If Media Molecule were only good at one thing, it would be creating heartwarming charm. They’re not, of course, they’re good at many things. But Tearaway continues the tradition started by LittleBigPlanet on PlayStation in that it has that aesthetically hand-created appearance.
Rex Crowle’s handiwork is everywhere in Tearaway. In fact, his designs are the foundation of the game, gentle papercraft animals grazing on cardboard landscapes amidst stylised trees and a pop-up UI that perfectly fits the rest of the aesthetics.
He’s a bubbly, passionate person to speak with too, his appetite to do something different clear and central to the development of this latest Media Molecule title.
Speaking to TheSixthAxis at E3 this week, Rex discussed the game’s visuals and stylings – something he related to 70’s TV shows like The Moomins – and the ‘language’ of the way the player communicates with the principle characters.
It’s something akin to a folk tale, Crowle says, talking about the interaction between gamer and game, and the path the character takes through the various levels.
We only got the chance to really play a small part of the game, but the variety was already hugely impressive. Puzzles aren’t repeated, so the task of tapping from behind to trigger drums to make the characters jump won’t appear again unless it’s combined with another puzzle later on.
The build we played begins by asking you a series of questions about yourself – presumably to help it key out your face when it uses the front-facing camera. Those questions involve checks for all the usual character creation modes like hair and eye colour, size, etc. but it’s all done in such a clever way.
“Are you a boy person or a girl person,” asks one step in the process. “Are you a big person or a small person?” asks another.
It’s this kind of kooky touch that immediately grabs your attention but it’s not just that. The demo plays almost like a standard puzzle platformer with plenty to do that involves the rear touchpad. Poking through from the back and slapping taught drum skins to bounce your protagonist through timed platform sections or bursting through to fight off loose items from the landscape.
Tearaway’s feel-good form disguises some tricky sections where timing is imperative but that imminent danger adds to tension and feeling of immersion that the touch pad control also fosters.
It’s this interaction, this physical, tactile communication, that really sets Tearaway apart. Your fingers appear in the game, along with whatever’s behind the game thanks to the Vita’s rear camera and some clever trickery; your face appears in the in-game sun; your voice – don’t sneeze – manifested as drifting particles.
Rex tells us the game isn’t quite finished yet, and they’re not talking about game length, but is convinced that there’s plenty of replayability in the single player adventure, not least because of the individuality of the customisation on offer. One early mission asks you to take a pair of scissors and cut out a crown for an in-game character – what you actually make is entirely down to you.
And, of course, with all this fourth wall breaking, we can expect something pretty cool at the end. Rex says that such interacts are “escalated” as the game goes on, but wouldn’t be quoted on the record with regards to an eventual twist or rug-pulling as the game reaches its conclusion.