Papo & Yo is one of those rather confusing games that like to mess around with the idea of a review “code”. Taken on a purely mechanical level, Papo & Yo is disappointing simply due to simplicity of the puzzles and incredibly awkward jumping controls however, and this is what makes this review process so awkward, it hides a fantastic, dark story that sticks with you far beyond the actual gameplay ever could.
Opening in an incredibly minimalist way, Papo & Yo beings with a small prompt simply asking you to start the game. Instantly you’re dropped into a seemingly South-American town and soon learn that the environment isn’t static in the slightest as you pull at levers, twist gears and even move entire buildings by simply lifting a cardboard box. Its mesmerising stuff to begin with, though it instantly begins to become tedious when you realise there is very little actual difficulty in the puzzles leading them to stagnant even before you meet the much discussed “Monster” that helps to switch up the gameplay with new puzzles centring on the use of Coconuts and other variables. It’s a simplistic affair which leads to the player to solve most puzzles as they enter the area and have a brief look, which leads to a feeling of going through the motions even after you’ve solved the puzzle. This does make Papo & Yo an incredibly swift experience clocking in around 3-5 hours though it may feel even less.
Working with Monster can make for some interesting puzzles but, as with most games in which you utilise the help of an AI controlled helper, pathfinding issues can be a huge problem. Simple puzzles can end up creating a myriad of issues simply due to the level design Monster has to travel through. Clipping issues can render Monster completely stuck though this only happened a few times throughout my time with the game. These technical issues never destroy the experience but do make it feel painfully messy and amateurish which is at complete odds with the sophisticated story.
The story is something incredibly personal to the creator and it shows in its incredibly delicate presentation throughout. The main reason for ploughing through the somewhat average experience is for the minimalistic story running alongside which never needs to use many words, simply relying on imagery and symbolism to draw the player in. Dealing with the creator’s relationship with an abusive, alcoholic father it does feeling like peering behind the curtains into a deeply disturbing story but having this prior knowledge helps to make the narrative far more emotionally affective. Finding out the stories underlying such a seemingly simple game is one of the main draws of Papo & Yo, though I would struggle to call it “fun” in a traditional sense, satisfying the itch for some compelling but also subtle that gaming can never really scratch due to its focus on bombastic experiences.
There is a question that you must ask yourself before even considering Papo & Yo: Can you play a game that stutters, irritates and even bores you on a technical level to receive a very tender core story experience? There is obviously no right answer here making Papo & Yo one of the more subjective gaming experience of the year as the enjoyment you receive will be directly linked to how you, as the player, feel about this. It is unfortunate that the gameplay will often be at complete odds with the story due to it feeling so weak in comparison, almost feeling like a chore the player has to endure before getting the “reward” of story making it nearly the complete opposite of most gaming experiences.
Papo & Yo is a great experience that is marred by simplistic puzzles that never really go anywhere interesting and the various technical niggles. I do urge everyone to check the demo out, if only to see if you’re the kind of person who would enjoy it.
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