Developer: Media Molecule
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: November 22, 2013
ESRB: E for Everyone
Media Molecule has always been a developer I respected, but never one where I was particularly invested in their actual games. Their first IP, LittleBigPlanet, left me of two minds: in raw creativity it allowed for something incredibly distinct and made headway for a vast amount of community-generated content on consoles; but as a game, it was mainly a toolset to make content that was arguably mediocre on its own with so-so platforming mechanics. Tearaway is their second foray at a new IP, with a very clearly inspired origami presentation and an ambitious design specific to the Vita hardware.
With little respect to such ambition, and like many first-party Sony properties in 2013, Tearaway had the extremely unfortunate luck of not only being torn aside by having virtually no marketing, but it was also released in an incredibly brutal November time-frame. Whether or not it be out of pity, or being a self-proclaimed handheld fanboy, I decide to not leave Tearaway crumbled up or forgotten.
I“ll answer the questions in advance: The silly headband-looking thing are actually a pair of headphones you can wear when you are resting. And yes, I“m always angry.
The narrative initially unfolds with â€œYouâ€ (yes, the player in real life) quite literally shaking up both the real world and Tearaway“s imaginative papercraft world. By doing so, "You" somehow create a connection to both worlds. This spurs a curious papercraft avatar character, either Iota or Atoi, to go on an adventure to deliver a message to â€œYouâ€. Having your face firmly embedded in the sun of their world, you help guide Iota/Atoi, with your otherworldly and seemingly omnipotent prowess, on their pilgrimage.
For what would normally seem like a pretty basic and easy-going platformer (I'm using that term very loosely), Tearaway absolutely thrives off of its presentation, however shallow that may initially sound. In general, traversing through the world will never really be taxing or a test of reflexive skill; the experience is meant to be absorbed with a childish wonderment and be a vent for creativity. The origami aesthetic feels almost tangible on the OLED screen and the audio design is brimming to complement it in its immersive qualities.
In motion, Tearaway is absolutely mesmerizing to behold and, as cliche as this phrasing is, its world feels truly alive. However stilted papercraft may inherently be in real life, the game truly goes above and beyond with its visual theme. It really feels like you can go right out and touch stuff in its world, which in some instances, you can outright do so, whether it be in the specified sequences or through casual discovery. You can also seriously tell there is a real genuine passion and commitment to the origami theme, where the title even goes as far as to give you instructions on how to create the individual characters in real-life through actual papercraft.
Another treat with how the title is presented is in regards to its audio. The musical tracks play on a celtic musical theme for the most part, and despite being sparse in number count, they are quite well-done and stand out in the instances where they do make an appearance. But the more impressive works with the audio are in its more subtle atmospheric material, such as the sound of scissors serving as percussion in a background song when drawing/cutting stuff to the natural ebb and flow of paper environments wrestling back and forth; things that may very well slip past you since it is so seamlessly captivating. It's hard to not simply gush with enthusiasm about how much it gets it right in its presentational grandeur.
Beyond that, though, what makes Tearaway memorable past being a stunning visual showcase is how immaculately it pulls personalized interactivity with its controls and the player's seemingly passive influence to its setting during gameplay.
Like the intro implies, Tearaway is distinctly an adventure for â€œYouâ€ to play around within its world. While the end destination is the same for all players due to its structure, it goes out of its way to get you to contribute, and by doing so, integrates nearly every unorthodox feature on the Vita system in surprisingly cohesive ways (except â€œNearâ€; let“s be realâ€¦). The various system uses range from asking you draw a crown via touchscreen for a squirrel king, or taking a real-life photo to give a deer a new fur coat, or recording an audio clip to give a scarecrow an intimidating scream, and many more unique scenarios later on.
There is also something that is stupidly charming, and probably partially narcissistic in my case, when it uses Vita's camera to place your face upon on the sun throughout the story, or when you poke your hands via the rear-pad into the world, and seeing the characters being taken aback by your "power" and constantly captivated by your presence. What is more impressive is how often it changes things up, despite how gimmicky most of these things are by themselves, so it feels so consistently fresh and appealing.
What I think I like the most about playing through the game, though, is how much it encourages creativity. Iota/Atoi are fully customizable for the most part and with enough time and effort you can truly do some amazing stuff. It is especially impressive that I felt comfortable using my fingers to draw, despite owning a capacitive stylus, because the controls were so spot-on. Admittedly, I've never had a lot of confidence in myself as an artist, so I never did too much to customize Iota look beyond placing preset accessories (plus I like the character designs enough already), but it still manages to make it fun regardless of your artistic talent.
One early game example is that it casually asks you to draw a snowflake. It certainly doesn“t have to be a snowflake, it can be anything you want to draw using the touchscreen. So, naturally, I just drew a crude-looking starfish face... thing. However, that crude, seemingly irrelevant one-time joke, helped pave the visual theme for that entire level where every-single-â€œsnowflakeâ€ in the sky was that goofy looking drawing of mine flowing to and fro with the wind, just because - Tearaway is full of little moments like that.
Still, for as one-sidedly positive as I may seems towards the experience, that doesn't mean it is free of criticisms. Perhaps Tearaway“s greatest flaw is how much it relies on its first time charm and novelty. The core gameplay is hardly indicative of reliving the experience again because of its carefree structure, simple mechanics, and focus on things that are only likely captivate the first-time you see them. It may have worked nearly flawlessly on myself playing through, but it“s still a short-game at the end of the day lasting on average 5-6 hours with very little replay value and not very noteworthy overall collectibles (aside from the papercraft sheets). Also, it isn't free of technical issues, where I encountered two bugs that were close to game-breaking and almost significantly dimmed my overall experience and progress.
Also, the combat in particular definitely wears out its welcome and is easily the weakest portion. Even if the game does try to introduce new things as it progresses to the combat, it simply isn“t enough to make it not feel like an out-of-place chore most of time, especially when the title's best moments are without a doubt in its calmer sequences.
I think the advantage that Nintendo has always had with their recent handheld hardware is that they have always lent it better to creativity and a lot of releases reflected that. Ironically, Tearaway managed to ignore that memo entirely, and was by far the most creative title that was released on handhelds in 2013. Even if Tearaway is by no means perfect, the moments it does excel at are outright brilliant and can easily overshadow most of its minor issues. While there are certainly plenty of better games (from a mechanical standpoint) that came out in 2013, you“d have a tough argument to say that few others are as ridiculously endearing, immersive, memorable, and downright creative as Tearaway.
+ Stellar, captivating presentation that uses origami aesthetic in striking ways
+ Vita system features are utilized very cleverly throughout
+ Creates a personalized adventure that is ridiculously charming
+ Well-done musical score and great audio design
- Short and doesn“t have much replay value
- Combat sequences don“t add much to the game
- Some bugs
Overall Score: 9.0 (out of 10)
Proving to be more than just a system showcase, Tearaway delightfully molds itself into one of the most memorable, creative, and downright charming titles you can find on any system from 2013.