A Gosh Darn Shame
Artistic, indie games are a gamble. While they can at times be beautiful, thought-provoking, and genre-defying, they can also end up in the video game doldrums. Although Papa and Yo manages to relate a heartbreaking story of one man’s emotional struggles with his abusive father, it fails to be in any way substantially entertaining. It feels as if the writer was more interested in relating the central narrative and theme of the piece than in actually engaging his audience. That’s a gosh darn shame, because Papa and Yo has a substantial and potentially life altering story to tell. But it gets bogged down in repetitive gameplay design. A gosh darn shame, indeed.
Chugging Coconuts and Frogs
One approaches Papa and Yo’s startling metaphorical narrative through the eyes of Quico, a young child who throws himself into a metaphorical fantasy world to intentionally lessen the emotional and physical abuse he receives at the hands of his alcoholic father. In this fantasy world, Quico has control, to a certain extent at least. He morphs his father from a drunken brute into a physical being named Monster, who he joins on a quest to meet the Shaman (an obvious stand-in for a counselor) so that Monster can heal himself. But sometimes reality seeps through his constructed narrative, and Monster gets mad. In order to subdue him, Quico must ensure that the alcohol…ahem coconuts and frogs don’t get to his head. But it’s a pain accomplishing this chore; it gets oh so repetitive.
Turn Key, Build Bridge, Turn Key, Escort/Fight Monster
That’s pretty much the physical makeup of the game. You encounter an obstacle, turn a key, and guide Monster through. He gets angry and chases after you. After a few feeble attempt to escape, you subdue his rage, then rinse and repeat. I don’t know about most gamers, but a game in which puzzles consist only of turning keys and getting thrown around by a big orange lug while attempting to accomplish an already obvious and simple task, in my opinion can only be grating, and grating it is. Truly, there’s nothing else here other than obvious puzzle after obvious puzzle. It’s only the inescapable Monster that lends any urgency or interest to the game. But his tendency to stop you in you’re tracks after you’ve figured out a solution only gets irritating. I understand that this may be part of the metaphor, but frustrating game mechanics don’t make for a good narrative. And it’s sad, because the narrative that is here would be worth seeing, if not for the crappy game design. The ending is truly heartbreaking; but it’s so much junk to slog through.
Don’t Go Close to Monster
For that reason, I can’t recommend Papa and Yo for anyone. If you truly want to be awed by the story (which is based on the game writer’s own relationship with his abusive father) make your own sojourn to YouTube. This Monster isn’t worth saving, at least not in any way you know how.