Platform: PS Vita
Developer: Media Molecule
You've never seen or heard anything like Tearaway.
Media Molecule's Vita exclusive resembles stop-motion origami, an impossible papercraft world existing right behind your Vita's touchscreen. Everything is made from arts and crafts materials, from the curly cardboard trees to the bizarre inhabitants, all grooving to the beat of toe-tapping folk reels, horns and accordions. It's crisply-folded and scored, so real and vibrant that you could reach in and touch it. Which is really rather the point.
As an omnipotent 'You' looking into this beautiful origami universe through a hole in the sun, players guide a cheerful messenger through platforming challenges and bizarre diversions using both traditional thumbstick controls and the Vita's full compliment of input methods. Thanks to the cameras, rear touch pad, touchscreen and tilt, Tearaway attempts to blur the lines between its world and ours, incorporating some of the handheld's more esoteric features directly into a truly lovely little adventure.
The game starts by making you the star. Placing players on-screen by way of the forward-facing camera (see below), Tearaway's fey hosts address us directly, acknowledging us as an omniscient force of nature who have the power to change the world and write a new story for its rote-learning inhabitants. Tearaway's world is a storybook, you see, a pop-up work of fiction crying out for new tales and a new hero, aptly provided by a mysterious envelope-headed messenger who has an important letter to deliver... if only he or she can reach you.
Iota (or Atoi, should you opt for a female protagonist) quickly emerges into a playful papery playground, split into lengthy thematic zones that riff on medieval England, seaside towns, frosty hilltops and high-tech laboratories, amongst more surreal locales. It's sumptuously colourful and visually arresting, packed with little details like rippling papery foliage and mushrooms that move with your thumbsticks, and full of unpredictable shenanigans.
One moment you'll play 'catch' with a gaggle of talking squirrels, the next you'll frolic along country roads riding a pig, before remixing our own hurdy-gurdy dubstep with an enormous deck and leaping between cardboard planets. Much of the joy of Tearaway comes from exploring the levels and drinking in the scenery, all while documenting the journey with Iota's handy camera.
Much of Iota's adventure involves navigating traditional platforming challenges such as tricky jumps and rolling slopes, alongside frequent attacks from cubic Scraps: monsters from our world made out of glum newspaper clippings. Media Molecule have learned a few lessons since the sluggish LittleBigPlanet days, as Iota handles tightly and responsively, a far cry from hopeless old Sackboy. Though often familiar genre fare, many of Tearaway's platforming sections introduce creative new uses of the face buttons, some fun enemy encounters and challenging tilt functionality.
Where Tearaway really shines, however, is taking full advantage of the Vita's numerous inputs to bring us directly into the game. The touchscreen allows us to lift tabs and flaps, revealing new secrets or platforms, and squish Scraps into the ground. We can thrust our fingers through certain surfaces by way of the rear trackpad, laying waste to enemies or engaging with environmental puzzles, or tap out a rhythm to turn drumskins into bounce pads. The cameras insert our leering face and surroundings into Iota's adventure, using both photos and video in surprising new ways. We can touch, tilt, tap and even talk into Tearaway's world, making it feel like a real place that's separated from our mundane reality by a single pane of thin glass.
This being a papercraft world, Media Molecule are naturally keen for us to customise it. Iota can be festooned with all manner of facial features and accessories, both unlocked by collecting confetti sprinkled around the levels and created from scratch using an intuitive cutting room table. This effective creation suite comes to the fore in numerous optional challenges and fun little asides, in which Tearaway's inhabitants ask players to create all manner of silly things. The Squirrel King demands a crown, which he wears with pride. A pig begs for a stylish makeover. A mummer covets a moustache. A pumpkin desires a scary face and frightening roar by way of the microphone, while the snowy mountain tires of its boring white snowflakes, requesting a colourful new alternative to rain down from the heavens. Simple, silly and really rather wonderful.
In one final innovative attempt to unite the real and virtual worlds, Tearaway gradually unlocks a selection of papercraft blueprints to download via the tearaway.me website, print out and assemble. A neat touch, but one that will probably end up ignored by most players.
It's worth noting that Tearaway somewhat front-loads its more interesting content. The first third of the campaign is superb; introducing new ideas and interesting input methods every few minutes, set in a sensational pastiche of medieval West Country England. Small wonder that it was also the preview build I got to grips with in this gushing article. The latter third also pushes the boat out with intriguing applications of the gyrosopic tilt functionality, along with some fabulously surreal imagery. Unfortunately, a somewhat more conventional section is sandwiched in between that eschews most of the exciting mechanics in favour of traditional platforming and a new gadget that's quickly sidelined.
There's a case to be made that Tearaway could have done more with its novel premise and more interesting ideas. A big, fat case that's bulging that the hinges, since the papercraft customisation and cutting room are ultimately a gimmick, and a cosmetic one at that. Compared to LittleBigPlanet's unlocks that feed back into the editor, Tearaway's exploration and sidequests reward players with purely decorative details that are... well... decorative.
Sure, you can go out of your way to collect confetti to spend on different eyes, mouths or features for Iota, but is that actually worth the extra time? It depends. Some players will scoff at this optional content and simplistic nature of the sidequests, but if you engage with the premise and unleash your creative inner child, you'll take pride in your messenger and their unique custom look. The camera and photo sharing, which initially feels a little pointless (since every player is having the same adventure, only with different accoutrements), enables us to stop and look at the scenery, to take stock of our surroundings and drink in the rich detail that would have otherwise languished behind the preset camera angles.
I can't help but wish that Media Molecule had expanded on Tearaway's potential, letting us reach into the world at any time in profound ways, and directly affecting the world on our own terms rather than following the script. As an example, we can make a hat shaped like a boat, but we can never make a boat shaped like a hat.
Don't despair, though. I emerged from Tearaway feeling enriched and uplifted, not disappointed. Whereas Gravity Rush and Rain left me genuinely depressed at all the wasted potential, Tearaway encouraged me to get into the spirit of things, to stop every once in a while and simply enjoy the scenery through my camera lens, and craft silly props just because I could. Combined with its tight platforming, gorgeous scenery to gawk at, foot-stomping soundtrack and quirky unpredictable personality, I never once felt short-changed.
Speaking of which, Sony wisely decided to drop the price down to a wallet-friendly £19.99. This was nothing less than a masterstroke, since Tearaway might have struggled for a recommendation at full whack, but feels tight, taut and appropriate for twenty quid. Though nowhere near as important nor forward-thinking as LittleBigPlanet, it's still an adventure worth embarking upon, and worth revelling in for the duration.
- Eyepoppingly gorgeous, playful and unpredictable world to enjoy
- Innovative input methods let us engage with the action, makes us the star
- Truly sensational folk soundtrack
- Pleasing and appropriate budget price point
- Campaign sags in the middle
- Some of its ideas beg to be developed further
- Relies on optional cosmetic features and simplistic (if supremely entertaining) sidequests
The Short Version: Tearaway presents a charming and sumptuously beautiful adventure that begs to be played with, prodded, poked and tilted. Though there's scope for future games to make more of Tearaway's clever ideas, an irrepressible sense of fun and budget price point seal the deal.
A Christmas cracker for the Vita that shows off both the system's power and potential for its lesser-used input methods.