Letting it rip…
Media Molecule has been endorsing player interaction and creativity for a while now with their highly acclaimed Little Big Planet series. Tearaway, their latest venture, is a PlayStation Vita exclusive that not only follows suit, but also dives into the system wholeheartedly to show us that Sony’s handheld has more going for it than just a mere PlayStation 4 peripheral.
Developer: Media Molecule
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Tearaway takes us into a papercraft platforming world where every tree, water ripple and character feels like it has been lovingly hand-crafted into the gaming landscape. That feeling is amplified by the frequent attempts to join the player’s real world with the gaming one by casting the player as the ‘You’ – the almighty being that helps the protagonist, Iota or Atoi (depending on who you choose at the start), by crafting objects and sounds into the game world to aid progression.
Iota and Atoi are mostly similar in appearance and execution. Fittingly shaped as envelopes with thin, wavy paper bodies, they must carry their message on an epic journey across the lands and over high peaks to reach the tear between worlds – a large hole in the sky that’s host to your own face thanks to the Vita’s front facing camera. The entire plot is overseen by two narrators who yearn to tell a new, untold story and as the game unfolds they’ll continue to guide and direct the narrative as you play to great effect. It does well in creating a fairytale feel that everyone can enjoy, not just a younger audience, and whilst the premise may sound a little throw-away it ultimately works with the pretty, visual aesthetic.
In fact, Tearaway’s charms come mostly from the way it presents itself; it’s a fantastically realised creation of papercraft and stop-motion like animation, oozing the colour and imagination you’d expect from the creators of Sackboy. A mention should go to the sound design, too. It’s just superb, mixing various country styles with modern synth that sets the mood perfectly. Graphically, you’ll find the grassy landscapes move and bend in the wind, flowers bloom as you stroll past, water splashes, but all of this is done from paper cut outs and looks impressive in its design and its density – at least early on.
It was a little disappointing to see that density of detail in levels tail off towards the end of the game. The levels become less and less focused on delivering that visually pleasing aesthetic, instead focusing on distinct gameplay elements – a trade off that I’m not sure was totally necessary. Every now and then things do get a little over-crowded for the frame rate to deal with, too. Even more so when the screen is filled with enemies exploding into confetti, on top of all the screen effects and scenery movement – maybe not enough to hurt the experience, but enough to make the sudden drop in smoothness noticeable.
Tearaway feels pretty solid when it comes to the core platforming itself, though. You won’t be able to jump straight away, but when you can it feels smooth and responsive. Later on you’ll be able to roll around, allowing you to navigate small spaces and speed down funnels, then even further down the line you’ll be granted an accordion that manipulates air to activate windmills and fling bad guys around. You’ll collect confetti as currency for unlocks, as well as hidden presents scattered throughout the levels. As fun as it all is, the whole game lacks any sort of challenge until the end, and even then, with multiple checkpoints you’ll rarely need to retry a section more than once to progress.
The lack of difficulty is somewhat redeemed by how well the game is paced to bring you a ton of variety and keep you engaged continuously. Even in the opening minutes alone you’ll be introduced to several different facets of the game. For example, floors adorned with the PlayStation branding present an opportunity for the player to use the rear touchpad; place a finger on it and up pops a virtual finger on-screen to move blocking objects or clear rampaging Scraps (the game’s enemies). Both the front and rear cameras get a solid workout, as well. You’ll be snapping selfies and pictures of the game world with an assortment of unlockable filters, as well as having fun pulling all sorts of facial expressions as you pop-up on screen during narratives.
The most unique aspect is perhaps the crafting mat. You’ll meet NPCs who’ll need your help for a reward; one might need some new facial hair, another might need some new decorations. When that time arises you’ll be taken to the craft screen where you’ll be offered a selection of coloured paper to draw and cut out shapes using the touch screen. It’s not quite up to the creative standard of Little Big Planet, but it’s a nice change of pace that can lead to some great moments when you see your papercraft labour plastered throughout the game.
It’s unusual for a platformer to offer so much variety to the point where every step feels like treading new ground. One minute I’m knocking Scraps off stilts, crafting mittens and roaring into the microphone; then suddenly I’m straddling a pig across a field, crashing into objects filled with confetti and jumping fences to some wild Southern US violin jig. Tearaway is whole bunch of light hearted fun that keeps you engaged the entire time.
The full release comes in at a lower price point than normal, so it can be forgiven for being as short lived as it is. With 16 locations to traverse that range from bright green fields, dark damp caverns to slightly more surreal locals (which I won’t spoil for you), you could probably get through the game in a couple of sittings. Of course, if you’re interested in opening every present collectable or unlocking every filter and cut-out, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be found revisiting levels. Plus if you’re feeling creative you’ll be able to glue your own Papercraft imaginations by following print-out patterns unlocked in game; take snaps of colourless objects and characters and they’ll be available for you to download online.
Either way, you’ll still be disappointed that the core experience ends so quickly, not because you feel ripped-off, but because you want some more time in this beautifully crafted world. At least for anyone who’s bought a Vita in preparation for the PlayStation 4, Tearaway might be the perfect excuse to fire it up whilst you’re waiting for the chance to remote play.
Throughout my time with Tearaway, I found it incited a surprising amount of nostalgia in me. Not the same kind you’d get from playing a classic game, but the kind that reminds you it’s okay to enjoy drawing funny shapes, to be intrigued by fairytales or to ride pigs through your neighbour’s garden with nothing but the wind on your back. My only real gripe is that it didn’t last longer. Still, at least I have a Papercraft squirrel adorning my desk to remind me of that brief but wonderful time.
An incredibly fun platforming experience combined with some lovely visuals, Tearaway is another fantastic game from the talented folks at Media Molecule and a massive jewel in the PS Vita’s crown.