Yep, this came to my attention from the Feminist Frequency videos and I eventually bought it because my wife encouraged me to do so. I was very curious about what a mature, non-exploitative take on child abuse in a videogame would play like and so put it on my Steam wishlist. It’s a very short game so I’ll make this one short as well.
- Gameplay-wise, it has both puzzle solving and some platforming. The puzzles are unfortunately on the easy side. All puzzle elements are clearly marked as being objects you can interact with by chalk lines so pretty much the first thing you do when you see something like this is to activate it and you’re never wrong in doing so. The platforming is pretty easy too though since some parts of it do require a sense of timing, it’s still harder than the puzzles.
- The presentation of the puzzles however and the overall aesthetic of the game in general is pretty great. It’s plainly meant to evoke a Brazilian favela that contains elements of a child’s imagination. You can stack buildings on top of one another, they sprout wings and fly, fold walls in impossible ways and so on. It’s further brightened by the some really impressive graffiti artworks and one of the coolest ways to introduce in-game hints. You can find these cardboard boxes that have the hints written on the inside of them so the protagonist Chico just puts the box on and turns them to read what’s written on each of the inside walls.
- Then we come to what really matters in this game, the story and the characters. Paradoxically, I think the game suffers both from its symbolism being too obvious but also not being obvious enough in some ways. Given the title of the game and the dedication that it opens, it’s not much of a mystery what it’s about. Likewise, elements are the entire game being in his imagination while he’s hiding in the closet and how the toy robot figures in it are obvious. Even so, some elements are genuinely puzzling. Just who is Alejandro the girl? Is she just a figment of his imagination or does she represent someone real in his life? I actually spent some time reading the Steam forums for this game and I saw one post from a developer claiming that Alejandro is a metaphor and that more will be revealed about her in a later game. This feels like a cheap trick to me, given that Papo & Yo should be completely self-contained.
- Why does Lula need to stay behind to operate the cable car? What’s the symbolism there? Some players have even wondered if the ending means Chico actually kills his father. Obviously he doesn’t, but by not showing a cutscene of Chico’s changed behavior following his personal revelation, I do think it robs players of some much needed closure. Maybe this is reading too much into the game, but you couch what you mean so heavily in metaphors and symbols, it’s natural to seek to understand what each element means.
All that said, I do like this way of presenting child abuse, essentially in terms that a child could understand and relate to and without needing to dwell too much on the horror of it. I think it’s great that videogames have grown to include such subtleties and such richness of ideas. The problem is that compared to other media, it still seems so primitive and underdeveloped. It’s a great idea to do this in the form of a videogame but the execution isn’t as good as it should be. Brothers for example is better in my opinion because of how perfectly it links a gameplay element, the use of dual-stick controls, to the theme that the two brothers need to work together. Papo & Yo while decent just lacks that magic something that would make it truly good.