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Tearaway Review: Media Molecule weaves its magic in PS Vita's must-have title

on 20 November 2013

PlayStation Vita has needed that quintessential system seller pretty much since day-one, and with Media Molecule’s Tearaway, Sony’s flagging handheld has finally got its must-have title. Sure, Uncharted and Killzone: Mercenary are certainly worth buying a Vita for, but Tearaway takes things to a new level -- this is something you’re only going to experience on Vita, and has been tailor made from the ground up for the platform and its unique functionality.

Set in a gorgeous papercraft-inspired world known as Valleyfold, Tearaway’s narrative is simplistic yet charming all the same. The story focuses on Iota, a quirky little chap (hey, his head’s actually an envelope, don’t you know?) who embarks on a journey to deliver a message to the player. Or, thanks to its gender-friendly nature, you can plump for the female version, Atoi. What makes the story unique however is the fact that you actually have a starring role in the game yourself; as the ‘You,’ a giant face perennially gazing down up on the land from the sun. In fact, your actions will directly affect Iota’s world as he attempts to overcome all sorts of obstacles and adversity.

While a platformer at heart, Tearaway puts its own unique stamp on the established paradigm thanks to the PS Vita’s various control methods. Sure, you’ll hop across collapsing tiles, run like hell from stampeding baddies and hunt down collectibles, but the way you do it is what makes the House of SackBoy’s latest effort such a standout title. The touchscreen and camera have been interwoven seamlessly into the game’s rich tapestry, so much so that I wondered how on earth other games haven’t already succeeded in this manner. A slight tap of the rear touchpad on a bounce pad and you’ll send Iota hurtling upwards to reach higher platforms; tap your finger on a paper-thin floor and you’ll see it miraculously appear on-screen, knocking bad guys - known as Scraps - off their feet before they explode into collectible confetti; or, give a glowing rolled-up piece of paper a quick flick with the finger and you’ll instantly create a pathway for Iota to traverse.

The controls feel perfectly natural and are not obtrusive or contrived, and the game finds ways of keeping you on your toes having to use various functions in tandem. Leaping from one collapsing pillar to the next, while frantically trying to craft a pathway for yourself by flicking the touchscreen to unroll pieces of paper feels great, and very cohesive with the world around you. After all, everything is made of paper. Each location is made to feel unique, and the aesthetic touches - from paper snow to the crash of cardboard waves on a beach - only adds to further accentuate Tearway’s inescapable and undeniable charm. Sure, you’ll do a lot of old-fashioned jumping here and there, and progression is strictly linear, but just when you are getting comfortable, Media Molecule pulls the rug out from beneath your feet. Before you know it, you're on the back of a pig and tearing through farmyards while leaping over fences, or using a Squeezebox to operate machinery and suck up foes before blowing them off the edge of a cliff top. It never gets stale, and it seems every new area you come into, you are are presented with new tricks to learn and new obstacles to overcome.