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.
Tearaway also rewards exploration too, as each stage is peppered with hidden presents to unwrap for extra confetti, as well as various side activities. These also help to elongate the game’s overall length, and are fun to tackle to boot. One minute, you’re hunting for a pebble to keep a lonely rock company, the next you’re taking a picture of whited-out objects in the environment to make them materialize, giving you access to your very own papercraft instructions to try out in real life. Oh, and let’s not forget using the touchscreen to draw someone a crown or cut yourself out a pair of mittens. Iota can also be kitted out with tons of accessories for your own unique stamp on the character, at the price of some confetti.
As mentioned, Iota also has to battle pesky little critters known as Scraps, and it’s here that Tearaway’s papercraft antics shows a few wrinkles. Most of the time you’re required to simply dodge foes before picking them up and hurling them at other enemies until the next area is unlocked. It feels undeveloped next to the creative spark of the core platforming, and is easily the weakpoint in Iota’s vibrant adventure. A couple of the latter foes require a little more strategy to dispatch, but overall, there’s not much excitement to be had here. Fortunately, these sections never outstay their welcome.
Tearaway’s visuals evoke a warm wash of nostalgia, and I was frequently taken back to the days of children’s TV shows or indeed when I dabbled in papercraft back in my primary school days. Everything from the colorful locations, characters and effects come together to form a rich and diverse landscape that’s brimming with personality. The fact that the player – or You, should I say – is so intrinsically woven into Iota’s world gives you a massive sense of accomplishment and power, and I felt closer to Iota than most other game protagonists as I helped him navigate each environment. Aurally Tearaway’s stripped-back approach is befitting of the type of game it is; this isn’t a loudmouth shooter or wise-cracking adventure, after all. As such, the faint whistle of the wind, the chirping of birds and the ubiquitous sound of paper unfolding and fluttering in the breeze creates quite a bizarre yet relaxing atmosphere that you can help but be drawn in to.
Tearaway is the game to own a PS Vita for. Media Molecule’s unmistakable stamp of creativity and pick-up-and-play appeal makes Iota’s adventure a joy to play and experience, and illustrates the PS Vita’s unique control functions in the best way possible to date. Sure, it’s short and there’s probably not all that much to go back to unless you fancy hunting down every last shred of confetti, but regardless, this is one game you can’t afford to miss out on. Media Molecule may have left SackBoy behind, but here’s hoping they’ve just spawned a new franchise.
Tearaway was reviewed using a PS Vita download code provided by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE).