For all its dreamy landscapes, talking robot toys and unusually high population of poisonous frogs, Papo & Yo is not a happy game. Based on designer Vander Callabero’s own troubled childhood, Papo & Yo is very much in the same vein as games like That Dragon, Cancer and The Town of Light – hard-hitting, true-to-life stories that use the game as a lens to tackle difficult themes and subjects.
There are still moments of levity to be found in this puzzle-y platformer set in a Brazilian favela, though, and my absolute favourite is the time you get to play footie with Quico’s hulking great Monster friend.
It’s a moment that comes around half way through this 2-3 hour game, and it’s probably one of the rare moments in Papo & Yo where you truly feel like this giant, horned, pink blob of a creature is actually worth saving. He can be bit of a turd, really. Let him eat one of those aforementioned poisonous frogs, for example, and he’ll fly into an immediate rage, causing him to come after you and hunt you down if you don’t hide or feed him some fury-dispelling fruit. Kick a football at him, though, and he’ll lob it back, a deep chuckle erupting from his wobbly belly.
It doesn’t serve any real purpose, playing football with this towering pink galoot, but the game would be poorer for it if it wasn’t there. Instead, it brings a welcome touch of humanity to this temperamental beast, and gives you the grit to carry on trying to tame him even when he continually flies off the handle.
Papo & Yo can be unrelentingly grim at times, but it’s moments like this where it can also be powerful – because ultimately, this isn’t a game about dwelling on the bad and being miserable all the time. It’s a game about hope and the fierce love of a boy who just wants to save his bestest best friend. You’ll still need to be in the right mood to play it because, you know, METAPHORS, but I’d still recommend giving it a go if you get the chance. Just watch out for those pesky frogs.