RATING E10, Everyone 10 and older
PLOT A deeper meaning than you'd expect
DETAILS PlayStation 3, $15
BOTTOM LINE Rough, but distinctive
Papo & Yo takes place in an unspecified South American slum, a setting gamers usually see only as the backdrop for a crime drama like Max Payne 3 or the guerrilla fighting of the Call of Duty series. This barrio, however, is home to a boy named Quico, who discovers ways to transform his bleak environment into something magical. Graffiti turn into keyholes that unlock secret portals; shacks can be piled atop one another to form bridges.
But Monster loves to eat frogs, and if he gets one in his jaws, watch out. They turn the big lug into a furious brute, and if Quico cannot scramble away quickly enough, the kid takes most of the damage. A piece of fruit is usually enough to calm Monster down, but the rampages are terrifying. (Monster, it turns out, is a metaphor for the alcoholic, abusive father of Vander Caballero, the lead designer of the game. As Monster's rages become more frequent and violent, Quico has to make a decision -- one that will resonate with anyone who has ever lived with an addict.)
As a game, Papo & Yo isn't entirely satisfying. Its puzzles are generally obvious, and its mechanics are a little rough around the edges. But it explores a distinctive world.