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Review: Tearaway

Posted by on November 20th, 2013 | 4 Comments | Tags:

Media Molecule has been working hard on the world of Tearaway, bringing a little letter named iota to life with one purpose — to deliver himself to YOU. It all sounds very religious if you consider yourself to be a  God, and in this game, that’s basically what you appear to be to denizens of a papercraft world. The front facing camera on the Vita places your face inside the sun. YOU are all everyone is talking about, scared yet complacent, the characters iota meets don’t know whether to fear YOU or worship your warmth. Their infatuation with YOU blinds them into ignoring what is coming from below.

The religious undertones couldn’t be more obvious, but toward the end of the game I just wanted the story to end so I could just play with all the fun parts of the game. The problem is, I thought it was the end at least three times. There were lots of really interesting parts to the game, but they were brief and iota passes right through them without looking back. This is likely the result of a game that doesn’t follow Media Molecules typical Play, Create, Share formula and focuses almost entirely on the artistry of creating everything from paper.

Tearaway is a platformer you play by yourself,  you can manipulate or edit certain things during the story, and you can share pictures taken with the in-game camera on Twitter and Facebook. The Play aspect is a linear adventure about mailing a letter. As I said above, delivering yourself to the one in the sky is the religious way to perceive the tellings of this tale. During my playthrough I found it to be a tale that just didn’t want to end. At the first plot twisting story extension only a couple hours in, I was fairly sure iota had done everything he was intended to do. But then, bam, he was thrown into a deep dark world downunder. Underground, the story gets more interesting, combat becomes a more important gameplay element, and everything just looks really cool.

EVERYTHING ALWAYS LOOKS BETTER ON PAPER

Looking at Tearaway for the first time might not stop you where you stand on Main St. USA, but later on it will. Everything is made of paper. More impressive than that is the fact that everything WAS made of paper. Media Molecule modeled much of the game out of real paper before creating it in the virtual paper of their paper game engine. This became most noticeable whenever I witnessed the paper bend in the wind or under the weight (he was a 1 oz. letter) of iota’s feet. Typically you can see the edges of the polygons that create a strip of video game paper, but not in Tearaway. The paper was seamless and bent as paper is expected to bend.

Tearaway-Scrap

THE COMBAT

Having a world filled with characters and objects made of paper instantly makes this game okay for kids. The combat in Tearaway is also perfectly suitable for a younger audience, while still providing interesting ways to defeat enemies for more skilled gamers. The main enemies in Tearaway are called the Scraps. They are small cube shaped enemies that attack by jumping. They aren’t scary, in fact they are kind of cute with their one big eye, little legs and winged arms.

Another form of the Scrap is one on stilts. These guys require iota to enter his ball form by holding the circle button and rolling their stilts out from under them. Some Scraps may come wearing a jump pad as a hat. These are pads that iota can spring off of to reach higher platformers. These jump pad scraps can only be taken out by jumping on their head to flip them over, then touching them with your finger. Don’t worry, there is a trophy for this.

Dispatching these and the basic Scraps is as simple as picking them up with the square button when they are stunned and tossing them anywhere. Pretty simple mechanics for gamers of any age. And whenever you take one of these little guys out, a fist full of confetti flies from their remains as if in celebration. This confetti is your in-game currency for purchasing character customization parts or things for your camera which I’ll mention later on.

The advanced ways to eliminate them come from the environment. In some parts of the game where there are a lot of enemies, there will be rocks or acorns to pick up and throw at the enemies. In later battles there will be little folds in the paper floor that can be used to fling the enemies off the stage like a catapult. The Wendigo, however, are scary, and fill one of the hardest levels of the game. The Wendigo are big hairy creatures that will viciously claw at iota, but is this really who they are? Every fierce enemy Media Molecule creates tends to be misunderstood.

iota will acquire a weapon in the middle of the game that will work on Scraps but not the Wendigo. With it, iota can instantly suck up a nearby Scrap and shoot it towards another. This weapon becomes a tool to blow fans to progress, and even blow lengths of paper that are obstructing a jump pad. It’s just too bad that more weapons didn’t make it into the game.

TOUCHING IS GOOD

In one level, touching the rear touch pad shows your finger protruding through the floor of the level. Swiping around, your finger appears to be in the game knocking the enemies all around. This is just another way the game breaks the 4th dimension and puts YOU in the game. In addition to interacting with the world on the front touch screen and becoming part of the world with the rear touch pad and cameras, Tearaway also incorporates photography into the game itself. iota must equip a camera and take pictures of the environment to bring color back into a collection of papercraft objects that have had their color taken from them by the Scraps. This collection can be accessed online and printed for a papercraft project at home.

tearaway-squirrel-mouth

While taking pictures may seemed to be a large part of Tearaway, the story will occasionally ask YOU to draw and cut shapes out of paper. This was one of the more fun things to do in the creative world of Tearaway, and one my daughter would snatch the Vita out of my hand to do herself every single time. These events would typically happen by way of side quests such as a squirrel who needs a crown or a mouth, or something that isn’t too difficult to do with only your finger. I enjoyed getting really fancy and creating layers, but this posed a bit of a challenge when trying to get the layers lined up with my fat finger —  so I went out and bought one of those rubber tipped touch screen pens and that seemed to help a lot. You could call it cheating I guess.

There were a couple instances in the game where it would ask you to record your voice. And this worked really good for the story since I was one of the main characters alongside iota himself. But what troubled me was the fact that I just wanted more of all this stuff. People who fear that Tearaway is just a simple platformer that exploits every input of the Vita should fear not. On the contrary, I wanted more of all this.

Watching the old Announcement Trailer for Tearaway reminded me of features that apparently didn’t make it into the game. Like the megaphone weapon that has you yelling at your Vita, and your yell would power the megaphone iota was holding to blast away enemies. There was a part showing the use of tilt as a weapon. With iota safely inside what looked like a flower bud, the enemies would roll off the stage when the Vita was tilted one way or the other. This is simply not in the final game.

WHAT WORKED, WHAT DIDN’T

The camera in Tearaway could be considered as the most impressive tool iota has. In it, you can not only take regular pictures from the first person perspective, but also purchase different lens and filters with confetti collected throughout the game. The lens will change the distance from your subject. The most expensive lens will simply take a picture via the rear camera on the Vita of the space in front of you, this makes no sense to me. The filters, like the Chroma, High Contrast, or Vintage, apply a change to the color palette seen through the camera lens. In some instances, you’ll need to take a picture of something or someone with a particular lens or filter to proceed or earn extra confetti.

Yes, Tearaway is more or less a platformer above all. One that successfully blurred the lines between gameplay and reality with a story that included YOU, the player. Did tearaway need to use paper? Could the game have been made from tin foil? No, the papercrafting of Tearaway is what makes this game unique. Seeing the developers at Media Molecule creating their own paper characters and objects that were actually made up the entire video game is out of this world.

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The platforming is solid overall. I’m not a huge fan of running down towards the screen and there are about a handful of scenes with a locked camera that had iota doing this. I’m also not a fan of having a free camera sometimes, but not all the time. I found myself entering the camera and playing the game in first-person view. In this first-person camera view, it’s entirely possible to play. This reminded me of playing a classic PSone game called Jumping Flash. Though, eventually a cutscene will trigger and pull you back into third-person view.

The really great level design of the later levels is something that must be experienced. Tilting the controller to rock platforms within jumping range and move iota to the next was a lot of fun, not at all challenging, but might throw a younger gamer a curve ball for sure. Sometimes, I found it difficult to make the risky jumps for reasons I blame on the more realistic shadow of iota. Traditional platforming games use a simple oval beneath the character as a generic top-down shadow, but this makes platforming so much easier. Tearaway adheres to a more modern way of doing things.

A lot of fun can be had in creating objects in Tearaway, but they aren’t accessible whenever you just want to use them. They are a part of the linear adventure and important to the telling of the story. This was likely a creative decision on the part of Media Molecule, to not create just another LittleBigPlanet game just with paper and in full 3D. Tearaway may start off real innocent, definitely kid-friendly. But after about two hours it gets dark. Overall, Tearaway was a wild platforming rollercoaster of ideas. One that comes to mind is a twisted platforming section requiring the X button and O button to be pressed or released to make platforms appear and disappear, all the while X is still used to jump to or from each platform.

Tearaway is a great game. As unconventional as the story is, the gameplay really shines through and keeps true to the spirit of a platformer. Having all the fancy inputs of the Vita just makes it all the more sweeter even if it had me begging for more. Unfortunately, Tearaway is not a successor to the Play, Create, Share spirit of LittleBigPlanet, but it carries the same charisma of its older brother franchise. While I can’t imagine how they could turn Tearaway into it’s own franchise with sequels, it fills a niche on the Vita that no others have yet filled in quite the same way.

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.

General Info

  • Story tends to drag, but would've been a lot shorter if it didn't
  • Story may be a might too complex for younger audiences
  • Only one weapon, lots were cut from the final game
  • No megaphone weapon as shown in the announcement trailer
  • No tilting enemies off screen as shown in the announcement trailer
  • No multiplayer elements whatsoever