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Something You May Have Missed: ‘Papo & Yo’ For PSN – One Man’s Early Life Retold As A Gloriously Surreal Looking 3D Puzzle-Platformer

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A whimsical and seemingly unassuming logo; the actual game is anything but.

If you haven’t heard of ‘Papo & Yo’, I wouldn’t have blamed you given its relatively low profile.  A shame that said profile isn’t more prominent really, since Papo & Yo appears to be one of the most emotionally engaging and compelling looking releases of the year – downloadable or otherwise.

Papo & Yo is a surrealist 3D platformer that appears to take inspiration from the likes of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, ICO and Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending film, Inception.  Interestingly, the game is actually loosely based on the early life of creator Vander Caballero – a former EA employee who had worked on the likes of Army of Two and FIFA before deciding to leave in order to pour his heart and soul into the very personal project that Papo & Yo has become.

Papo & Yo aims to retell Caballero’s childhood and his relationship to his alcoholic and abusive father as an abstract tale – swapping out Caballero himself with a small boy named Quico and his father with a huge colourful beast.

By and large, the vaguely Rhinoceros-looking beast is very friendly to Quico – helping him to scale tall obstacles and break through barriers with the sort of ease that the diminutive child is unable to muster.  Yet, his one weakness is frogs which turn him into a raging, fire-spitting Efreet-type creature and make him every bit a potential threat to Quico as he was an ally before.  The parallels that you can draw vis-a-vis his experiences with dealing with an alcoholic father are obvious, but the changes in temperament of this creature remain emotionally poignant and have a substantial impact on the gameplay.  At its core, Papo & Yo functions very familiarly to fellow first-party exclusive ICO; in so far that the game is a platform puzzler with a dynamic NPC partner slant but its the various mood states of the monster that dictate how those puzzles are approached – if the creature is in a state of calm, puzzles become relaxing and chilled out affairs, if the creature is enraged however, everything goes out the window and self-preservation shoots up the priority list ahead of completing the puzzle itself.

This is an awesome dynamic and one that is carried through not just on emotional and gameplay terms, but asethetic ones as well.  When the beast is calm, the music settles on a delicate tempo, lightly hitting relaxed notes and with whimsical strings providing a calming backing to the events unfolding on-screen, if the beast consumes any frogs however, the tempo ramps up and the music becomes much more immediate with an indelible sense of danger effortlessly conveyed to the player.   On the note of the music also, Caballero promises a great deal of aural uniqueness even saying “You’ll hear instruments in this game that you’ve never heard before.  Like the jaw of a dead cow.”

Jaw of a dead cow.  How many games can say that they have that in their musical score?

Visually, the game is a complete treat for the retinas.  Taking place in a surrealist interpretation of his upbringings in the colourful favelas of South America, colour and vibrancy are the order of the day here, as is unpredictability and chaos; with the scene sometimes turning in and on top of itself when a puzzle has been completed or when the beast indulges itself on some amphibian-powered intoxication.

There are more muted and delicate visual flourishes too.   Chalk drawings appear on many of the walls in the favelas; depicting puzzles that must be completed and upon doing so, the components of those puzzles spring to life – with new staircases materialising out of the thin air, and small little gears sprouting legs and hurrying quickly to their required positions as fast as their tiny new found limbs will take them.  Another example, is when Quico is sprinting along a pitch black corridor with a dipped light at the end of the tunnel; as he runs farther and farther down the tunnel, a section of the darkened wall opens up to reveal a menacing shadow of the monster following him.

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, let me tell you that I am completely entranced by this game. Very rarely have I seen such an awe-inspiring  fusion of emotion and visual imagination outside of games such as ICO and Shadow of the Colossus.  Even then, with this game drawing from a set of very personal experiences unlike the latter and the former, the emotional impact that this game delivers to the player with its visual allegories and character relationships comes across as a unique proposition all of its own.

Look at the trailer below and then put this on your radar and keep it there.  I can’t wait to get my hands on this.

Papo & Yo is due to release exclusively on the PSN for the PS3 on August 15th, 2012.  It is expected to retail for £11.99.

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Written by bitsnark

July 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm

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