You are important. Three simple words that echo throughout Media Molecule’s catalogue of charm. Back in 2008, and with every subsequent sequel, Stephen Fry and the hessian hero of LittleBigPlanet made sure to hammer home the fact that you are paramount to proceedings. It should come as no surprise then, that Tearaway does the exact same thing: it makes you the star – or, more accurately, the sun.
Call them gimmicks, call them unnecessary, call them what you will, tilting, touching and grabbing the PlayStation Vita have been somewhat inconsistent on the handheld since the system’s early titles. However, MM don’t shy away from integrating some of the more inclusive features of the portable PlayStation console. Via the Vita’s front-facing camera, your face appears as the sun and you’re addressed as a You – a being from another world. With your help, the envelope-looking messenger of either Iota (male) or Atoi (female), must deliver their message to the sun – a message to the player, essentially. The story isn’t about immersing you within the world of Iota, as much as it is about crossing the divide between reality and the papercraft haven of colour.
At first, the protagonist is limited in what they can do; running around and looking adorable is about the extent of their powers at the very beginning. In order to progress through Tearaway, a partnership is forged between You and Iota that sees you tapping on the Vita’s rear touch-pad like your life depends on it – well, like Iota’s life depends on it. But, there’s an on-going issue here that never goes away and that’s plain and simple; the Vita’s rear touch-pad is unpredictable, mainly because you can’t tell exactly where you’re tapping.
Throughout the game, Iota develops the ability to jump and roll around in a ball, but because of his initial restrictions, there are a number of snare-like drums scattered across the world that you must use to propel the little guy up to higher platforms. To interact with these, you must coax the Vita’s rear pad, resulting in varying degrees of success. Sometimes I lightly patted it and Iota went soaring in the air, other times I felt like I had to assault my handheld to get any reaction out of the integrated drum skins. A similar issue rears its head when cylindrical objects can be rolled around, atop some paper that you bust through using your fingers, on the rear touch pad once again. This doesn’t prove to be as problematic as the more musical bounce pads, though.
Those troubles are no indication of the quality of Media Molecule as a developer, though, because it works on occasion, and rear touch implementation in Vita titles is something that all creators wrestle with. Due to the fact that you can’t see where you’re fingers are making contact, precision leaves a lot to be desired. But, when it comes to smudging the beautiful OLED screen, or tilting the system from left to right, Tearaway is head and shoulders above so much else out there. There are instances where you won’t be prompted to drag your thumbs across the screen, but the way in which Tearaway displays certain actions lets you know exactly what you’re meant to do.
For example, characters will approach Iota looking to be glamourised with certain items, such as one occurrence of a squirrel looking for a crown. In order to appease the regal rodent, you can create your own crown by visiting an artist’s desk, at the touch of a button. You can grab different coloured paper, draw designs, cut out what you’d like and then present your decorative headgear to the tree dweller. This happens quite a bit in Tearaway and each time, I was more inclined to experiment – to the point where I created pink, yellow and blue snowflakes.
Your imagination is never stifled. Instead, the NPCs encourage you to break out of the mould and produce ridiculous, inventive designs. As with previous games under MM’s belt, creativity is rife and customisation is an important tool. While the world stays more or less as it is, unless you are on a mission to alter it in some way, either Iota and Atoi’s appearances can become your canvas of originality. By collecting Confetti (of which there is no short supply), you can unlock comedic moustaches, over-exaggerated eyes and other items that are available in the customisation screen. The lead characters also fancy themselves as photographers, so a camera can be pulled out to snap shots of the wonderful scenery you witness. Confetti is also used here to unlock a plethora of filters that would please fans of social media’s biggest photo-sharing site.
The fact that Confetti is your collectable currency is a delight in and of itself. Every personality and backdrop looks exactly as it would if you yourself decided to take up origami and construct this beautiful land in reality. The papercraft look has been done in a handful of titles before, but never to this extent or precision. You can almost see the folds in the weird and wonderful cast of Tearaway. Each new area brings with it a colour palette different to the last, and just as mesmerising as the next. A number of creations within the world are missing their pigmentation and in order to give them colour, you must pull out your in-game camera and take a shot, bringing them back to life, so to speak. After doing so, you’ll be notified that you can access instructions to actually create them for real, once again giving you the tools to let your artistic tendencies run wild.
That said, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the world of Tearaway, as Iota or Atoi must battle enemies, too. Scraps, as they’re called, are little, ugly boxes that attempt to make your life difficult and, even though the challenge the pose is minimal first, your adversaries evolve over time introducing new elements to the gameplay. Scraps on stilts, flying Scraps, ninja Scraps – the amount of variation took me by surprise and definitely added a welcome aspect of challenge. It should also be noted that as the lead character, the messenger won’t be suspended in the air for an uncomfortable amount of time after jumping. Fundamentally, as a pure platformer, this is Media Molecule’s best.
VERDICT: So often, games make you feel like you’re not participating in the action. Strange, really, when that’s the one element of this medium that it holds over other avenues of entertainment. Tearaway, on the other hand, goes one step further and allows you to be You. Helping Iota reach new heights, or assisting a friendly NPC, is even more wonderful when you catch a glimpse of your face, smiling down upon the papercraft world. Trust me, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing.
For the entire duration of my time with Tearaway, I was beaming from ear-to-ear at the magnificence taking place in the palm of my hands. It has taken quite a while, but at long last the Vita has an original IP that it can truly call a killer app. Apparently, we’re currently ushering in a new generation of home consoles, at the moment, but I was too busy revelling in the breathtaking world of Tearaway to take notice.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.
Review code provided by publisher.