A couple of weeks ago an interesting new PSN title was announced through the Sony Pub Fund called Papo and Yo. Not only does the game itself have an interesting art style and gameplay ideas, but it is based on some truly heavy source material: the lead developer’s relationship with a father addicted to alcohol. Luckily you don’t have to worry about the game being too heavy handed about its inspiration as the entire thing is told in an allegorical style similar to how a children’s story book would deal with such topics.
The story is about a kid from the Favelas in South America named Quico and his imaginary world. His best friend in this world is monster, a pink rhino who has a significant problem. He’s addicted to frogs, and when Monster eats frogs he becomes enraged and Quico’s best friend becomes his worst nightmare. Helping to protect Quico from Monster is Lula, a robot that you use to help you solve puzzles and the only thing in the game that seems to scare Monster. Your goal is to heal Monster from his addiction to frogs so that you can get back your best friend.
My demo playthrough started with Quico counting off for a game of hide and go seek as a number of other children from the neighborhood ran off. After counting off you gain control of Quico and I spent the first couple of seconds just running around looking at the mass of buildings around me. I’ve never been in the Favelas so I don’t know how true to life the game is but the stacks upon stacks of houses was quite striking and made me feel quite small as a child running around. Technically the game was not the best for visuals and the running animations looked quite off, but the style of the setting is definitely something I can get behind.
A small yellow robot ran ahead of me and after a bit of chasing I caught up. This robot is Lula, your companion throughout the game for puzzle solving. By pressing triangle you can call Lula over to you and she’ll basically do everything you ask of her without problem (very much unlike Monster). Picking up my little robot friend was apparently all I had to do to pass the first challenge in the game and a chalk door drawn on the side of a cliff opened up to let me pass. I noticed that there was another kid running through the door as I came to it and after passing through the door the little boy was gone and all I saw was a frog running forward. Presumably the other child turned into the frog in Quico’s imaginary world, but I’m not sure how/if this will play into the final product.
Next I came upon a staircase that had been destroyed and the only thing I could interact with was a line of chalk on the broken remains. Turns out the chalk could be pulled like a rope and when I pulled back on it a staircase came out of the ground for me to walk across. Sadly the rope then retracted when I let it go. After a second I figured out that Lula could hold onto the rope for me and by calling her over she would pull it and bring up the staircase which I quickly ran across.
Bridge building using houses was the next exercise. I was stuck in a little cement play area with some cardboard boxes strewn around. As I moved the boxes the houses in the background moved as well. Matching the boxes to a drawing on the cement laid out the houses into a bridge that I could use to cross the chasm in front of me.
I got my first look at Monster after that and he was quite the lumbering beast, his steps made huge booming echoes throughout the area and he looked like he could squash Quico like a bug at any moment. Monster responds to food and toys so the next obstacle of getting him to stand in a chalk square to open up a path for Quico was easily solved. The next puzzle was far less simple and required Monster to stand on a trigger in order for Quico to pass to the next area, but coaxing him over there with food didn’t work because Monster has to actually stay on the trigger. Once he ate the food he would just wander off to go do monster type stuff, but if you get him onto the trigger with food and then put down Lula while Monster is eating he’ll stand terrified and keep the trigger depressed. The interaction between the two seems like it could make for a lot of great puzzles.
This was about where my demo ended, but I was lucky enough to talk to the Creative Director behind Papo and Yo: Vander Caballero. He let me know that the demo I just played was a tech demo purely to show off the mechanics and what I saw was probably not how the full game would begin. The full game was planned to be 5 hours long and Vander said that he decided five hours was just what was required for him to tell the story that he wanted to tell.
I didn’t get a chance to try out the frog eating mechanic myself but Vander told me that later puzzles will require things like keeping frogs away from Monster by catching them before Monster finds them and smashing the little amphibian on a wall (ew). Others might require getting away from Monster after he’s already eaten a frog and using Monster in his infuriated state to solve puzzles to advance.
We also talked a bit about what the game was trying to achieve. Vander feels that games should grow: both growth in the characters in the game and growth in the person playing them. He feels that movies have already gotten this down but there aren’t too many games that try. I commented that this might be because games are so commercial and you have to leave things open for a sequel, have too much closure and that option is closed to you. He agreed and said that Papo and Yo was most definitely a singular game that would not be the start of a series.
Lastly he implored me to support the game because he thinks that the games industry in general needs more stuff like this, and I would tend to agree. Hopefully you'll all help me out in supporting this interesting new title when it comes to PSN in early 2012.