The Electronic Entertainment Expo is where flashy graphics and highly anticipated sequels take the spotlight. But amid all the glamour and hype bubbling through the show floor lies a modest downloadable game that somehow stood out from the crowd. Papo & Yo is a game that chronicles the horror of growing up with an alcoholic father. Its deeply personal subject matter, clever implantation of puzzles, and surreal art design combined to make something unique and engaging. This PlayStation Network game is due for release sometime next year, but it has certainly caught our attention in the early stages.
Papo & Yo takes place in a small village in South America. You play as a small child named Quico, who's joined by a tiny robot pal. There is only a modest structure at this point, so it takes a bit of experimentation to figure out what you're supposed to do. Each section of the city contains a puzzle or two that is blocking your path, and you need to recognize where the barrier lies and figure out how to continue moving. The city is realistic looking, but dreamlike touches make it clear that this does not take place in reality. Platforms and boxes erupt out of the ground, trapping certain characters while allowing others to reach new heights, which makes it feel as if anything could potentially happen.
We only had a chance to see a few puzzles in the brief demo, but they provided a decent challenge without too much punishment. For instance, in one puzzle, you have to coax your robot pal to grab onto a length of rope. Once he has a secure grip, you call him over toward you, causing the rope to grow taut and platforms to rise from the ground. If you get stumped, a nearby hint box pushes you in the right direction. These hints look like a cardboard box, and Quico places it on his head. The view then switches to first person, and you can read the tips written on the inside, rotating the box to see more detailed explanations. It's a nice system that urges you along when you're stuck without clashing with the aesthetic.
Of course, Papo & Yo contains more than a collection of puzzles. You have a rhinoceros friend called Monster who tags along with you. He's nice enough most of the time, chasing after coconuts to help you solve puzzles, but he has a darker side. He's addicted to eating frogs, and when he chows down on his amphibian tormenter, he changes into a rampaging beast. In one puzzle, Monster was separated from Quico by a wall of buildings. To open a path, we needed to toss a few frogs into a wall. But when an opening appeared, Monster charged onto the screen, rushing right toward the nearby pond. He quickly gulped down a frog and turned into an angry, flaming version of his former self.
And that's where the demo ended. It was certainly cruel to end our play time right before the real action began, but it did leave us hungry for more. Check back on GameSpot for more information on Papo & Yo in the months ahead.