Papo & Yo
Thanks to the surreal nature of most of the visuals and mechanics, Papo & Yo is probably unlike anything you have ever played. From the blink-and-you-miss it instances to great, sweeping moments where whole landscapes shift, the production often feels like some blockbuster Hollywood production masquerading as an indie drama. It’s unfortunate then, that the Unreal Engine is so old and creaky. For every vista of breathtaking elegance is another time when half of Monster’s body clips through the environment. Minority has promised that some of the review build bugs will be patched by retail launch, but I have to document the fact that I fell through geometry, get stuck in moving pieces of puzzles, and was nearly stopped dead in my tracks by an invisible wall. Some of these flaws are forgivable for a budget downloadable title, but be aware that there are rough edges poking out here and there.
However, my qualms with some of the software’s technical deficiencies pale in comparison to my biggest complaint: the platforming. You would think that jumping from platform to platform in a 3D world would have been a feat the industry had mastered by now, but it turns out that this is not the case. Between a finicky camera, a strange jump arc, tiny platforms, and a lack of any kind of edge-grabbing mechanic, you will find yourself having to retry sections exponentially more often than you would have if this was a game starring a certain Italian plumber. In fact, one sequence (with the aforementioned invisible wall) was so frustrating that it occurred to me that perhaps the game didn’t want me to continue in that direction. In fact, it was simply forcing me into making a strangely curved leap, instead of the straightforward one that was inexplicably blocked off.
One undeniable point in the game’s favor is its soundtrack. At first, the score is so subdued as to be almost silent. As the adventure winds on though, simple guitar melodies and Latin drums punctuate each sequence. There are moments when tracks are too short and loop ad nauseam, but they are far outweighed by the power of the stronger tunes. The third act in particular contains a few songs that were easily better than the action they accompanied, which is no mean feat given that some of the set-pieces were straight out of Inception.
I think Papo & Yo creates an interesting contrast with fellow indie darling Limbo. Both are low budget, minimalist titles about young boys braving great physical danger for a family member. Both have haunting soundtracks and satisfyingly simple puzzles, yet end before they can really achieve the breadth of emotional impact they aspire to. If you enjoyed Playdead’s Limbo, you might be more forgiving towards its 3D counterpart. For myself, I found both experiences to be commendable, but underwhelming.
Papo & Yo is a game I really want to love. It aspires to everything that video games can achieve as an art form, but is let down by its technical limitations and storytelling which doesn’t seem to trust the player to understand the pain of the author. I would still almost recommend it for several of the puzzles and inventive things done with visuals, but a quick trip to YouTube would probably save you the cash. It’s upsetting, but I guess sometimes the things you care about hurt you the most.
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes and played to completion in about 3 hours. The title is exclusive to PS3 and the PlayStation Network.
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A student of Literature and Religion at Florida State University, Austin Yorski is a jack-of-all-trades around BT. He goes by Austin or Yorski (but not both), and spends all the time he isn’t reading or playing football on writing, editing, moderating, and gaming. He can also collect all 120 stars in Super Mario 64 blindfolded.