Media Molecule’s second franchise has charmed from the very moment it was revealed. It features a wonderful papercraft aesthetic blended to a platforming game and the many inputs of the handheld hardware. Is this another example of how best to create a game for the PlayStation Vita?
Tearaway, from the first moment to the very last, filled me with joy and glee with practically everything it set out in front of me. It starts with You – with all beings from our world referred to as a capitalised You – being introduced and invited into the world of Tearaway, breaking a gigantic hole in their papercraft Sun, so that you can gaze down through this portal and see what’s happening. Within this world you control Iota or Atoi, a message incarnate, journeying ever onward to deliver itself to you.
Along the way you have to help your messenger out of many a sticky situation, and this starts off right away, as they are beset by the evil forces which you have unwittingly unleashed upon the world – Scraps. These little boxes of junk paper crop up almost everywhere, causing havoc whenever they appear, and initially it’s only through your own awesome power that you can defeat them.
The PS Vita’s various input devices are put to quite fantastic use throughout, with the front-facing camera called upon regularly to show your face peering in through the Sun, and the touch pads allowing you to reach into the game in select places and alter the world. It could be an area through which you can push your finger and sweep away Scraps or push around objects, or little taps allowing you to hit a drum skin and bounce your messenger to a higher platform.
At first, Atoi – my chosen messenger – doesn’t even have the ability to jump and this is a lovely way of creating a bond with the player. She starts completely dependent on you to progress and often keep her from losing her stamp and respawning, and even as she does gain new abilities, such as being able to roll up into a ball, there are always points where you are called upon to react and affect the world to help.
The platforming side does actually get quite challenging later on in the game, as it shifts ever further away from the rather homely Valleyfold. There’s certainly depth to what is on offer, and it’s testament to the Vita’s small analogue sticks and the handling that the trickier sections remained fun and fair. However, the game will at times ask you to command both touch points on the rear touchpad, face buttons for jumping and precision on the analogue stick, alongside the occasionally awkward camera angle which is sometimes out of your control. It could easily be overwhelming and awkward to coordinate all of the inputs for smaller hands than mine.
Coming across Scraps to fight is quite a regular occurrence, and the combat mechanics are nicely varied and interesting. Initially, the messenger will have to carefully avoid the Scraps as they pounce at them, leaving dazed and upside-down Scraps that you can pick up and throw at other Scraps, off a ledge or into a wall. Combined with the moments where your fingers and thumbs are needed to intervene, there’s a refreshing feeling of being on the defensive in combat – and you’ll simply have to run away from the Wendigos – but the challenge is never overbearing.
Of course, as the game progresses, more abilities are unlocked, and you can step things up a gear as you fight. By the time the final Scraps are being dispatched, in their various guises, combat is short, sharp and snappy. Importantly, the fighting never outstays its welcome when there are such great wonders to behold all around you.
The journey Atoi undertook, to reach the Sun and deliver her message to me, unfolded across three quite distinct acts. Each time, the narrators called for something fresh and new, and though you can sometimes see the influences of other games, it’s from this desire that the inventively clunky Scraps came as adversaries. Soon enough, the brightly lit, verdant greenery of Valleyfold gives way to new locations which completely shift the tone and style of the game.
Each is more striking and intriguing than the last, and is perfectly matched by an excellent score of original music and environmental sounds. As the environments change, the music accompanying the messenger’s little yips and cries evolve from the rustic folk aesthetic it holds at the start to evoking sea shanties by the sea shore and seamlessly makes the jump to the later settings.
The music mirrors just how every single element within the game is ever so lovingly crafted out of digital paper. As you travel, you’ll come across many curious-looking characters, who will often have something to say, make burgeoning friendships or offer quick side missions for you to complete – though on a handful of occasions these side missions were broken by dim AI falling off a ledge or throwing a ball that you want into a vat of glue, with a replay of those areas giving them a second chance.
Yet, it’s a hiccup that I find forgivable when the world feels so full of life. Confetti floats around everywhere you run, and paper plants will open up as if to say hello. There are the moose who slowly amble around, the gophers, and the ever-present and ever-playful squirrels. I always delighted in being able to watch squirrels playing catch, throwing a ball or rock their way for them to chuck back and forth and joining in the fun.
Half of the fun was trying to capture it on camera, and it’s through taking photos that I really explored a lot of the world. Dotted around the place are many things which have had their colour stolen. Taking pictures of these, which restores their colour and unlocks papercraft plans for the real world, is a perfect excuse to pull out the camera that the messenger is given early in the game, and play with some of the filters and lenses.
Really, I needed no excuse to pull out the camera to take a few snaps, though the game does often push you to use the camera to take pictures and this often ties in with a continuation of Media Molecule’s creative spark. It will ask you to customise your messenger, create papercraft objects for the world’s inhabitants, give a scientist a tie… It’s always inventive and quite cute about the way it gets you to do things. I finished the game with an Atoi who, bit-by-bit, came to look very different to how she started off.
My only real complaint would be that the creation tools aren’t quite as precise as I’d like them to be. The input relied on my large digits being able to draw out perfectly what I had in mind, or position an object just so. Sadly, even with being able to zoom in quite far, I just wasn’t able to satisfy my quest for perfection or match the quality of the items in game with the simple tools available.
And the game’s quality is exemplified by the final moments, as the message is delivered. It’s such a simple idea, but I found it catching me by surprise after the various tangents the game had taken, and was just created so beautifully and perfectly.
Tearaway is the kind of game that the PS Vita has demanded since launch, something crafted and tailored to its form and its capabilities, but rather than feeling forced, creating an easy sense of wonder fun and inventiveness. Continuing Media Molecule’s push to unleashing our creativity, it also features a story, a world and creations which delight at every turn, no matter how old you are.