Papo + Yo
I place my controller down onto the table and sit back in my chair, the ending credits to Minority Media’s Papo + Yo playing on the screen in front of me. This was not a long journey, at least not for me: I completed the game in three hours, two hour-and-a-half sessions. A game that short shouldn’t be all that remarkable.
Yet…I cannot stop thinking about what I had just seen. Papo + Yo is not an average puzzler. This is a story of a troubled past, a tumultuous upbringing involving abuse, neglect and fear, but it is presented in a cheerful, child-like way. I knew what I was getting into with Papo + Yo. I knew the inspiration behind it, and I knew the message that would be presented to me. However, I don’t think I quite expected just how powerful that message would be.
Papo + Yo, for those unaware, centers about a boy named Quico and his pal Monster. Monster is a large, pink beast of a being who only knows two things: eating and sleeping. However, this docile behemoth holds a dark secret: an addiction to tree frogs. Eating one turns him to a demon; fire consumes his body and he turns red like blood as he pursues Quico for really no reason at all. Quico must find a blue fruit and feed it to Monster in order to bring him back to normalcy. This fragile relationship serves as the centerpiece for the puzzles that Quico must solve to complete his journey. Along the way he’ll make some friends, including a small robot named Lula who can be summoned for help using the Triangle button, but the majority of the obstacles are Quico’s alone to conquer.
Puzzles are solved by literally changing the world around you. Picking up a block here also moves a house there, cutting a string will roll up a piece of the world, exposing a hidden area underneath. This world is Quico’s to shape, as if it were clay in his hands. Unfortunately, these puzzles don’t exactly take a master puzzle solver to traverse. Some of them are pretty straight-forward, like point the cart holding Monster in the right direction so he can be transported to the correct location. Others are a bit more complex, like creating a bridge for Quico while at the same time destroying all frogs that generate when a piece of the bridge is moved. I only found myself having trouble with one puzzle, and even then simple experimentation allowed me to reach my goal.
The beauty of Papo + Yo, however, lies in its message: a message of perseverance, of hope, of a light at the end of a dark, dark tunnel. This game was created from a despair that most players have nor will ever experience, yet it is all too easy to relate and sympathize. This Quico adores his father in the “real world,” but scenes within the game show that his father might not be the most honorable of people; he might actually be a monster. The struggle with a abusive father, in this case an alcoholic, is made completely evident here, even if the person holding the controller didn’t have the same problems, and that is the mark of a great tale.
Perhaps the most powerful scene of all is the end. I will not go into detail, but suffice it to say that it is one of the most satisfying and emotional endings I’ve ever experienced in a video game. Minority Media takes the players on a roller-coaster of emotion in the span of ten minutes. I lived the creator’s trouble with his father during this scene. I watched the sins of the father as they played out before me. Then, when the ride ended, all I could do was put the controller down and stare at the credits as they played before me. I didn’t know what to say. There were no words.
Praise is earned for a game that can hook its players into an engaging story that plays out over a 20-hour campaign, but an even higher accolade belongs to the narrative that can cause laughter, tears, strength, weakness, despair, and hope in the span of three hours. Papo + Yo does just that. I didn’t share the creator’s background; I am fortunate enough to have had a normal upbringing with loving parents and a strong support system. I shouldn’t be able to relate to this game. I shouldn’t feel this child’s pain or see his anguish. Yet I do, and it is because of strong narrative presentation juxtaposed by a whimsical puzzle format that I can do so.
Papo + Yo is a must play, this journey a must-experience. It would be a terrible dishonor not to experience it.