Tucked in a rather nondescript slot in the middle of Sony’s booth was the usual quintet of PlayStation Network games. PixelJunk SideScroller was a gem I had discovered at Sony’s post-press conference part a few nights earlier while Machinarium was a know darling of the PC community, but what really stuck out was a trio of games I had never heard of. Okabu, Eufloria, and Papo & Yo all boasted rich color pallet divergent from the usual desaturarted nightmares that typically boast the biggest guns and longest lines.
Aside from their unique aesthetic, each of these games are also part of Sony’s Pub Fund. The Pub Fund was designed to help independent developers with their budget and marketing in exchange for exclusivity on Sony’s console. It’s an interesting system, and one that certainly creates the opportunity for smaller, earnest development studios to get a shot at the same stage as their big budget brothers.
Papo & Yo was the immediate standout. Capturing a unique aesthetic that blended Brazilian Favelas with surreal dream states, Papo & Yo had the best chance at engaging anyone who bothered to turn their head and peer inside the booth. As it turns out, the story of Papo & Yo’s fruition was also worthy of interest.
Influence was drawn from the mind of Vander Caballero, former EA Montreal design director and head of newly minted and preciously small studio, Minority. Caballero wanted to tell a personal story founded in the tumultuous relationship with his father. Papo & Yo isn’t a literal interpretation of his childhood experiences, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that its rather starry eye’d sense of wonder and juvenile protagonist aren’t, in some way, revealing a delicate mélange of a life left behind.
Papo & Yo’s narrative inference is open to interpretation but its gameplay premise is rather objective. A boy, Quico, is friends with a rather dangerous looking monster named Monster. Sort of like those people who have exotic animals as pets, there comes the risk that Monster is going to fly off the handle and disappear into a violent rage. Frogs are Monster’s love and poison, and despite Monster’s addiction Quico wants little else than to be friends with Monster. You can sort of put the pieces together as to what sort of imagery Papo & Yo is trying to convey.
In practice the gameplay was some platforming and a lot of puzzle solving. As Quico I was tasked with navigating my way to Monster, who was hanging out on a tennis court some distance away. Bizarre barriers only conceivable in a dreamlike world emerged in the form of a seemingly insurmountable wall. For a hint, I picked up a nearby cardboard box and put it on my head. Inside was a drawing that suggested what to do. I needed to use my toy robot friend to pull a rope that would raise blocks out of the hopscotch drawings a few feet away. Later, I would have to cross a chasm by manipulating arranging blocks that pulled houses out of walls to form a makeshift bridge.
My demo was mercifully brief, a small team and six months of development can’t be expected to yield a large vertical slice, but I managed to walk away impressed and anxious for a more complete product. If Caballero and his team at Minority (with some help from Rezolution Pictures) stay on target they might join the exclusive “puzzle/platformer with something to say” genre currently championed by Ico. That’s a lofty comparison, for sure, but their ambition doesn’t seem to rule out the possibility. Keep an eye out for Papo & Yo in 2012.