Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: Papo & Yo

My first completed game of 2014! I'm on a mission to clear my PC backlog. I'm not sure how successful I will be since I keep acquiring new games from the Humble Bundle and the Steam sales (though I am pleased to report that I behaved myself during the holiday sale) faster than I can actually play them. I used a website to pick five random numbers based on how many PC games I own, and the five it picked would be my first plays of the year no matter what they were. The five games it spit out were L.A. Noire, Papo & Yo, Risen, I Am Alive, and Tomb Raider (the reboot).

Initially, I started with I Am Alive, and while I was enjoying that game, I allowed Papo &  Yo to tempt me away because I loved the look of the game from screenshots I'd viewed, and I expected it to be something light and fun as opposed to the depressing darkness of I Am Alive. I finished this game in one night, soldiering way past bedtime to finish. This game isn't particularly long. I think it took me roughly three hours to complete. However, I'd started the game late with all intentions of going to sleep after a little play time. Instead, I found myself emotionally invested in this boy's journey. Spoilers ahead. You've been warned.


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Players assume the role of Quico, a young boy who lives in a favela, or at least that's where Quico's story begins. In the beginning, Quico is antagonized by a nameless girl who can use chalk lines to open doorways. Quico gives chase and finds that he can manipulate chalk to open new pathways for him, as well. The girl accuses Quico of being cursed and pushes him off the roof where he is rescued by a little yellow robot named Lula. Lula spends most of the game with Quico, helping him to hover over gaps and pulling triggers that are impossible for Quico to reach.

I would describe this game as an adventure-fantasy puzzle game. You move through the favela solving various puzzles to advance with Quico and his monster. I'm not really one to harp on graphics, but I did like how the creator managed to capture the colorful, gritty world that Quico lives while adding some fantasy elements to it without making it seem garish.
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The puzzles aren't that difficult at all. If you're stuck, there are hint boxes that Quico can "hide" under and get some insight about the puzzle he's trying to solve. However, I found they weren't really that necessary. I can see where maybe one puzzle that requires two conditions to happen might have players checking the hint box for clues, but mostly, they're not too tasking.

What these puzzles lack in difficulty, they make up with by being involved. You'll spend some time moving around, figuring out how to reach various objectives, climbing, moving things, manipulating the monster's movements etc. Also, there are often multiple things you have to do to solve the puzzle. I also found that many of the puzzles are not linear. You can approach it from different ways. Sure, there are some things that have to be done in a specific order, but often setting the puzzle up doesn't require specific ordered steps that need to happen. Maybe this lack of difficulty was sort of intentional to make room for the story.
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I thought this game was a brilliant way of presenting Quico's story. It's obvious from the beginning that this adventure is taking place in the imagination of a child, but it's infused with the reality of his surroundings giving it a surreal feel. It manged to capture the awesome power of a child's creative, curious mind. Nothing is ever mundane in a child's world. Places and things they see everyday become amazing tools in their imaginative journey, and this game emphasizes that. However, this game isn't a fun story about Quico's adventures with his pet monster. Despite there being a lack of dialogue, players are able to quickly piece together this sad story.

Quico's monster is called Papo. Papo and Quico adventure together. Papo seems mostly harmless and even bumbling in the beginning, but when Papo eats the frogs around the favela, he becomes enraged and hurts Quico. This points to a troubling father and son relationship. Okay, I should note that the first thought that came to me early in the game was "father" because of the intro quote, but it's realistic to think that this could be some other person in Quico's life in the beginning. Even if you're not exactly sure what's wrong, you understand that Quico's father has some type of addiction, whether it's alcohol or drugs (and it's cleared up at the end), and he is abusive toward his son and possibly others when under the influence.

As you progress through the game, you come to learn just how toxic their relationship is by viewing very quick flashbacks, observing Papo and Quico together when Papo is enraged, and through a pivotal scene at the end that forces Quico to face the reality of what's happening in his life.

Despite this, Quico obviously cares for his monster and wants him to be better. After the first violent episode the player encounters with Quico and Papo, Quico begins to search for a way to "cure" Papo of his anger. Quico takes a journey to do that after the girl who'd previously taunted him becomes an ally/guide and tells Quico that Papo can be cured by a shaman.

Being that this obviously take place in Quico's mind, players realize that the girl can't be real, and in the beginning, she seemed to represent that part of himself that blamed himself for his father's abuse, that there must be something wrong with him  to make these things happen. There seems to be some possibility that this girl is someone he knows in his real life, someone his father has hurt as well, someone who is no longer in Quico's life due to his father. There is a moment in the game where Quico is told that Papo only knows how to kill things, pointing more at some possible real life connection to the girl.

During the course of the game, Quico comes to realize that he is not the reason for his father's anger and that some things can't be cured and you have to accept that no matter how painful.
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This is not a really happy game, and it doesn't really end on some positive note in my opinion. In fact, the ending is where some of my criticism rests, but only because of my emotional response to it. The ending, while being an important lesson about growing up and not hiding away from problems, seemed to take away from Quico's ability to protect himself. Sometimes, people retreat into their imagination to cope with issues such as the abuse Quico faces, especially children.

I understand that sometimes that does more harm psychologically. However, the ending just felt too much like someone saying, "Just be a man about it." There's also a message there about letting go of taking responsibility for another's actions (and realizing there is no excuse for that abuse), but my feeling that Quico was stepping out into danger without his buffer eclipsed that. I'm sure there are other ways of interpreting that scene and that the creator didn't intend for me to take that away from the story. The game itself even opened up with a quote from the creator saying that he and his family survived their monster (his dad), and I try to tell myself that the more important part is that Quico let go and hopefully survived.

I really enjoyed this game and was surprised to see there was much more depth to the story than I originally thought. This is definitely the type of game whose story and visual appearances will stay on my mind.

Addendum: I should mention that I didn't watch any of the launch trailers for this, but I see there is a live action one that seems to chronicles the events leading up to the first scene in the game.

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This blog is a mishmash of thoughts, pictures, and rantings among other things about games I've played, games I will play, and games I am currently playing. From time to time, I may post book reviews that I've written that are about different games and/or game worlds. Feel free to recommend games or add me on the platforms I've listed. I don't do competitive multiplayer much anymore, but I'm always down for some co-op these days. I'm usually DigitalTempest everywhere unless otherwise specified.

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2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Tiara has read 6 books toward her goal of 52 books.
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Tiara's bookshelf: currently-reading

The Elfstones Of Shannara
tagged: upcoming-reads, currently-reading, 2016-audiobook-challenge, classi...
Gardens of the Moon
tagged: currently-reading, fantasy, z-narrator-ralph-lister, 2016-audiobook...

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Tiara's bookshelf: read

Deceived
really liked it
Review to come.
tagged: 2016-star-wars-reading-challenge and 2016-audiobook-challenge
The Girl from the Well
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More reviews @ The Bibliosanctum TL;DR Review 2.5 to 3 stars. Not badly written… I’m just disappointed by the squandered potential. I’m going to reread Anna Dressed in Blood to make myself feel better about this Longer Review: T...
tagged: 2016-women-of-genre-fiction-reading, horror, and young-adult
Thirteen Reasons Why
I don't think this quite captures the complexity of bullying and suicide, and some of the issues that Hannah started facing toward the end of the novel really seemed to detract even more from the feelings she was going through by having ...
tagged: young-adult, popsugar-2016-reading-challenge, 2016-audiobook-challe...
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
liked it
Spoiler free review to come.
tagged: 2016-star-wars-reading-challenge
The Phantom of the Opera
really liked it
tagged: classic-horror, classics, audiobook, 2016-audiobook-challenge, horr...

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