Review: Tearaway

Tearaway

So, it’s November 22nd, perhaps the most important day of the 2013 gaming calendar. We’re a week removed from the PlayStation 4 launch, there’s another new console launching today that you might have heard about called the Xbox One, and Nintendo just shipped brand new installments in the company’s flagship Mario and Legend of Zelda franchises. Holy cow, that’s almost too much gaming excitement to comprehend (or afford!). But guess what? Cutting through all the “next-gen” hoopla, the game you really need to be playing right now is Tearaway on the Vita, the latest charm-your-pants-off masterpiece from Media Molecule.

Pasting 3D platforming together with augmented reality interaction, Tearaway is a magical tale about a messenger with an envelope for a head, a papercraft world, and You. Yes, that’s “You” with a capital “Y”. In addition to controlling the heroic messenger of this arts and crafts adventure through traditional analog stick and face button controls, you are also put in the dual role of the You, a god-like entity from another world who peers down upon the papery lands through a window in the sun (represented by a photo or live feed of your face captured by the Vita’s camera) and uses its almighty powers to influence the game world. The goal is simply to help guide the messenger to the sun to deliver a letter of utmost importance to You.

As the You, the colorful Tearaway universe is literally in the palm of your hands, and at the mercy of your fingertips. Media Molecule completely smashes through the fourth wall, allowing you, the player, to poke your real-world fingers through the construction paper surfaces that make up the virtual world in which the messenger resides. While running, rolling, and jumping the messenger through the game’s 16 stages as you would in any other platformer, you will come across certain objects and surfaces marked with a special texture. At these moments, you have the power to do things like peel open doors or unroll paper bridges by swiping the touchscreen, tap the rear touchpad to send the messenger trampolining into the air, or completely punch your finger up through the touchpad to raise platforms into place or even knock the snot out of Scraps, the cute one-eyed enemies standing between the messenger and his special delivery.

All of the Vita’s input capabilities are at work here, and surprisingly not a one feels overused or out of place. Whether you’re recording You communications through the microphone, physically tilting the Vita to manipulate sliding platforms via the motion sensors, or using the built-in cameras to snap photos, every mechanic has a useful purpose that enhances the experience without coming off as gimmicky. Like many 3D platformers, the only problem area is the camera. In certain situations you are able to rotate the camera freely, but for much of the game the perspective is fixed, and the camera pans and rotates automatically as the messenger moves through the environment. At times it is difficult to judge jumping angles and distances, or the camera might get stuck behind objects, obstructing your view of the glorious scenery.

Tearaway isn’t as robust as LittleBigPlanet, but it is very similar in the way that it allows you to put your own creative imprint on the experience through user customization. By holding a finger down on the touchscreen directly on top of the messenger, you can change his or her appearance whenever you want like a papercraft Mr. Potato Head doll, using various decorations purchased with confetti collected throughout the adventure to swap out different eyeballs and mouths and accessories. Even cooler, a basic editing tool allows you to draw and cut out personalized construction paper decorations. Simply choose the preferred paper color, draw an outline, and hit the scissors button to snip the shape out. Designs can be kept to single-color objects or, if you’re feeling particularly crafty, you can spend time cutting out multiple shapes and stacking them together to create more elaborate cutouts.

Many of these decorations will just end up being used for personalizing your messenger avatar, but NPCs encountered throughout the adventure will also sometimes request a specific object to be made for them. For example the king of the squirrels will ask you to make him a crown. In another case, you will have to make a snowflake, which will then become the actual particle effect floating in the air of the current environment. Putting a finger to the touchscreen to draw shapes with a digital pencil doesn’t allow for a lot of precision, but the rough edges and odd proportions are what give the game its homemade arts and crafts feel. And the way the game ends and so beautifully compiles all of your creations to recap the journey only carries on the feeling that you had a direct hand in building the story. I don’t want to spoil the ending by giving away any more details, but I’ll just say that this is a rare game that will fill your soul with satisfaction as it draws to a close.

The whole kindergarten arts and crafts vibe is really hammered home by the game’s brilliant art direction. Artistically, Tearaway is without equal. I know a number of other games have played around with papercraft and pop-up book concepts before–namely Paper Mario–but none have been able to pull off the effect this convincingly. Everything in Tearaway, from the trees to the characters to the waterfalls to the rain drops, is a papercraft creation that folds, crinkles, and tears like real construction paper. Words can only go so far to describe how wonderful the game looks, because you really need to see it in motion–and hear the crinkly sound effects–to get a sense of how tangible the textures and animations truly are.

My only teensy-tiny nitpick is with the texturing of the augmented reality surfaces. For me, the immersion is broken ever so slightly when I’m exploring this grand papercraft world and come across a chunk of terrain that has a stark white surface with the PlayStation face button icons plastered all over it, or a platform that displays a tilting Vita icon to let me know that I need to tilt the device in my hands to shift the platform’s position on the screen. I understand that such indicators need to be in place to convey information to the player and are meant to have different styles to signify the divide between the game world and the You’s alternate world, but I think this information could have been presented in a way that didn’t clash as much visually.

Given how magical the game is to look at, you’ll constantly be stopping to pull out the messenger’s camera to take pictures of the different people and places you meet along the way. Integrating with your Tearaway.me profile page that links to your PSN ID, as well as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, pictures can be uploaded and shared online with your friends and other Tearaway photography enthusiasts. Better yet, when certain colorless objects hidden throughout the world are logged into your photo journal, actual plans for the corresponding models become unlocked in your account profile so you can print them out and make your own Tearaway papercraft scenes in real life. Now that has to be the neatest video game collectible ever!

Tearaway is a masterfully conceived and executed game from top to bottom, both as a 3D platformer and a work of interactive art. Media Molecule has designed a game that not only utilizes the Vita’s full feature set with such thoughtfulness and creativity, but also perfectly integrates itself into the social media age that we now live in thanks to its Instagram-style photo sharing. Tearaway isn’t a small game by any stretch (I’d say it took me close to eight hours to finish, with some collectible hunting still left to do for 100% completion), but it is such a joyful and endearing experience that you won’t want it to end.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Clever integration between 3D platforming mechanics and augmented reality
+ Whimsical papercraft graphics are a true work of art
+ Makes use of all the Vita’s inputs without resorting to cheap gimmicks
+ Papercraft plans offered as real-world collectibles
+ Photo sharing adds a fun social media element

Cons:
– Fixed camera causes occasional missed-jump headaches
– Augmented reality interactions could have been more aesthetically cohesive

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Publisher: Sony
Developer: Media Molecule
Release Date: 11/22/2013
Genre: 3D Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!