Tearaway Unfolded Review: A guided tour through a new world

Tearaway on PS Vita was an inventive, charming platformer and a proof of concept for Sony’s handheld. The Vita became the game, and vice versa, for a magical union that remains one of the handheld’s very best titles. Tearaway Unfolded tries to recapture that magic and form the same perfect union with PS4’s DualShock 4, but it doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the Vita original. The scope of the game isn’t expanded to match its sophisticated controls, and we get only fleeting glimpses of what it would be like to interact with a papercraft world without limits.

As before, you control the charming Messenger in a world made entirely of paper. But you, yourself, are also an important part of the game and its papercraft world. As “the You,” an entity in the sky, you are the world’s focal point–a force some revere, others fear, but everyone understands can manipulate the world and create things within it. The Messenger has a message to deliver to you, and so embarks on a journey to reach you, even as you’re guiding it the entire way.

You see, Tearaway Unfolded doesn’t just break the fourth wall; there is no fourth wall. Like Tearaway before it, Unfolded positions the world of the video game as existing inside your console, your TV, and your controller. The Messenger’s world exists within ours, to be manipulated as a collection of material objects rather than consumed as an entertainment product. This theme bleeds into everything from the meta-commentary near game’s end to the way Scraps, the main enemy, cover the world’s bright colors and interesting shapes in drab newspaper clippings.

Tearaway’s central conceit–player and controller as omnipotent force–is a good excuse for the DualShock 4 to affect the world in material ways. Without a doubt, the integration of the DualShock 4 into practically every facet of the game is commendable and perfectly executed. The uses are numerous, novel, and clever. You can point the lightbar at a dark plant to make it bloom, providing a platform for the Messenger. Pressing the touchpad causes bounce pads to bounce and floor pads to give way. Swiping the touchpad might cause a shift in wind that moves an object into place or parts the sea to open a path, or it might scratch DJ turntables to make music or carry the Messenger. Pressing buttons can make platforms appear or blocks launch you higher, moving the controller can shift objects in the world, the lightbar’s beam can blind certain enemies, and so forth. The inputs are so numerous that a good number aren’t even introduced until the game nears its conclusion, and I can’t think of a single one that wasn’t immediately accessible or gave me any trouble with input recognition.

The biggest (perhaps only) sore spot with the new DualShock 4 controls is with drawing things to place in the world. Tearaway players will remember that crafting clothing, decorations, snowflakes, and more out of paper squares on a workstation was a recurring motif for everything from side quests to story progression. Without a touchscreen for 1:1 interaction between your finger and the gamespace, simple tasks like making a crown for the Squirrel King or a new pattern for an elk’s fur coat get harder. It’s a bit of a guessing game to draw overlapping shapes on-screen with only the touchpad as a reference, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to take multiple tries making a simple object that didn’t look awful. An alternative is to have another player use the PlayStation App’s second-screen capability to draw objects or take photographs and toss them in-game, or to do this yourself. Unfolded’s creation capabilities are a best attempt at mimicking Vita’s ease of use, but this is a notable weak spot in an otherwise exceptional translation of DualShock 4 into Tearaway’s world.

The series of new inputs introduced eventually gives way to some truly interesting puzzle-platforming, but it takes a long time to get there. The problem isn’t so much Unfolded’s length (at 10 to 12 hours, it’s at the higher end of platformers) as it is the game’s limited scope. Despite a wealth of new areas and some previous levels re-imagined, the linear design and tight, claustrophobic spaces of the Vita version remain. It instills a slight sense of going through the motions, especially since Unfolded doesn’t start stringing together inputs to challenging the player in meaningful ways until the last few areas. There’s still the delight of discovering new inputs as you go along, but it feels like a missed opportunity that the design philosophy which worked on Vita didn’t expand to match the sophistication of Unfolded’s controls and interaction.

There are a few exceptions, and in these brief moments, we catch a glimpse of what a bigger, more involved Tearaway would look like. Flying around a seaside town in a paper airplane accepting and completing side quests, or trekking across a mysterious desert, I felt closer than ever to the true promise of Tearaway: an open world made entirely of paper where I can manipulate the environment and create useful things in perpetuity. Alas, even when levels suddenly opened up and I was free to explore big areas, the side quests remained painfully simple variations of “Take a photograph of me!” or “Make me some new clothing,” and my freedom of interaction never broadened beyond the admittedly awesome paper airplane.

Unlike the gameplay, Tearaway’s unique visuals made the move to PS4 with aplomb. Interesting, paper-fueled effects are everywhere. Neat touches abound, like the way water waves “crash” onto shore or tight squares of paper unfold into paths. Levels are packed with detail, and everywhere you look, the sharp edges of paper, whether rounded or angled, are appropriately crisp. From a technical perspective, Unfolded is a solid package, though I noted occasional split-second hitches as the game loaded content in the background. Throughout my journey, I fell behind a couple objects and saw a couple enemies get stuck in ways that required restarts. I also experienced several janky camera angles. Thanks to the game’s linear nature, there’s usually a certain direction you’re supposed to be looking in, and the sticky camera fights to make it so. This makes backtracking for collectibles or side quests a bit tricky, and if you try fighting with the camera to show something in particular, there’s a chance it’ll get briefly stuck behind something in the foreground.

The gameplay and journey of Tearaway Unfolded feel constrained next to its inventive controls. But the charming creativity present throughout elevate Unfolded above merely being a fun, polished platformer. Unfolded isn’t as revelatory on PS4 as the original was on Vita, and it certainly isn’t a system-seller, but there’s enough new content in this re-imagining to give fans of the original reason to return. For newcomers, Tearaway on Vita is arguably the better experience, but Unfolded is a great platformer in its own right.



The Final Word

A great platformer in its own right, Tearaway Unfolded doesn’t quite capture the revelatory magic of its Vita predecessor, partly because the gameplay and scope remain limited next to sophisticated, inventive controls.