Combining simple platforming with other, more unique gameplay facets is something Media Molecule have proven they can do well (look no further than LittleBigPlanet). With Tearaway, the studio proves that they weren’t a one-trick pony, delivering a dangerously endearing and engaging platformer that uses the PS Vita’s multitude of gadgets to provide a deeply memorable handheld experience.
The opening premise of Tearaway is simple. A humble messenger boy named Iota (or messenger girl named Atoi, if you choose her instead) goes on a journey to find out why his world, which is entirely made of paper, is suddenly being invaded by monsters. These monsters are coming from another world, and they aren’t the only thing. The player, referred to by the game’s characters literally as “You”, is also breaking through into the paper realm. Your face beams out from the sun’s surface like a warped, beautiful episode of Teletubbies, and using the Vita’s touchscreen you’re able to tear, fold, bend and push countless things in the papery paradise.
Both the front and back touchscreens are utilised in abundance throughout the game. Stick your fingers on the back of the Vita and in certain areas you’ll see animated replicas of your own appendages burst through the floor in the game world. Other paper surfaces can be swiped or unfurled with the front touchscreen. It’s an incredibly tactile mechanic, and remains satisfying to use throughout despite Tearaway not really having many difficult moments.
Alongside the touchscreens, the Vita cameras also play a key role. You’ll be taking a lot of selfies over the six or so hours this game takes to complete, and be ready for the game to plaster them all over certain areas of the world as the inhabitants of the paper realm begin to comprehend the You that’s mysteriously lurking in the sky. You’ll also use the microphone and tilt functions in ways that I won’t spoil. The variety of ways to interact with Tearaway is commendable, and when the game forces you to use more than one at a time it feels like nothing else you’ve ever played before.
Although it’s a linear game, you’ll run into many little asides on your journey. Most of them require “You” to physically make a paper object for someone using the game’s touchscreen-powered paper craft studio. They’re entirely optional, but they give the player further opportunity to add their own unique stamp on the world they play in. For example, at the start of a snowy stage you’re asked to create your own snowflake. This snowflake is then taken by the game, multiplied by hundreds, and used as the snow that falls whilst exploring the rest of the world. By the end of the game you’ll have made a large amount of small paper inventions for your world, and it results in a deeply personal story where you decide how Iota and many of his surroundings and friends look. This all gives gravitas to the conclusion. The ending of my journey felt so personal to me, and me only, that it moved me close to tears.
Tearaway also looks and sounds gorgeous. The papered theme allows for some splendid vistas, and cute characters and animals that can be colourful and expressive without dropping the framerate. The soundtrack is upbeat and baroque, and suits the way Iota skips along paths and across chasms merrily. There’s fantastic variety in the environments, and the levels all load into one another seamlessly creating a proper sense of scale for this expansive paper world. One minute you’re exploring snow-capped mountains, the next you can be falling through pits into surrealist netherworlds. It constantly changes the focus of your interactions with the game from place to place to keep things fresh and avoid a reliance on the pretty scenery to hold your attention. Some levels will have you use the touchscreens heavily; others will lean on the tilt function.
This is a remarkable game, and there isn’t a Vita owner in the world that should pass it by. It’s a sublime experience and, especially at its budget retail price, is dense with gameplay mechanics that involve you as the player directly into Tearaway’s loveable little dimension.