I think it is fair to say that the Vita hasn’t exactly being the most flourishing system. The hardware itself is certainly beautiful, but no game has been a showcase to demonstrate what all those extra hardware features included in the device are for. Well, after roughly a year and nine months, the time has finally come for the system to get the game that will identify what the Vita can do. We’ve had it before with other systems. Wii Sports was the Wii’s game that gave it the identity we know. Super Mario 64 was the Nintendo 64’s, and now Tearaway, from the brilliant minds at Media Molecule, is the Vita’s game that will forever be marked in history as the game to own on that platform, because it’s an exceptional title full of captivating creativity that uses everything the Vita offers in such intelligent ways.
Tearaway is an platformer set in a world made up of paper, with items and objects looking like they’re shaped from someone’s fantastic inventive skills in papercraft. What’s even more exciting is that the player is part of the story and is featured predominantly in the world of Tearaway. It’s the power of the player in conjunction with helping the messenger, either Atoi or Iota (depending on what sex you pick), to deliver the message to the player, known as a “You” in the papercraft world. As “You,” the player looks over the world of Tearaway from the safety of the sun, which is a tear into our world. What’s highly amusing is that the Vita’s front-facing camera is used to capture the face of the player, meaning you are literally the game’s sun, as your face is on display for all of the inhabitants of Tearaway to see. The best thing about this feature is how the game manages to fuse the player into the story in a believable and contextualised way. I don’t think any other game has managed to involve the player so well in a game’s world without breaking the experience or having some disconnect with the story.
The player feels like God in the world of Tearaway, thanks to the cleverly introduced mechanics that have the player helping the messenger to accomplish their mission to get to the “You.” This begins with simple challenges, such as when the game first begins, where the player is given a tutorial in how to interact with the papercraft world in a demonstration that, if people have being following the game, will have seen on multiple occasions. I am of course talking about popping your fingers through the tracing paper material to kill enemies with your fingertips. It’s such a simple idea on paper, but one that feels magical when surrounded by the enchanting world that Media Molecule has created.
It’s also very intuitive for the player to notice any of these interactions. Whenever you see the white paper covered in the PlayStation’s trademark symbols, then the player knows that it can be interacted with by using the back touchpad of the Vita. Later on, the game will challenge anyone’s multitasking capabilities by having them move the messenger around with the left stick, while using their fingers to lift up poles to allow the messenger to walk under. In another case, fingers are used to twist around pillars to rise them up into the air, acting as a way for the messenger to progress to what was once an out of reached place.
The front touch pad is used as well, with a shiny finger print being the icon to let the player know that the object can be interacted with. The front touch is used normally to pull or push apart objects, such as flattening a tower of paper to make a bridge, or pulling up squished paper to make stairs. The touch screen is also used to open up the one of many hidden presents stashed in the game. And let’s not forget the accelerometers that the Vita has, those are used to tilt platforms or slide objects in the world. Media Molecule has really spent some time thinking up ideas to make the gameplay include all of the Vita‘s hardware in meaningful ways. I never once felt I was going to get tired of doing the puzzles, and after spending an hour or so with the game, the idea that this was a gimmick was soon gone – this is amazing game design.
Then there are the two cameras, which are used as a tool to compliment the story. The rear camera is used to take pictures of real world materials. For example, near the beginning of the game, you are asked to give a pig some colour, so me being as I am, I took a picture my dog’s fur and watched as it placed the colour all over the pig. It’s a texture loader, sure, but it’s so nice to see your own snaps affect the world, which made me genuinely feel like I was doing something cool. The front camera has the same concept – it’s always on – as your face is for all to see in Tearaway when the sun appears in scene. The game will occasional ask for you to take a picture of yourself, used to plaster the world to symbolise the player and the messenger to show the history of the journey. While the microphone isn’t used much, there is a use for it later in the game.
Tearaway doesn’t stop there for papercraft artists. One of the big features I enjoyed in Tearaway was that the game allowed me to craft my own accessories. This can range from randomly feeling the need to dress up the messenger with your own paper cut-outs, such as when I stuck a badly shaped hat on top of Atoi, to filling in some of the world’s scenery. In one part of the game, I was asked to draw snowflakes, so for a laugh I decided to do some red coloured snowflakes, which in fact ended up looking fantastic in the game’s setting, as these red snowflakes blew past the camera with Atoi walking through them. All these crafting ideas and features are small on their own, but when they come together it makes for a wonderful experience from start to the game’s five to six hour finish – not including all collectibles.
While it’s not a game that is as open to creativity in ways as LittleBigPlanet was, since that was about creating and sharing various Sackboys, levels and other crazy game types that people could come up with, it does manage to keep going with the creative theme in a different way. It’s about you – it’s a personal tale – and what you can do in the world of Tearaway. The game itself never stops giving new features until the very end, as it never runs out of cunning ideas. You can be inspired by what you create and what you take part in, sharing it to the Tearaway.me website to show friends and others, or just taking part in mixing human creation and human interaction in such a way that it gives of a one of a kind sense of joy.
I must be careful not to get overly deep in all the excellent things Tearaway does, because it’s not perfect. The game is a platformer, but now Media Molecute has transitioned into 3D space compared to the 2D adventures of Sackboy. This time the jumping feels concrete compared to LittleBigPlanet’s floaty jump, but that’s not what I have any concerns with. The only negative I have for Tearaway is that the combat isn’t the greatest. Enemies are made out of scraps of paper, and in the beginner of the game the messenger must dodge these block-like enemies and then pick them up when they are in a dazed state and throw them to kill. It does improve later on, when you get the ability to use the concertina as a weapon to suck or blow enemies away, but combat becomes incredibly easy when this tool is available, as anything can be sucked and then blown into each other.
I do like that there is at least on enemy that involves the player helping the messenger to kill – a scrap with a spring board on its head. This enemy has to be jumped on and then squished by a finger using the touch screen, but that’s as exciting as the combat gets. I would have liked it to be fleshed out, incorporating more ideas, because it comes across shallow compared to everything else in the game. I did have some slight issues with the camera as well. It’s mostly fine in the open environments, where you have control of it with the right stick, but in areas where the game locks that function to smaller arcs, it can become an issue, as you can’t quite see want you want to. It only happens a few times, but I feel that it needs to be mentioned, as it was something that stuck out.
Visually, this game is a treat on the eyes. The world constructed of paper is one of colour, imagination and originality. Everything acts as one would expect paper to, and it always looks spectacular. It really hit me how amazingly crafted it was when I arrived at the harbour and saw the wind blowing doors and flags, watching them bend, twist and scrunch like paper, with the ocean made entirely of rolls of paper rolling out in arcs. It’s a completely new graphic style, one that comes from nothing but artistic dreams. The game’s soundtrack is pleasant and diverse. A couple of songs I was genuinely humming along with because they are catchy, and while the music can seem offbeat (70s investigation-esque music?), it fits with the peculiar world and various settings.
Tearaway is a showcase in what the Vita can do, as it’s a game that can only work on that system, merging the hardware with gameplay into a wonderful package that makes for a truly unique experience that is also a fantastic one. Even if the combat could do with more fleshing out, it’s hard not to love Tearaway and its creative world, to the point you’ll soon forget about the combat issue and be taken in by the imagination of Media Molecule. This is the title that sells the Vita, and anyone owning the system should, without hesitation, play this beautiful game.