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Published on September 7th, 2012 | by Louis Garcia, Contributor

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Papo & Yo: A Mirror of My Childhood

Developer: Minority
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: Aug. 14, 2012
Price: $14.99

Review Notes: A game token was received for review purposes.

Struggling against his mass I gripped onto him as best I could. Struggling, flailing – I was thrown easily from him into the metal bar meant to hold up towels. This night it was used to deflate me as it dug into my back.

But it was enough for everyone to get away.

Many of the most vivid memories from my childhood are frightening montages of screaming, yelling, hitting, choking and horror.

My alcoholic father was the source; he was a terribly frightening individual when he drank.

Papo & Yo was written by someone who suffered similar nightmares from a drinking father, and the video game made to tell that story does a superb job of transferring the feelings and hardships children experience with that kind of life–a horrible one with few escapes.

The story is the star of the show, as the game itself is a generic puzzle platformer. But it’s an important piece of software. More of an experience, Papa & Yo is a way to connect to a story grounded in the dire situation of growing up with an alcoholic parent, and explore those memories in parallel to Yo’s adventure in South American favelas with his monster.

Papo, or Monster, is a striking figure. A cross between a rhino and gorilla, the shape the gigantic monster takes on serves very distinct purposes: to be both unrecognizable, and beyond your control.

My father was a gentle giant when sober. An ex-marine, able to bench 300 pounds, and a hulking figure that was also full of love and caring. But just like Papo, when a certain substance entered his body he completely changed.

My father became something I couldn’t identify; he was both terrifying and uncontrollable. Filled with misguided indignation, he seemed to be a fictional force that couldn’t be stopped by anyone but my fictional childhood heroes I tried to find solace in.

Papo & Yo demonstrates this relationship clearly.

The environment is almost as key as the gentle giant turned monster itself. Papo & Yo presents a child’s imagination, or means of escape. It’s a quiet place full of childish (fanciful) environments.

Though it seems like an adventure into some new, exciting place away from the pain, it’s also very quiet. And I don’t mean the pleasing acoustic music throughout, the world itself is almost mute. It’s a perfect match for how I felt growing up: alone.

Whereas Papo & Yo has South American favelas, I had the woods of Wisconsin (which also had a large number of frogs I would poke and prod in various states of their lives as they swam in puddles and ponds around my home).

Soccer balls sat around with no one to kick them to, the woods–though full of misadventures waiting for me to create–all had a very lonely feel to them. I was always looking for something, but I never knew quite what it was.

While searching those woods I would sometimes need my father to help me traverse an area. Just like in Papo & Yo, both parties relied on each other. At times he would use his strength to help me up a tree. Others would see me tending to him when he was passed out on our couch in our tiny trailer home, only for him to return later that night in another drunken rage to break more childhood dreams.

Sometimes he would break a favorite toy that made me feel safe, just like Lula, protagonist Quico’s helpful robot toy. The cycle was a haze of confusion as to what would happen each night.

In the end, the game is about the protagonist vanquishing his monster. It’s what we all have to do when we grow up with an abusive parent who succumbs to the evils of alcohol; Papa & Yo happens to present that all too familiar story in a subtle way.

I try to think about what young me would think about Papo & Yo; I doubt I would have been interested having already found role-plaing games and action-packed adventure games.

But the adult me finds a worthwhile story reminding me of the hardship I grew up in, and the horror I’ll never put my own children through.

Final Truth:
What Papo & Yo does is amazing: it’s able to present an experience, that while not a good game, tells a story that most video games never dare to.

I would, however, be remiss to mention its issues from a technical standpoint. Chief among them are the glitches found throughout the game. One was so bad that I had to reinstall the game for a puzzle to work correctly.

Graphically the game is very bland, with only bits and pieces of some stellar art direction shining through. This is a shame as the imaginative world could have really been brought to life with more graphical pizazz.

The controls-though not as important as they are in a platformer requiring concise control-felt choppy. I had to time simple jumps a bit too perfectly to make sure my protagonist didn’t fall to his doom, or fall off a ledge, forcing me to waste extra time getting back to where I just was.

Aside from the one major glitch, all of these items can be overlooked to enjoy what is for once a unique story about something very devastating-not just another good versus evil shoot-em-up or (insert genre here).

Rating: 8/10 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

+ A great story that will resonate with some people
+ A creative world
– Game-ending glitches
– Graphically the game leaves much to be desired
– Controls could be a bit better

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