Leave it up to Media Molecule to deliver quite possibly the best PlayStation Vita game to date. It ranks right up there with the likes of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Rayman Origins and Gravity Rush, and those who enjoyed the LittleBigPlanet titles will especially appreciate Tearaway. Loaded with charming creativity, plenty of fantastic gameplay and design elements, and technologically slick integration between the real world and the paper world, this is a joy to experience. When’s the last time you spent the majority of a play session smiling?
Graphically, Tearaway excels not in the conventional areas such as photorealistic visual quality, immense clarity and a gazillion pixels infused into each minute detail. In fact, it’s the imagination of the designers that elevates the graphics to an impressive level. It’s the lively, dynamic environment filled with budding flowers, rolling and unrolling strips of colored paper, cutesy animals of all types, and the world design in general. Everything gels into a wildly immersive, amazingly inventive landscape. Not easy to do when everything must be comprised of paper!
The sound is another high watermark for this production, and the quality once again stems from the overall atmosphere. There are a couple excellent narrators who help tell the story, and the soundtrack is wonderfully orchestrated and implemented. The characters within the gameplay only utter those odd grunts so familiar to LBP fans but again, it’s just something else that makes you grin. The fantastic score complements a set of effects that accomplish two critical things: 1. You’re always reminded that you are in a world of paper, and 2. You’re always reminded that this game hinges upon its super high fun factor. The effects, score and voices all contribute to the wonderfully original style that simply cannot be ignored.
Let me begin my analysis of the gameplay be saying— Tearaway makes the best use of the Vita’s unique functions of any title yet. I have never been a proponent of touch anything (touchpad, touchscreen, whatever), primarily because of the simple fact that no touchscreen will ever – repeat: ever – be as perfectly responsive in terms of control as the simple press of a button. That’s 100%. That’s ironclad. A touchscreen is subject to all sorts of other factors; how fast you swiped, the pressure with which you swiped, etc. Furthermore, the idea of a rear touchpad never really sat well with me. Usually, you have to hold the handheld in a very bizarre way to get that to work properly. This time, though...well, it just works.
And as for the front and rear-facing camera and the motion sensing of the unit itself, I would never call them critical aspects of the video game experience. Rather, they’re potentially intriguing but, in my experience, often annoying implements that only make the gameplay more awkward, less precise, and ultimately more annoying. However, Media Molecule’s effort makes a fantastic use of what I’ve always wanted to call superfluous features. Furthermore, it says something that I love the game and I’m still called upon to use the front and rear touchscreens quite a bit. That’s the mark of a solid, reliable mechanic: I don’t notice I’m even using it and it amplifies, rather than detracts from, the entertainment.
You play as iota, a determined little dude (or dudette, if you so choose) who is off on a rousing, challenging adventure. He is assisted by one of those mysterious “Yous.” The “You,” of course, is you, the player. It’s a tad disconcerting to see your own face in real-time pop up during certain game sequences, but it gives the game a surprising personal touch. iota doesn’t start out as the most versatile of characters; he can’t even jump. But he will learn to jump in due time, and he’ll also learn to turn into a ball and roll around. You and your godlike ability will assist in many different ways, from tapping the rear touch pad to make him bounce on special platforms to swiping the front screen to open presents.
As you might expect, customization is a key part of the fun. Much like Sackboy, iota can don any number of colorful decorations. You can purchase them by collecting Confetti as you progress; these vivid scraps of paper are everywhere, waiting to be found, and the more you collect, the more stylish iota becomes. There will also be instances where you draw a necessary picture – using the virtual pencil and paper provided and the touchscreen – and apply it to the environment is some fashion. But the creativity doesn’t end there, and this last bit will entice anyone who loves arts and crafts. Ever had the urge to do origami…?
You are given a camera in the game and when you take a photo of an all-white object, you will restore its color. You will also add that object to your special portfolio of Tearaway papercraft; you will be given instructions as to how to make that object in real life, using – what else? – paper. Check out some examples at the game’s official website. It’s another fantastic example of blurring the lines between reality and virtual entertainment, and it should really inspire those who are artistically motivated. There are also other goodies to find in the immersive world in question, and you’ll never want to leave. The only significant downside is that it doesn’t last quite long enough in my estimation. Or maybe I'm just greedy and wanted more.
The control is great, with only a few minor drawbacks. The camera has a few issues as well, primarily because it switches back and forth between fixed and free. You’re allowed to control the camera in larger open environments but when things close in, you have limited to no control over the camera. It usually works fine, but there are times when you can lose track of the action. I’ve also managed to break the game a couple times; iota fell into certain impossible-to-escape-from spots. It’s annoying but at least the save system means you’ll never have to backtrack too far. Everything else about the production is quite stable.
The pacing and balancing is just right, and the endless imagination on display is breathtaking. Just when you think the developers can’t create something new, you find yourself dressing up a pig and riding around on its back. The story isn’t anything too special, but it’s adequate for this type of game, and it loves to poke fun at itself. If you’re overloaded with very serious, mature titles and you desire a break, you’ve come to the right place: Media Molecule has once again brought us a bouncy, carefree, ingenious production that reminds us to smile. It reminds us that some of the most addictive games in existence are those that make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And we need more of that.
Tearaway is a triumph of the imagination. It’s a showcase for gifted minds that seek to entertain and even enlighten via quirky creativity. Not all of the touch-related functions work perfectly and the camera isn’t always spot-on, either, but other than that, this is a beautifully designed and produced title that gives you the freedom to flex your own ingenuity. This isn’t just a cleverly created video game; it’s a clever experience from top to bottom. It’s also an incredibly important title for the Vita, because it really highlights all the positives of Sony’s handheld. It’s a big-time win-win and you definitely don’t want to miss out.
The Good: Original, inventive and inspired. Excellent atmosphere and impressive technical elements. Best use of Vita’s extra functions to date. Solid, reliable control. Blending of real-world and virtual artistry is amazing. Well paced and nicely balanced.
The Bad: Camera isn’t 100% perfect. Story is just a little too thin. Might be seen as too short.
The Ugly: “The day you find something ugly in a Media Molecule production is the day pigs fly.”
11/26/2013 Ben Dutka