Papo & Yo E3 2011 Preview -- A Boy, His Monster, and a World of WonderBy Jeffrey Matulef - Posted Jun 13, 2011
Typically, videogames define characters in broad strokes. You're the good guy. Those are the bad guys. Fight! But as we all know, that's not how the world really works. Minority's upcoming PSN title, Papo & Yo doesn't adhere to such a rigid formula, instead recognizing that there's good and evil in everyone.
The opening cinematic introduces our protagonist, a young boy named Quico. Quico's best friend is a giant pink rhinoceros-like creature named Monster. The problem is that Monster's addicted to frogs. Eating them makes him go berserk and transforms him from Quico's best friend to his worst enemy.
According to creative director, Vander Caballero, it's a story about his childhood and relationship to his alcoholic father. He saw videogames as a means of escape; to feel powerful and protected from the world around him. Now he seeks to bring his experience to his beloved medium.
It's a heady premise, but underlying it is a dreamlike puzzle game. The demo begins with Quico in an eerily deserted South American favela. We're quickly introduced to his little robot pal, Lula. An early puzzle has a rope that must be pulled in order for a staircase to raise from the ground. Since Quico can't pull the rope and ascend the staircase at the same time, the player must command Lula to pull the rope for him, before using the rockets on its feet to boost to the top and rendezvous with him.
Things get more surreal from there when Quico finds himself needing to cross a canyon. There are five cardboard boxes with crude chalk drawings of windows and doors on them so they resemble houses. Moving them around causes the real houses on the opposite cliff side to follow suit, representative of the child transforming the world into something magical through his imagination.
After crafting a bridge to the other side we're introduced to Monster. Trapped in a tennis court, Quico must pull a rope to dissolve both the court's fence and all the buildings in the surrounding area. Monster is now free. Unlike the robotic Lula, Monster cannot be controlled.
"He's an entity. A person" Caballero notes. "You can't control a person." And without a "follow" command, you must guide Monster based on your knowledge of how he operates. You can call him to look at you, but he may not do anything. If you catch his attention then throw a soccer ball or coconut, he'll engage in a game of fetch. You can use this to your advantage to guide him to weight-sensitive plates.
In one puzzle, I had to lure him to a boxed in area that would cause a bridge to form above. If I wandered too far, he'd follow me, leaving the bridge to rise back up. I recalled earlier that Monster feared Lula, so I tried planting Lula in front of him to confine him to his area. He covered his eyes with his paws and shook his head, making me feel terrible, but I knew it wouldn't be for long. I just had to make it to the switch before his frightful situation would be over.
Later on, I found the first of the game's frogs splashing around in ponds around a well. I had to catch three frogs and throw them in the well in order to raise another magical staircase. This enabled me to hit a switch that would alter the environment, allowing me and Monster to reunite. That part worked, save one problem: Monster now had access to frogs.
The demo ends with him eating one, igniting a fiery aura, and going into a rage before the screen fades to black. It's a tantalizing cliffhanger, and made me wonder how Monster's Jekyll & Hyde personality would effect the gameplay. Thankfully, Vander Caballero was on hand to offer a glimpse into their future.
When I asked if Monster's malevolent side would lead to an action component or game overs, Caballero was quick to respond, "Game overs are bulls**t!" he explained. "Because no one really dies in a game, game overs are a time penalty for you not performing something. I don't believe in death. I always feel cheated when my character dies. I'm like 'I'm not dead! I'm alive again!' So in the game you will never die."As a fan of oldschool LucasArts games like The Secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, I couldn't be happier to hear that.
Caballero also added that Monster's AI wasn't anywhere near complete, and the demo only showed about half the reactions he'll have in the final version. While not apparent from the demo, Caballero explained that Monster's eyesight isn't that good, so instead, he relies on smell. When you're in the vicinity of a frog, he'll start sniffing around, and the player will have to frantically search for frogs to beat Monster to the punch.
It may seem like Monster is more trouble than he's worth from this, but Caballero emphasized that Quico is reliant upon him. Monster helps Quico and even protects him at times. This bring it back to the idea of Monster being a father figure rather than an overgrown pet as one might expect. The two really do love each other, and that mutual caring really comes come across from their playful body language. If only things were so easy.
Though I've only played a half-hour of Papo & Yo, it certainly strikes me as something special. Its focus on a personal story with plenty of psychological conflict, yet no physical combat, combined with its unconventional setting make it one of the most interesting games of E3. More impressively, development for Papo & Yo started a scant four months ago in February. If that's how long it took Minority's few man team to build this, I can't wait to see what they'll do before its release sometime in 2012.