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August 30, 2012
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By Matthew Scott Hunter

PAPO & YO (E10+)

***1/2

Minority

PlayStation Network

Papo & Yo tells the story of a young South American boy named Quico and the giant, horned monster that lives with him. Quico’s monster sometimes plays with the boy. Other times, he assists Quico in solving puzzles. And then periodically, he eats a poisonous frog, flies into a rage and repeatedly attacks Quico without provocation. Of course, Quico’s companion isn’t actually a horned beast, and the mood-altering substances he consumes aren’t actually amphibians. Papo & Yo is an allegory, covering such heavy topics as alcoholism and child abuse. Based on creative director Vander Caballero’s own childhood, Papo & Yo is a very personal game that illustrates how children escape from their unhealthy homes into their own imaginations. As you might very well expect from a game with such dark subject matter, the narrative is very moving, and the gameplay isn’t much fun.

The vast majority of Papo & Yo’s gameplay revolves around puzzle solving. Many of these puzzles involve altering the landscape in fantastical ways to create impossible routes of escape. Unfortunately, the solutions to these puzzles are as obvious as what they symbolize. Find an interactive chalk drawing of a switch on the wall. Flip the switch, and a lever will appear elsewhere. Reach the lever and pull it, and a switch appears somewhere else. You can spend an interminable amount of time going through these motions without ever feeling the need to utilize a single brain cell. It’s a shame because the weighty subject matter doesn’t require that the gameplay be dull. Papo & Yo is an admirable first step from an independent developer to push video games into more dramatic territory, and it’s definitely worth a look, but hopefully the next step will take greater care to ensure the gameplay lives up the story.

SLEEPING DOGS (M)

****

Square Enix

Xbox 360

Essentially Grand Theft Auto: Hong Kong, Sleeping Dogs lets you explore the Triad underworld in a massive open world sandbox, where you’re free to select side missions and further the core story at your leisure. While the game lacks GTA’s sardonic wit, it has an excellent sense of place, painting Hong Kong as an atmospheric, neon deathtrap. And as an undercover officer, you’re treated to a nice variety of missions, treading on both sides of the law. Moral ambiguity is seldom this much fun.

DUST: AN ELYSIAN TAIL (E10+)

***1/2

Microsoft Game Studios

Xbox Live Arcade

Dust is a gritty 2D sidescroller blanketed in a lush cartoonish aesthetic. The combat is as deep and flashy as anything recent in the Castlevania series, but your protagonist is a sword-wielding cartoon bunny rabbit. The story is far more complicated than the kid-friendly visuals would suggest and unfortunately is told in a series of lengthy, talking head cut-scenes. But when the action resumes, the game excels, allowing you to hack-‘n-slash mobs of enemies with combos that are so easy to learn, there’s no excuse for button mashing.



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