Next to nothing has been said or revealed about Media Molecule's upcoming PlayStation Vita exclusive since its reveal at last year's Gamescom, so it was with great interest and wonder that I sat down to play a 20-minute portion of the game at a press event today. I walked away both charmed and delighted, for Tearaway is a truly imaginative creation on a platform supposedly built for exactly that.
My demo starts with control of male lead Iota in a world called Sogport. Like all of Tearaway's open-world playgrounds, Sogport is constructed entirely of paper. As I trod across textures resembling grass and water, the world around me reacts to my presence just as a world constructed from paper might. Raised sheets bend and fold as I cross them. My feet stick audibly to the terrain underfoot. It isn't long before the urge to interact with this colorful world takes over. I tap my fingers lightly on the rear touch panel to activate trampolines that will send me sailing. I fail, falling well short of the ledge I need to reach. At a Media Molecule artist's suggestion, I tap harder. This time, I soar upward with ferocity.
Before long, I cross paths with a towering creature called a Wendigo - loosely based on the folk lore monster of the same name. Wendigos are inextricably attracted to pearls, a nearby clamshell explains, so I grab one from my new friend's mouth and toss it in the Wendigo's general direction. Sure enough, the gem keeps it occupied, and I seize an opportunity to slip past.
From here, the game's complexity and creativity ramp up. Tearaway's paper world is bursting with quirky means of interaction that aren't always immediately apparent – for every Wendigo that requires careful distraction, there's an environmental secret just begging to be uncovered. I find a few of these in my travels, such as a roll of paper I can unravel across a gap to a wrapped gift of collectible pickups (the purposes of which haven't been determined by Media Molecule yet). Still more impressive are the hidden-in-plain-sight secrets that Media Molecule hopes hardcore players will unearth and piece together. Hint: pay close attention to the scrawlings near Wendigo dens!
If my impressions of Tearaway seem abstract, it's because Tearaway is perhaps the epitome of abstract thought in gaming. The paper construction of the game's wide-open world serves to reflect on what Media Molecule believes to be a fundamental tool of human creation. In that sense, paper in Tearaway can behave in both predictable and totally unexpected ways, but always reacts within the realm of possibility – one of the development team's primary goals is to ensure that every scene of the game could be reproduced in real life.
What isn't abstract about Tearaway is its technical accomplishments. The game's paper aesthetic and simple, pastel colors are utterly refreshing, and a buttery-smooth framerate make exploring and tinkering with the world an absolute joy. I was similarly impressed by the game's controls, a familiar take on open-world platforming that make it a breeze to navigate Media Molecule's first three-dimensional game. Indeed, Tearaway is a 3D adventure in every sense - more Legend of Zelda than LittleBigPlanet - and the complexity of the tools that power Tearaway make the user creation focus of LittleBigPlanet an impossibility.
While Tearaway seems to serve first and foremost as a metaphor for human thought and imagination, there is a narrative in play here, albeit one as simple as the concept behind the game itself. Iota (or, Atoi, if you opt to play as the female equivalent) has a message for the player stashed in the envelope that is his head. He wants to deliver this message to you, and by game's end, he will. This message is completely unique for every player, and I can't wait to peel back the layers of understanding that surround my own.
My time with Tearaway was like a rush of cool air in the stifling heat that fumigates triple-A gaming. Describing such a unique playground adventure is difficult with no point of comparison. Suffice it to say, PS Vita owners will soon get to play in a paper world unlike anything they've ever seen, from the studio that pioneered “unlike anything you've ever seen.”