Originally published on CultNoise Magazine (now closed) | March 1
When Tearaway was first announced, I must admit I was hugely skeptical. Coming off the strength of Media Molecule’s award-winning LittleBigPlanet series, I honestly wondered what they were doing. I’m happy to say, however, that Tearaway is the best game I have played on PlayStation Vita. It successfully uses each of the Vita’s control systems while carrying buckets of charm and, if you’re anything like me, more than a little heart. This is just one more in a long list of reasons to own a PS Vita.
Tearaway places you in the role of Iota (or Atoi dependent on gender), a little papercraft person with an envelope for a head. That’s because the world of Tearaway is made entirely of paper and card, and our hero is both messenger and message, delivering himself to you.
In this world, a hole has appeared in the sun and a huge face – your face, delivered through the Vita’s front-facing camera – has appeared there. At its basic premise Tearaway is a 3D platformer with some simple puzzle elements, but at best it plays more like a storybook that will have you interacting with its tactile world in unexpected and wonderful ways.
Tearaway always has something new to show you, and its use of the Vita’s controls never gets old. Use the front touchscreen to unfold paper doorways or tap to vanquish enemies, use the rear touchpad to drum on special platforms, or push your fingers onto the touchpad and straight through the paper ground. When you do this, a representation of your fingers appears in the world, so that it actually looks like you have pushed right through the Vita and into the Tearaway’s domain. These elements never devolved into a gimmick, and were always a delight to see.
Your face is ever-present in the sun, looking down on the world. Iota’s mission is to travel across the papercraft planes, vanquishing creatures known as ‘Scraps’, while trying his best to get to you. It says something about the strength of the story and interactivity that, all the while, I felt like I was holding not an impersonal piece of hardware, but a real living and breathing world. By the end of the game’s relatively short 5-hour adventure I felt personally responsible for Iota, saving him from danger and guiding him across the world. Occasionally, the game would show my face in the sun, and Iota gazing at it longingly. When asked to shout into the Vita’s microphone, my voice was magnified and echoed throughout the world, and Iota responded. This is interaction between gamer and game at its best.
Throughout your adventure, you’re also called upon to change the world to your liking using an in-game cutting mat and craft paper. Whether it’s designing a crown for a squirrel, creating a pair of scary eyes for a wendigo, or simply designing something for Iota to wear, the game exhibits the next stage of LittleBigPlanet’s trademark personalisation to truly make it yours. What followed was a sense that I had created this storybook, a message that the game’s narration is keen to reiterate. This story comes from the oral tradition of telling and remaking, changing it subtly over time so that it becomes yours.
The art is surprisingly gorgeous at times, given its paper-based nature. Little paper ripples form in paper rivers; the sea tosses and turns with huge paper waves; all around, paper squirrels play with nuts and paper trees sway in the wind. Everywhere you look, different thicknesses of card give way to different creations. Flowers unfold with a telltale sound as you pass by, and unfolded bits of card flap lazily in the breeze. Iota himself is adorable, his little envelope head adorned with a stamp that acts as your health. The soundtrack is equally memorable, with a light musical score playing over the singing of birds or the rustle of wind through leaves and trees. Media Molecule’s attention to detail here has to be commended, as it makes the world that little more believable.
Not content with this level of interactivity however, Media Molecule has added another depth. Throughout the game, you’ll also find objects or creatures that have lost their colour. Take a photo of these things with the in-game camera, and they’ll be added to a database of papercraft creations on the Tearaway website for you to print out and make yourself. It’s one more way in which the world invites you to become part of it, and an extra incentive to find and do everything the game has to offer, extra motivation for the acquisition of that coveted platinum trophy.
Tearaway is a real joy to play, and after its short campaign I was hungry for more. Therein lies my one criticism, the game’s length, but what does exist here is more imaginative, more delightful, than any other game I’ve played on the Vita and more than some games I’ve played on other platforms. It’s relatively cheap to pick up – I got it on sale for a little over £10 – and infinitely fun.
There’s so much to see and do in Tearaway that I still have paper presents to unwrap, papercraft designs to find, and hidden Scraps to vanquish before my time with Tearaway will truly be over. What lies at the end, when Iota is finally able to deliver himself to you, is a beautiful message that I will never forget. Tearaway’s strength lies in the story it tells, a story which you helped shape with your own fingertips. Every time I saw my face in that sun, with Iota steadily making his way towards me, I couldn’t help but smile.
Exclusively for PlayStation Vita
All images courtesy of Sony and Media Molecule.