Review: Papo & Yo – Artsy Fartsy?

A while back, this game I had never heard of came with the monthly games you receive as a PlayStation Plus member. I played it for half an hour then, but I put down the controller and removed it at that time. I decided to give it another try and I just felt like I had to discuss it.

Because it’s good? No. Maybe. Hard to say. It was fun enough that I played through it, but it didn’t need to be much longer. The game wrapped up in just under four hours for me, but then again, I’m a slow gamer. In wanting to write a review about this, I decided to do a second play-through to gather all 25 collectibles and got halfway in just an hour. Knowing how to solve the puzzles makes it incredibly easy.

So what is the game about? You’re a little kid being transported to a slightly peculiar world, where you meet a little girl who taunts you and runs away. You decide to follow her. Later, you encounter a monster that follows you along the way.

It’s a little hard to explain what his part in all this is, but he’s a part of puzzles. You need to use fruit to lure him somewhere in order to progress, or have him fall asleep so you can jump on his belly. It sounds a little ridiculous, and it almost feels that way at times.

The puzzles themselves are okay. They’re not great or even good, but at least they’re not infuriating. The most difficult – and perhaps aggravating – puzzles are those where the monster is angry, because he ate a frog. Then, it will chase you and throw you around. You need rotten fruit to calm him down again. Yes, really. I’m not making this up.

Graphically, what can I say? It’s an Unreal Engine 3 game. It doesn’t look impressive, and is bugged by frame rate dips and tearing, but overall it’s fine. Just that. Fine. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons uses the same engine and, while plagued by tearing as well at times, looks far more impressive than Papo & Yo does. Especially the worldbuilding and environments.

The controls are good, though. I rarely missed a jump and that’s not always a given in 3D-platforming games, so kudos for that.

My main problem lies with the story. Mind you, I will go into spoilers here, but if you have half a brain, the intro of the game basically tells you everything you need to know. Now if it were a much simpler story, I’d be fine with it. Perhaps a story of a boy trapped in a fantasy world, trying to escape. Think The Unfinished Swan. It wouldn’t need much rewriting either. Or perhaps the girl took something from you and you need to get it back.

The problem is that, to me, it felt like the creators wanted to make a game with storytelling similar to Shadow of the Colossus, but failed. It’s easy to criticise, I know, but it feels like the kind of story a first year student of film school would come up with.

There’s not much dialogue in the game, and what’s being said does not sound like any language I ever heard. Speech bubbles do appear next to the characters when they say something.

Now brace yourselves, because you will not see this one coming. Especially not after the intro, and the first flashback about an hour into the game where you see yourself sitting in the back of a car being driven by an adult male. Oh, and there’s a quote, from the game director himself, saying: “To my mother, brothers and sisters with whom I survived the monster in my father”, right when you start the game. The monster is your father, the frogs represent his alcohol abuse and the girl was the person you father hit with his car.

I had a suspicion this game was fairly personal, from the director’s own experience. Looking up some information about the game confirms this. I don’t mine a personal story done well, but I just feel like this game is laying it on thick. It feels like they’re trying to be subtle and use metaphors, but it’s so blatant.

I feel like I’m being really harsh on the game, but in all honesty, it’s not terrible. I’m just very sensitive when it comes to metaphors and artsy fartsy storytelling. Would I recommend it?Perhaps. I know of people who have very much enjoyed this game, so who am I to take that away from them?

What does strike me as odd is that most outlets give this a positive review. The only major outlet that gave it a bad one, was IGN. “The on-paper premise of a traumatic childhood brought to life as a playable short story is brilliant, but the wounded execution can’t quite sell the emotional expression.”, is what they had to say and I tend to agree a little.

I guess it’s a decent game if you like that kind of story, but if you’re looking for interesting puzzles, you’d better look elsewhere. It’s also an easy game for completionists and trophy/achievement hunters, as my two playthroughs gave me a lot of trophies in a total playtime of around six hours.

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