Seeing a game continuously at certain tradeshow events can both be good and bad for a few key reasons. Whenever I get a chance to see a game months if not a year ahead of its ultimate release I of course feel fortunate since I’m witnessing something not a lot of people get a peek at. But at the same time seeing an early/advanced preview of a game can be disappointing if the same problems are present or even worse if the same demo build is at multiple events, thus igniting a feeling that progress isn’t being made or the involved parties are being overly cautious.
However, when I see a game evolve over a course of a year with new demo builds and advances made to the general design of the game I couldn’t be happier since it ignites that special something inside me that makes me happy to be a gamer. At E3 2012 I was once again amazed by the continued evolution of Papo & Yo, the new PSN game that not only continues to make great strides as a game but always leaves me impressed by what I see since it could be a rare genre defining game.
Over the last few months we’ve seen quite a bit more of Papo & Yo with a new demo at GDC earlier this year. I knew that Papo & Yo would once again make an appearance at E3, but I didn’t quite expect it to be as amazing as it ultimately was, especially when I look back to when the game first debut at E3 last year.
In case you didn’t know, Papo & Yo revolves around a young boy named Quico who essentially transports himself to an imaginary world to deal with the trauma going on in his life. With the aid of a friendly robot named Lula, Quico is accompanied by Monster, a giant red beast that sometimes can be nice and in other cases can be completely dangerous to anything in his path. The relationship between Quico and Monster is meant to serve as a metaphor for the relationship Vander Caballero, the Creative Director on the game, had with his father who suffered from alcohol abuse. It may sound like heavy material in a game, but so far it seems to be working as the game strikes a tone that has an amount of fantasy to it but also isn’t too lighthearted to the point where it seems like a game geared towards children.
The key thing about the E3 2012 appearance of Papo & Yo is that is showed us our first glimpse at Monster in actual gameplay. First hinted at towards the end of the E3 2011 demo, Monster was finally shown, with his new design, in a playable environment that showcased how the game would feature Monster in certain scenarios and how he would interact with Quico.
Just like the previous demos, the E3 2012 demo for Papo & Yo once again had Quico navigating a dense favela that while not a 1:1 recreation of such a place similar to what Max Payne 3 did, was still a nice recreation that melded equal parts realism and stylized reality. This time out Quico had to do some more Inception like environment moving by using a series of small houses as building blocks to reach a different area. Familiar gameplay elements were present in the demo such as turning light imbued gears on structures or tugging at a rope to activate something, but things were different with the inclusion of Monster in the mix.
First off, it should be noted that the A.I. for Monster is pretty damn good so far. Since Papo & Yo is an exclusive single-player adventure there’s no second player option to control Monster so the A.I. needed to be good and it looks like the development team at Minority has achieved such a thing. Monster moves in a convincing way, at least as an 9ft tall giant beast would, and technically I didn’t see any weird occurrences like him being stuck on an object or something as equally embarrassing.
The interaction Quico had with Monster and how Minority has integrated the red beast into the game mechanics was what pleased me the most about the new demo. For a while we’ve heard about how Monster would play a part in Papo & Yo but now such a thing was finally shown and it looks great. Now this is likely only one way how Monster would play a part in the overall nature of the game, so don’t be too alarmed if it doesn’t live up to whatever you may have dreamt up in your head. Basically, in order to reach certain areas within the favela, Quico had to lure Monster to certain areas which had fruit resting on it. Now this is the good food Monster can eat as opposed to eating frogs, which will ultimately result in Monster going mental and possibly doing very bad things.
After luring Monster to areas bearing fruit, Monster would eat the fruit, since he’s a big boy that needs nourishment, and subsequently fall asleep. Monster slipping into a slumber actually provided an opening for Quico as he was able to climb atop Monster’s stomach and do a super jump on it to reach a high area. The mechanic itself may sound simple, but it does provide a nice light hearted tone to the game and the relationship Quico has with Monster.
The demo section in general was more platform heavy in nature as opposed to some of the earlier showings, but things looked tight and it helped that Quico had the aid of his robot pal Lula which provided him with the ability to do a double jump/hover boost jump ability. The most impressive thing about the E3 2012 demo for Papo & Yo is that it once again shows that Minority can really create puzzles that are balanced yet have a very thoughtful way to complete them. By Papo & Yo having puzzles I mean that the game truly has them as the demo featured the rather lengthy building stacking section and another simpler one in a different area in which Quico needed to raise some steps and access a switch blocked by a series of moving pillars.
From a certain perspective the puzzles in Papo & Yo are straightforward but not in the way that the solution is obviously clear. It was obvious that the favela homes needed to be stacked in an accordion like nature in order to proceed, but figuring out how to reach certain areas or do certain actions didn’t have the slightly condescending tone that’s present in other puzzle games. If anything, the puzzles in Papo & Yo seem to have this natural sort of feel despite fantastical things happening like buildings being moved from one side to another or platforms erupting from the ground to take Quico to an area 60ft from the ground. To me the way the puzzles in Papo & Yo are being constructed and how certain elements aren’t being repeatedly endlessly really speaks to the brilliance and dedication of Minority.
The best thing about seeing Papo & Yo again was the brief interactions Quico had with Monster. Now only one side of the relationship may have been shown as angry Monster wasn’t being shown, but it was nonetheless interesting to see the subtle things Minority is adding to really make players feel a connection with Monster, as if they’re actually Quico himself. Since the E3 demo was based around a rather lengthy puzzle there wasn’t too many moments in which Quico and Monster could share a quiet moment nor where there a cutscene showcasing an extended interaction. But during one sequence towards the end of the demo Monster actually saves Quico from being crushed by pulling him out of an area in the nick of time. The unique thing about this rescue from Monster is that after Quico is grabbed Monster puts him down and does this slightly disapproving head shake, almost as if he was saying “don’t do that again.” It may be a small moment, but its stuff like that which will help build the relationship between Quico and Monster and to further show that Monster isn’t a completely mindless beast or some animal that Quico just happened to tame.
I’ve been impressed by the game in the past so I know I shouldn’t be too surprised at how amazing Papo & Yo looked at E3 this year yet I’m nonetheless awestruck. Papo & Yo continues to evolve with each showing it makes and more importantly Minority is showing that the game is actually going to have entertaining gameplay to go along with the dramatic story that will be told. Seeing Monster in action for the first time was a thrill and so was seeing a favela come to life yet again, not only through its integration as a puzzle but by the simply beautiful street art that adorned the city. For what it’s attempting to do and the level of detail and finesse that’s present in it, Papo & Yo once again is my Game of Show for E3.
Papo & Yo will be released later this year exclusively on the PlayStation Network.