If you haven’t heard, Papo & Yo is the story of a boy, Quico, and his large rhino-like friend, Monster. Monster likes to eat poisonous frogs that make him catch fire and become hostile to Quico. Quico is searching for the Shaman to cure Monster’s sickness. But this is merely scratching the surface.
Games create an avenue for stories that no other medium can create – a belief I’ve touted before. And these stories can come in many shapes of sizes – fiction and nonfiction, both tall tales and the eerily realistic. Papo & Yo provided an avenue for one developer to share the story of many living in abusive relationships. An extended metaphor for his own relationship with his alcoholic father, Papo & Yo knocks an emotional home run over the proverbial fence and further contradicts arguments that video games should not be taken more than lightly.
However, games also possess an ability to drag down a story like few other mediums can. Experts in the industry have long cited the inherent conflict between advancing a story and continuing to play a game. A challenge in the environment may be necessary from a gameplay standpoint, but it can be a severe hindrance to the narrative being told, and so it becomes a balancing act to keep the story moving while providing a reason to bother holding a controller at the same time.
Papo & Yo sometimes makes the player feel like a second grader trying to read Shakespeare in this way – what good is the story if we can’t advance?
The game is very short, and therefore doesn’t allow time to really develop a tool in the way that gamers who’ve played Portal establish the portal gun. This detracts from many of the “A-ha!” moments that Portal garnered – everything can be solved with the gun and tools in front of us; we just have to figure out how.
This lack of an established tool means that the solution to a puzzle is sometimes extremely unclear. To combat this, most puzzles are less “puzzles” and more “flip every switch you can”. In at least one case, however, Minority foregoes that formula, which results in a completely counter-intuitive solution with absolutely no indication of how to actually do it. When most paths or moving platforms are at least marked with chalk, this one came from nowhere. Even in the old days of video games without tutorials or hint boxes, the days that purists long after, we at least could say “Hey, that painting’s crooked. I’m going to straighten it and – oh I get it now!”
Any player can bite the bullet and find a walkthrough, but the fact of the matter is that this reflects a developer that was blind to the player and the careful balance required to keep a player interested in both that challenge and the story. And unfortunately, the short length of the game magnifies this singular moment.
Also awkward from a gameplay perspective are the numerous nooks, niches and crannies that exist in the environment. Small alleys and empty overhangs beg to be explored, but appear to offer little in the way of reward, and we’re left wondering why even bother?
Beyond this, there really is a fantastic story being told here. I’m skeptical of the blatant nature with which the developer approached the extended metaphor, and in my opinion may have done well to keep the entire thing under wraps until the player reached the twilight of the experience. Regardless, it’s an emotional keepsake that, for the small time investment, gamers would be remiss to pass up.
For being in development so long, the game is not well polished. Players will pass through several aesthetic features of the environment, Monster may reach through walls to grab you and one spot in particular has a severe sound discrepancy that caused me to think my headphones were going dead. No, that awful static was just the game. Things like this make me wonder what we were waiting for.
Overall, Papo & Yo does good things, but poor design really cramps its style.