It’s difficult to discuss Papo & Yo without talking about the game’s creator, Vander Caballero. He grew up with an alcoholic father who was abusive to Caballero and his siblings. His only escape was playing with toys and games to take his focus off of the painful reality that he had to endure. This is what Papo & Yo is about at its core.
A young boy, scared to death of his father, living in a dream world trying to find some way to cure him. This is alluded to in the opening scene of the game in which a statement from Caballero is displayed on the screen: “To my mother, brothers, and sisters with whom I survived the monster in my father.”
The main character in the game is a boy named Quico. He’s initially shown hiding in a closet from his father before the scene transitions to what appears to be some sort of fantasy version of his neighbourhood. The world is made up mostly of favelas – a South American shanty town where impoverished residents live in houses built out of plywood and corrugated metal.
As the story unfolds, a mysterious looking girl appears and Quico is compelled to follow her. The girl is never given a name or relation, but you get the impression that she is an older sibling given the way she alternates from helping to taunting Quico throughout the game.
The game starts out innocently enough, with the two children running around and jumping over the rooftops of the houses. Some light puzzles are introduced which involve activating switches that cause the houses to walk, fly, or bend out of the way so that you may progress to the next area. Over the course of the game the puzzles and platforming elements do become increasingly difficult, but never to the point where you feel stressed or frustrated. For the most part you’ll be able to breeze through them within one or two attempts.
After a short while two more characters are introduced. First is Quico’s toy robot, Lula, who will help him to solve puzzles and allows him to jump greater distances by acting as a mini jet pack of sorts. Then there’s Monster, who represents the personification of Quico’ father. Monster is a physically imposing figure. He’s much, much larger than Quico and it seems to be implied that he could easily crush him if he so desired.
Despite his fear inducing first impression, Monster can be quite helpful, and even playful, at times. Quico can bounce off of his big belly while he’s sleeping to make it to otherwise out of reach areas, and later on you can toss a soccer ball back and forth with him.
The problems arise when Monster eats poisonous frogs, which he’s addicted to. Normally you lure him into different sections of the town with yellow coconuts, but when the frogs come out he can’t resist them. Upon consuming one of these creatures his appearance is altered immediately, changing from an intimidating but supportive friend to a black and red beast covered in flames. During this state Monster has only one objective: to find Quico and harm him.
Throughout these instances you can really feel the emotion and fear that is trying to be conveyed – a young boy being betrayed by his trusted friend and companion. Sometimes Quico can prevent Monster from eating the frogs, and sometimes it’s inevitable and you’ll have to run for your life to find a piece of rotten fruit to calm him down. This cycle continues over the course of the game as you continue to seek the aid of the mysterious girl and find a cure for Monster.
The music in Papa & Yo is subtle but good. It has a native South American vibe to it that suits the gameplay and scenery nicely and ramps up and fades out during intense moments. There’s very little dialogue to speak of and what is there is spoken in Portuguese. Fortunately, there are speech boxes in English so that we can follow along. Graphically, the favelas provide a unique and beautiful backdrop to the story. There are also large mountainsides, huge bowing rainbows, bright sunsets, and colourful graffiti on the city walls that add to the generally pleasant and peaceful setting.
Papo & Yo is a fairly short game and the gameplay is straightforward and simple. This shouldn’t turn you off though because that isn’t really the point. The purpose of Papo & Yo is to teach a younger audience that sometimes in life there are situations that are beyond our control. We all face difficult and painful situations that are hard to deal with and overcome.
The final moments of the game had me choked up and on the verge of tears and I am thankful for Vander Caballero for being so transparent and sharing some of the most intimate details of his life with us. I hope that gamers will give Papo & Yo a chance and not miss out on this gem of a game.