You may be aware of the notion of gameplay as therapy, the emotional and cathartic possibilities of playing a video game, especially for the young or infirm. Well, while we are all still wrapping our collective heads around that theory, developer Minority is preparing to introduce to the idea of game design as therapy. We got some time with the studio’s PSN title Papo and Yo to see how this form of media creation could affect the end gameplay.
Papo and Yo is a puzzle platformer set in a South American town manufactured in the mind of its protagonist, Quico. He explores the environment with a robotic aide and a rhinoceros-like creature known as Monster, whose addiction to frogs has his constantly turning into a more bestial form after he indulges himself. This narrative act is a not so subtle allegory to lead designer Vander Caballero’s own relationship to an abusive alcoholic father. This behind the scenes story (or much of a plot at all) was never presented in-game during our demo build, what we got were these narration cards written in a sort of children’s scrawl, which we aren’t sure that we liked.
The breadth of Papo and Yo‘s interactivity plays out in a third-person environment scrounge for puzzle elements. The environments are gorgeously rendered and, best of all, unique. South America has existed just as long as the rest of our favorite chunks of Pangaea, but this is one of the first time we at Elder Geek saw it realized outside of a samey jungle environment filled with brown people for your white super soldier to shoot. All three of the game’s characters; Quico, Monster, and Lula, your cute little robotic Navi-like aide; come into play in puzzle solving, be it in granting access to certain portions of the environment or greater strength to move objects.
A lot of these puzzles literally affect the environment around you. A series of cardboard boxes with crudely drawn houses on them directly correlate to a series of more realistic houses far off in the background. Move a box, its corresponding house travels with it. We were told this was but an example of how many of the puzzles would operate, although interaction with the background you are not directly touching has yet to be shown.
Most levels end with Monster succumbing to his temptations and transforming to a darker version of himself that must be combated. These boss missions didn’t affect us as much as you would think, given the game’s backstory, but our demo wasn’t the most expansive in terms of delving into these inter-character relationships. As far as we can tell, it’s a silent, Minority are going for an almost Fumito Ueda style of emotional connection, and it’ll be interesting to see if they could reach that very high plateau.
Papo and Yo is a downloadable genre throwback with just enough tweaks to the puzzle-platform formula to keep interest for its (presumably) short campaign. It also takes place in beautifully realized, and shamefully under-explored, region of the world that filters into one of the more cohesive aesthetic designs we’ve seen out of a DLC game since Limbo. We’ll have to wait for our review copy to see if this cathartic design narrative can play out.
Papo and Yo is expected for the Playstation Network sometime in 2012.