often worthwhile.
I should probably mention that the game has “hint boxes” that try to explain the puzzles in case you get confused. These are usually so vague that they make everything seem more complicated, however, so it’s recommended to avoid using the game’s hints and try to figure everything out for yourself.
Sigh… checkpoint saves
I really, really hate checkpoint saves. Granted, Papo & Yo is short enough to get away with it, but it’s still annoying to think that you’ll lose all of your progress after the last checkpoint if you get stuck or have to do something else.
The graphics are great
While the models of people (Quico, Alejandra, the father) are fairly mediocre, everything else is far better. The city has a distinctly Latin American feeling to it throughout that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen (in a game, at least), to the point where I could practically feel the heat of the sun through the game. Even little details like flowers in a pot and graffiti art manage to be beautiful. While it’s not the most visually impressive game ever made, the art design is nevertheless fantastically unique and very much worth experiencing for yourself.
The music ranges from amazing to just okay
From a production standpoint, there’s no questioning the quality of Papo & Yo’s music. There are several instruments that are wonderfully recorded and produced, and it’s not only pleasing, but also has a distinctly Latin American vibe. That being said, some of the tracks can be far too repetitive for their own good, focusing more on repetitive passages than memorable melodies. There are two tracks that stuck with me, however, and they’re the ones playing in the embedded videos above. All in all, the music is unique and very much a good thing, but I’d have liked a few more melody-driven songs.
Here’s what you should do: