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Papo & Yo Review

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On 07/15/2013 at 05:00 PM by Matt Snee

Papo & Yo isn't just a game -- it's interactive poetry.

Gamers who enjoy beautiful indie titles with deeply personal themes.

Papo & Yo is not a AAA release.  There is no bloated budget here, or tacked-on multiplayer, or DLC to be had.  Likewise, the game isn’t as polished as most big budget releases. But what it does have – what so few AAA titles have – is heart.  This game was forged with a soul.

Developed by a Montreal-based team named Minority, and helped along financially by Sony’s indie dev support arm known as Pub Fund,  Papo & Yo is the brainchild of Minority Creative Director Vander Caballero.  Caballero was inspired to create the game based on his childhood experiences with his abusive father in his native Brazil.  Papo & Yo was originally released in 2012 on the PS3, but now has found its way to PC.

The game takes place in a surreal shanty-town, where players take on the role of Quico, a troubled young boy, who is drawn out of his home into an abstract quest by a mysterious young girl.  Quico is also assisted (and sometimes hindered) by a large creature named “Monster”, who can be both incredibly docile, and incredibly dangerous.

It’s not often I get to play a game like Papo & Yo.  Were I to describe it in a single word, that word would be “poetic”.  It’s not the clever environmental puzzles, or the light but sometimes thrilling platforming; it’s the emotionally complex story, which is rich with metaphors and sentimental power.

What I mean is that it’s a game – but it’s also so much more.   Yes, players will piece together platforms and floating houses, and even gleefully smash frogs to death.  The mechanics are there: you pull at levers, rearrange blocks, and make long, artful jumps.  But this is all strung together by a story that is as heartbreaking as it is inevitable. 

To say too much about the story would ruin it, but I do want to elaborate on the theme here: Quico has to rely on Monster, someone he obviously both loves and is frightened by.  Sometimes Monster is helpful and cute.  Other times, flames sprout from his body and he rages like a beast, taking Quico in his maw and throwing him up into the air. 

Note that Quico cannot be killed permanently like this – he can only be hurt over and over, his screams more harmful to the player than decreases on a health bar. 

Game play involves maneuvering around Monster’s moods cautiously, sometimes teasing him onto magical platforms to activate puzzles, and sometimes tricking his ferocious form into traps.  Then there are times when Monster goes to sleep amongst the filth of the shanty-town, and Quico bounces upon his stomach to reach high places. 

In summary, Monster is both lovely and loathsome, creating an atmosphere in the game that is both peaceful and thick with dread.  When Monster is mad, he is really mad.  And it’s up to the player to both manage and take advantage of the creature’s various states. 

The other characters are amazing too: whether it’s Quico himself, or the girl he is following, or his little robot companion Lula.  If the player opens up to the story, he or she will come to feel something for these beings and their linked plights. It’s hard also not to feel for monster, whom Quico obviously loves, despite his fearsomeness.  There is a lot of love going on here – but it’s a complex matter, rather than simple sentiment.  Life is hard, love is hard.  There are few simple answers to the troubles we find ourselves in, and when you reach the final answer of the game, you will be both relieved and sad.   

Papo & Yo is a short game, with about four hours of play, depending on your time with the puzzles.  They are helped along with in-game hints contained in playful cardboard boxes Quico can put on top of his head.  Inside, there are crayon drawings the player can scrutinize for clues.  I used the clues once or twice, but overall none of the puzzles are very difficult, and most of them are fun. 

Some are beautiful. 

Most of these puzzles are environmental, and involve rearranging the shanty-town in pieces in small degrees or sometimes in massive ways that defy realistic logic.  By moving blocks, pulling levers, turning keys, and pressing triggers, the player transforms the world, causing shacks and other objects to grow legs or sprout wings, scuttling across the dirt or flying across the air to new positions which open up previously unreachable areas.

In this way, the grimy shanty-town becomes a magical place, capable of almost anything, and inspired by the magic between Quico and the mysterious girl he follows.   Using the jetpack on his robot friend Lula, who he straps to his back, Quico can double-jump from one floating shack to another, sometimes just inches away from a raging Monster. 

The game is rarely—if ever— frustrating.  If you miss a jump, you’ll often only fall below to distant water, only to emerge from thin air to a position near where you fell, shaking yourself off.  Most of the time though, your mistakes will lead you into the hands of the angry Monster, who – although frightening – does not leave permanent damage anywhere but in your heart. 

I played the game with a controller, and I had no complaints.  I also tried it with a mouse and keyboard, but I must admit I preferred the controller – it was obviously designed with the controller in mind, being a console release originally.  If you don’t have access to a controller for your computer, you will be just fine with the mouse and keyboard setup, but I recommend a controller if you’ve got one.

From the first few moments of this game, I knew I would probably love it.  When I played the last few minutes, there was a weight in my heart.  Games like this are few and far between, but while I would compare it somewhat to games like Ico and Prince of Persia, I find it is more like Sony’s “Journey”.  There isn’t just play here, but an emotional quest that the player undertakes along with the story’s main character Quico. 

If you like the above referenced games, I would certainly recommend it, and if you’re looking for something clever, but with a great story, music, and characters, you can’t really go wrong with Papo & Yo. It’s something quite special, and shouldn’t be missed by those who would enjoy it. 

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Chris Yarger Community Manager

07/16/2013 at 07:27 AM

Wow. This game sounds amazing and looks wonderful! I'll have to check it out sometime, thanks Matt!

Matt Snee Staff Writer

07/16/2013 at 08:49 AM

keep an eye on the steam sale, or on PSN.  It's really good, man!  Laughing

Justin Matkowski Staff Alumnus

07/16/2013 at 03:17 PM

Definitely have to check this out. Awesome review Matt, and thanks for pointing me towards this game!

Matt Snee Staff Writer

07/16/2013 at 04:22 PM

you're welcome, glad you liked it!  I definitely recommend it.


07/16/2013 at 05:58 PM

Nice review.  I'll have to check this game out eventually.  I really wanted to get it when I first heard about it, but then a few reviews I read were kind of hard on it, which made me hesitate.  I had actually kind of forgotten about it.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

07/16/2013 at 07:33 PM

it's definitely worth playing in my book.  You can't really compare it to AAA games.. it's something else.  But I really recommend it if it sounds interesting to you.  I had my doubts too, but I really enjoyed the game.


07/16/2013 at 08:35 PM

Good reveiw Snee the staff definetly knew who to get for reveiws.Wink

Matt Snee Staff Writer

07/16/2013 at 09:54 PM

thanks, Lee! 


07/17/2013 at 12:15 AM

So whats with your games your making haven't heard a peep from ya on them since you got on staff hopefully your going to finish i was really liking the forgeter.Wink

Matt Snee Staff Writer

07/17/2013 at 02:03 AM

yeah, I know...  I haven't given up, but I reached a wall in what I was capable of doing by myself.  I'm not really a programmer, though I can fake it a little.  I'll get back to that soon.  I tend to work on my projects in increments.  Thanks for asking though.  Smile

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