Follow the Coconuts: Papo & Yo Review For PlayStation 3
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3
Story in videogames is often criticised for either being nearly non-existent, or being about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face. Recently, with such examples as Braid or Limbo, developers are beginning to bring a more careful craft to their narratives, and Papo & Yo is a fine specimen of such a game. Developed by Montreal-based Minority Media Inc., the game is set in a Brazilian favela, and tells the story of Quico, a young child who seemingly suffers at the hands of an abusive father. Though Papo & Yo never shows the abuse outright, by reading between the lines, players can gain an understanding of the trials and tribulations of Quico’s short life to date.
For a game based on such morbid source material (the relationship between Quico and ‘Monster’ is a metaphor for writer Vander Caballero’s own troubled relationship with his father), Papo & Yo contains a deal of child-like magic amongst its environments. The favelas of Brazil are all too eager to come to life when Quico interacts with them, either by sliding cogs and gears into place to move buildings around, or by turning oversized clockwork keys that grant otherwise stationary houses a series of spidery legs that allow them to scuttle into helpful locations. The environments for the most part are bright and colourful, and the setting is instantly recognisable. Though there isn’t much variation in the game, as it switches mostly between town and nature settings, the short length of the experience means that each isn’t overdone, and the constant puzzling leaves players looking for glowing points of interest instead of the scenery as a whole.
These points of interest are the main components of the puzzles that make up the bulk of Papo & Yo’s gameplay. As much an adventure game as a narrative device, the game sees players attempting to rearrange various buildings in the favelas, with the objective of easing their passage through the narrow streets. Later in the game, players are accompanied by ‘Monster’ (representative of Quico’s father), and have to guide him through the streets with the aid of carefully placed coconuts, seemingly Monster’s favourite food. All the while, players need to make sure that they keep Monster away from poisonous frogs, as these bring Monster into a blind rage which causes him to hunt Quico. Though Quico cannot die in the game, Monster is able to throw him quite some distance, usually away from the point that you’re trying to reach, which can prove troublesome at times.
Any difficulty that players have with the puzzles can be aided by a well-designed system of hints. In a nice touch, the hints are located inside opened cardboard boxes, which Quico puts on his head and spins around to view the contents. These boxes are usually located out of plain sight yet in a fairly accessible area, meaning that you won’t go to them straight away, but if a puzzle is taking too long to solve a helping hand won’t be too far away. Throughout the course of Papo & Yo I only needed to use a couple of these boxes, as most of the puzzles can be solved with a little bit of thought and some experimentation. Papo & Yo isn’t set up to be an overly challenging experience, and in fact comes across more as an interactive storytelling experience than a regular game, a decision which works well.
The experience of Papo & Yo is aided by an excellent soundtrack. Composer Brian D’Oliviera has done some inspired work with the music, with authentic South American instruments creating a number of immersive tunes that don’t seem to be repeated too often. The sound effects also hit home, and throughout the game they sound convincing, particularly when Quico is running across rooftops, be they sheet metal or tiles. Unfortunately the graphics, whilst admirable, don’t hold up quite as well as the audio, with clipping issues whilst running up stairs and characters seemingly floating in mid-air being the worst of the offenders. There were also a couple of instances of slowdown, although these were fairly minimal and didn’t affect the gameplay too much.
Overall, Papo & Yo is an incredibly impressive experience that, whilst short in length, works fantastically well while it lasts. The story is initially confusing but answers most of your questions by the game’s end, and there was never a point where I felt totally lost. The puzzle and exploration aspects fit in well with the narrative once you fully understand what is going on, and the ability to manipulate the environment is a technique which never gets old and filled me with wonder from beginning to end. The game as an entire package isn’t 100% perfect, with a couple of graphical issues, but as an experience, Papo & Yo is near flawless. The short length may disappoint some, but it suits the narrative and any extra content may well have felt unnecessary and would have taken away from the experience as a whole. Papo & Yo is a game that I would recommend to anyone, and is a fine example of how storytelling in games is an art form on the rise.
Final score: 4.25 out of 5
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