#MaybeInMarch: Papo & Yo
My first choice for #MaybeInMarch this year was The Path.
As explained in my post about the game last Thursday, this was a purchase made back in July 2013 after finding the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die. I knew nothing about this 2009 release other than the information contained within the few paragraphs included.
While I appreciated its artistic style, my stream didn’t go according to plan. The mechanics were clunky and using a controller turned the protagonists’ movement into a slog. On top of this, the storyline was presented in such a vague way that it was difficult to interpret what was happening. Taking viewers’ comments on board, Pete and I decided to switch to our #MaybeInMarch backup game.
Papo & Yo is a puzzle-platformer released in 2012 by Minority Media (now known as Meta4). I bought this title at the same time as The Path and thought I did so because it was another included in the book mentioned above – but when I checked the index last week, it wasn’t listed. Regular Later Levels’ readers will know the platformer will never be one of my favourite genres so I’ve no idea how this one ended up on my backlog.
The story opens on Quico, a young Brazilian boy who’s hiding in his closet with his robot Lula as his father stomps by outside. After closing his eyes and escaping into his imagination, a door magically appears on the wall behind him and transports him to a colourful favela-filled world. He soon meets Lula and, after playing a few tricks on him and realising he isn’t a threat, she decides to become his guide and steers Quico through the obstacles ahead. She tells the boy they need to go find Monster.
There are spoilers below. If you haven’t yet experienced Papo & Yo and wish to do so, it may be better to navigate away and come back later.
Although Monster isn’t the friendliest being, this huge lumbering creature is at least docile and gentle when he’s calm. But this changes when he comes across poisonous frogs: he clearly has a dangerous addiction and can’t stop himself from gobbling them down. This has the result of turning him into a violent, fiery rage from which nobody, including Quico and friends, are safe. The boy grows fond of Monster and wants to cure him – but will he and those he cares about end up getting hurt in the process?
The main objectives throughout Papo & Yo are to reach the next destination by turning magical keys and setting up platforms, often formed out of houses. This design is rather clever as it feels like protagonist can manipulate the environment with his imagination. Huts suddenly sprout feet or wings and move themselves into new positions; patches of grass roll up to reveal underground passages; and whole sections of city bend and tilt to create new paths to traverse.
The game isn’t demanding in terms of its platforming mechanics, which suited someone like me who isn’t fond of the genre, but likely won’t provide enough challenge for players with experience. It also doesn’t offer much deviation from its prescribed path for those who like exploration. The bigger areas have plenty of hidden ledges and alleyways, but they often don’t lead anywhere – except to the ground when you fall off, however. I was obviously pleased about the absence of fall-damage.
The puzzles aren’t overly challenging either, but this has the advantage of making Papo & Yo a relaxed release which could be completed in one sitting. They’re also all slightly different from each other so there’s a nice variety. My favourite part involved stacking several houses on top of each other and then using a lever to bend them in certain directions, giving access to even more houses so the tower could be extended. It really does feel as though this is a product of Quico’s imagination and captures a child’s inventiveness.
So how does Monster fit into the gameplay? Although he mostly ignores Quico and is generally indifferent about the boy’s presence, he can be a useful aid at various points. Coconuts can be used to lure the creature into certain positions so he triggers buttons which open new passageways. And when he falls asleep after leaning up against fences, the protagonist can climb upon his belly and bounce off to reach higher ledges which were previously inaccessible.
At other points though, he’s more of an antagonist after coming across those poisonous frogs. There were several sections where I found myself running around in a panic as the angered Monster stomped around the area stalking me. It’s heart-breaking to watch when Quico gets caught. The creature will bite down on the boy and then fling him into the air with an animation which makes him look like a helpless ragdoll. This cycle repeats until you’re able to feed Monster a rotten fruit which causes him to emit the frog.
After reading that description, it would be easy to assume that players feel nothing but hostility towards Monster. However, it’s rarely so simple in Papo & Yo. Including a section where he prevents Quico from getting hurt by a puzzle he isn’t yet ready to solve introduces some uncertainty to your emotions. It would have been easy to design a game where the creature was solely an enemy and something to be avoided, but what Minority Media managed to create with is far more complex.
During research completed after finishing the title, I came across an article published on the Giant Bomb website in June 2011. It said: “Quico’s relationship with Monster is meant to echo that of [creator Vander Caballero] and his father, who throughout his life suffered from alcohol and drug dependency. Like Monster the game, Caballero’s father had two sides: a loving, friendly side, and a monstrous, evil one. In effect, Caballero is pouring the very essence of his life’s experience into this game…”
It was hard to stop the tears from welling in my eyes as he made the decision to return to his closet and the credits rolled.
Quico’s journey throughout the world of Papo & Yo mirrors the change in him. As the story progresses, he gradually loses items of clothing until he’s wearing little more than white body-paint and his expressions become more determined. It’s a visual representation of his psychological transformation and shedding of dependency. When he has a moment of realisation and chooses to free himself from a tragically abusive relationship by pushing a sleeping Monster into an abyss, it’s incredibly profound.
Similar to not remembering how Papo & Yo ended up in my Steam library ten years ago, I was already aware of the release’s backstory and am unsure how. I think the emotional ending would have hit harder if I hadn’t already known that Monster was a symbol for Quico’s father and had seen that discovery play out on screen. That’s not to say it wasn’t moving though. It was hard to stop the tears from welling in my eyes as he made the decision to return to his closet and the credits rolled.
I think this #MaybeInMarch game is going to stay with me for a while yet.