Tearaway comes from Guildford-based development studio Media Molecule, the same creative minds who brought us LittleBigPlanet, which gives this portable papercraft platformer some pretty big shoes to fill before it even begins. Fortunately though Tearaway light-heartedly crafts its own origami shoes and fills them perfectly well from the first moment you burst forth into its world, maintaining the theme of creativity and imagination which LBP encapsulated so well but spinning it off in its own direction.
You are a You, a strange creature with the ability to look down on the world of Tearaway from the Sun and to reach in and manipulate said world in a number of ways, almost as if the world was some kind of game and you were the player, if you can imagine such a fanciful and unlikely situation! As your mighty visage first appears in the sky and the people below are unsure whether to stare in awe or run in fear a message is written and sealed inside the envelope-shaped head of a Messenger called Iota or Atoi, depending on the gender you select. So begins this little hero’s unerring quest to deliver that message to you all the way up there in the heavens, and considering how much effort he was putting into it I didn’t have the heart to ask why he didn’t just e-mail it rather than try to hand-deliver it to the Sun…
Of course, Iota (as my own little Messenger was called) doesn’t have to take on this collossal feat all by himself; as his You, you will help him on his journey using the myriad abilities granted to you by Media Molecule’s inclusion of every single form of input which the PS Vita has crammed inside its deceptively small form factor. The analogue sticks and some of the face buttons handle their traditional tasks of movement, camera control, jumping and rolling but it’s the other inputs which give Tearaway an immersion-boosting feeling that helps you believe this world really exists inside your handheld and you are quite literally reaching into it and becoming part of its story. Whether you’re swiping the front touchscreen to pull open a door or draw your own decorations to be used in the game, poking the rear touchpad to burst a giant finger through the paper scenery, recording a mighty roar through the microphone for a scarecrow, tilting the Vita to slide obstacles out of Iota’s way, taking pictures of the real world to use as textures for certain characters or simply looking up at the in-game Sun and seeing real-time video of your own face from the front-facing camera staring back at you, Tearaway puts you in the game in a way that few (if any) video games have before it.
In practise a couple of the input types are used much less often than the others. While this sounds disappointing at first, in the end I actually think it works out better that way; in a game which uses so many different and unorthodox types of input it would be easy for some of them to quickly become gimmicky and annoying with overuse. In Tearaway the controls which feel the most natural are the ones which are used the most throughout the game (touchpads, buttons and sticks) while things like taking real-world pictures and recording sounds with the microphone are sprinkled more sparingly throughout the game so they don’t end up feeling too forced.
It’s very easy to give all the credit for Tearaway’s deep sense of immersion to the clever usage of inputs to stimulate real interaction but while that is partly true it does great disservice to just how beautiful the world of Tearaway is. Every inch of the game looks like it has been lovingly drawn, cut, folded and glued into place and the way the papercraft art style consistently permeates every level, character and menu really helps to pull you in. Not to mention the fact that as you play you can unlock papercraft designs which will help you build your own Tearaway characters and items out of real paper, bringing Iota’s world out to you as much as the game itself brings you into that world in the first place. It’s definitely a very cute, vibrant and cheerful style which might not appeal to some players and there are certainly other Vita games which look like they push the Vita’s hardware further and churn out more pixels but Media Molecule has proven once again that they don’t need that level of graphical brute-force to craft a visually stunning environment and an immensely enjoyable experience.
It’s not the longest game ever made; I’d estimate my initial playthrough going straight from start to end took about 7-8 hours without going back for any missed collectibles and it’s looking like I’ll be able to get a couple more hours out of it while I’m chasing 100% completion, but every minute of that time felt fresh and enjoyable unlike some longer games which fill the extra time by retracing steps or grinding for experience. Tearaway keeps you moving forwards all the way to the finish line but also makes it easy to selectively replay levels at any time if you do decide to go back and grab the last few presents, scraps, pieces of confetti, papercraft patterns or ‘extra things to do’ which you didn’t get first time through.
With it’s finely (paper-)crafted world, vibrant art style and inventive input usage, Tearaway is an imaginative, playful game which tells a heart-warming tale about a Messenger, a You and the adventure-filled path between the two. Media Molecule displays an ability to not only blur but almost erase the line between reality and imagination with their attention to detail, inventive use of the hardware and constant focus on creativity. In short, Tearaway is a quintessential Vita game which I’m sure will stand tall and proud as one of the handheld’s best titles for the rest of its lifespan, however long that may be.
Formats Available: PS Vita
Format Reviewed: PS Vita