Every now and then there comes a game that really touches you. Papo & Yo is one of those games; at first glance the game seems to be just another mediocre indie game but once you progress through it, it won't let you (or your feelings) go. I played the PS3 demo when it hit the PS Store and now I had the privilege to play the full PC version.
The story of Papo & Yo is hard to explain; the game starts when a small boy (the main protagonist named Quico) is hiding in a closet. Suddenly the earth begins to shake and a huge, shadowy figure walks past the closet. As soon as the figure is out of sight, a strange portal opens up in the closet. Quico, being a small boy, enters the portal and is taken to a weird fantasy world (which resembles a South American favela). Here Quico must solve puzzles in an effort to find his way back home and, more importantly, save a creature known as Monster. The story takes time to build up but once it has it's grip on you, you're in for an extremely emotional ride. Especially the ending made me almost cry.
The game is played from a third-person view; you move Quico around with your keyboard and solve puzzles by turning handles and moving stuff around. The puzzles are the backbone of the game and also show the versatility of the game engine (Unreal Engine 3). Most puzzles modify the environment in strange and (quite frankly) amazing ways; moving a box in one puzzle for example moves an entire house! The developers have obviously put some serious thought into the puzzles since most of them are 'logical' and fairly easy and you rarely get stuck with solving them. Too bad most of them can be solved by just simply hitting every switch you see. Some switches have to be activated with Quico's toy robot Lula, who also acts as a jetpack to cross large gaps.
When you progress through the game, another puzzle element is introduced: Monster. Monster has an endless appetite for fruits and in most cases you have to use this to your advantage when you're trying to lure it to the correct spot to open a closed door for example. If Monster happens to eat a frog (which are freely jumping around some levels) it goes into a rage and tries to catch you. The rage can be stopped by throwing a rotten fruit to Monster but it's not absolutely necessary; you can't die in this game. As a matter of fact, you can't even lose! Once I realized this most of the tension when playing the game was gone. Keeping this in mind, being unable to save the game manually and only trust the few checkpoints in the game doesn't seem like much of a chore.
Because the game mechanics and the puzzles work so good, the game is over in a flash. With a few breaks here and there I still managed to beat the game in under 3 hours. This is really a shame since I would have wanted to solve more of the ingenious puzzles. Steam Achievements aside, there's really nothing to keep you playing after you've completed the game once. Sure there are some collectibles around but being a game that focuses on a gripping story there really is no point in playing it again. A few more levels and this game would have been a masterpiece instead of an 'above-the-average' puzzler.
Technically the game works great. The few sounds in the game do their part and the voice-actors don't mess up the few lines they have. The music fits the game perfectly with depressing piano solos playing when Monster is having a mood swing which quickly turns into a fast-paced chase music when it's under rage. Brilliant. The graphics are not so amazing when comparing them with some other modern titles but they do feature some pretty good looking effects and the adequate video settings ensure the game is playable on older rigs also. The minimum system requirements state that you need a 2.2GHz dual core with a 6800GT/X1800 class GPU which seems very plausible.
Being an extremely short game, the review tends to be short also. But I can't let you slip away until hearing the background behind this game. The head developer, Vander Caballero, based the game on his own childhood experiences with an alcohol and drug dependent father. This becomes very evident later in the game when Quico is trying to save Monster. Needless to say that for players who have had similar experiences, this game might be too much to take. Yes, it's THAT intensive. You have been warned.
Gloomy things aside, it's time for the verdict. Overally the game is very polished; the clever puzzles seem fresh and the gripping story is something you rarely experience in a video game. The only real downsides are the fact that the game is just too damn short and that there's nothing left to do once you've completed it once. Add the price (13€/$17/£11) to the equation and you can guarantee that casual players won't touch this. Which is a shame. This is a game that everyone must experience. Excluding those who have experience with the game's themes. You have been warned. Again.