Review: Tearaway (PSV)

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Title: Tearaway
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (983 MB)
Release Date: November 22, 2013
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Media Molecule
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: E
Tearaway is exclusive to PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation Network download version was used for this review.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 346 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
Paper crafting is a thing, for real, and a lot of people are into it, even though you may not know it. The idea is to get some paper then fold it and shape it to create nearly anything (think origami). I was aware of how the internet has facilitated paper crafting by making it simple to share and print creations, so when I heard that Media Molecule’s next game, Tearaway was a full-on paper craft world built for the Vita it made perfect sense. The aesthetics, the fun of it all, it’s really what Media Molecule is all about.

There’s a paper craft world out there, in another dimension. You, yes literally “you”, have broken through the barrier separating our worlds scaring the inhabitants with your ability to physically reach into their world and affect things. You’ll be playing as both yourself, in the “real” world and as an anthropomorphic envelope, tasked with delivering a message to you.

To accomplish this level of interactivity and immersion, Media Molecule has taken advantage of every single input option on the Vita; front and rear touch, front and rear cameras, Sixaxis, microphone, everything. While it doesn’t always works as well as you’d hope, they’ve done an amazing job using every input in a natural way that fits the story and never feels forced.

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The story itself is excellent with a wonderful ending that lends itself to plenty of replayability. There are a number of twists and turns and it’s all set in a breathtakingly beautiful world created entirely by paper. You’ll meet a quite a few helpful creatures along the way as well as troublesome enemies.

After deciding whether to have Iota, the boy envelope, or Atoi, the girl, deliver your message, you’ll start to guide them through the world as if in a standard third-person adventure. What makes Tearaway so unique is the interaction you have with the world. Setting aside the fact that your face is often seen in the hole you tore through the sun (live, thanks to the front camera), you’ll also need to use the front and rear touch quite often.

Shimmering areas that appear to have fingerprints are meant to be swiped on screen while areas adorned with the signature PlayStation Circle, Cross, Square and Triangle require back touch. Some spots may require you to tap the back like a drum, while others have your finger breaking through the back of the system and into the world in order to interact with objects. It’s all a fun level of immersion that brings you into the story in a way that few games can.

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Some of the puzzles may seem confusing at first glance and others require some serious dexterity, but the somewhat limited control you have over the world in general and your little envelope companion in particular will always dictate the solution.

Now, what good is a world of paper if you can’t do some crafting of your own? You’ll be able to access a table with several different colors of paper to make your own creations. Not full on 3D creations mind you, think of them more as analogous to the costume parts in LittleBigPlanet. You can create whatever shapes or designs you can think of… if you can draw them with your finger. Here’s where the game starts to stumble a bit. Trying to make a somewhat precise design, or even to connect a beginning point to an end point when it’s hidden under your fat finger can be a problem. It’s a shame because trying to make that final connection in the line can be a real pain and starts to suck some of the joy out of the game. A stylus would make all the difference in the world here but alas, the Vita is not a Nintendo DS.

You’ll also be given a (paper) camera early on in the game which you can use to take pictures of the world and upload to your own personalized page at tearaway.me which is a fun little way to show off your adventures. The camera can also be used to unlock more than fifty objects within the game that can also be uploaded. Once that’s done, you can print them out along with instructions to do some paper crafting of your own, bringing a little bit of Tearaway back into the real world. It’s really a wonderful little addition that helps bring the connection between the two worlds full circle.

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The downsides, and there are several, tend to lie in the controls. At times you have full camera control with the right stick while other times it’s locked down. This is done to help guide you through the world and make it a little harder to find the collectibles but it leads to too many unnecessary deaths. Not being able to see the edge of a cliff before you’ve already walked over it can be more than a little frustrating.

Because everything is paper, it’s easier than it should be to get stuck in the landscape while exploring. The biggest offender however is in the platforming, and this game has a lot of it. Because of the fixed camera, and the oddities of sometimes having a shadow under you and sometimes not, lining up jumps can be frustratingly difficult in certain areas, and they really don’t need to be. You’ll bounce from one moving object to another only to find yourself falling right past it because there’s just no visual clue as to where you are within the space on the screen. It’s certainly not game-breaking but it adds a high level of frustration to a number of areas and drags down an otherwise joyful experience.

Visuals:
Paper everywhere… seriously, literally everything in the game is rendered as paper. Characters, landscapes, even water. It’s one of the most visually unique games you’ll ever see. Paper ‘grass’ sways and moves in the breeze, wind is signified by a paper line swirling by and when it rains, the effect is flat-out amazing.

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Seeing yourself brought into this world is another treat as you’ll pop up in the sky at unexpected times. The effect of your finger “popping through” the back of the screen is also a really cool effect that helps connect you to the world.

The different characters and enemies are all unique and cleverly built from paper along with the landscape, animals, fences, shrubs, trees, waterfalls, confetti and more. It’s the imperfections in the world that make it come to life, like the way paper curls or the way it doesn’t lie quite flat on the ground. Step on it though and you’ll see your weight have an effect as it subtly shifts or flattens. These little touches are a beautiful effect that have to be seen in motion to truly be appreciated.

For a simple envelope, the main character has a ton of personality. It’s all in the way the little paper arms and legs are articulated, while the ability to customize them from head to toe with paper parts acquired or created on your own adds another layer of connection with the world and story.

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Audio:
What’s better than a narrator? Two narrators! No, really, having two different narrators is a wonderful idea for the story and the way that Lorna Brown and Richard Ridings play off of each other really elevates the proceedings. The inhabitants of the game tend to talk in gibberish in a way that feels right at home in this world. The subtle sounds of the whistling wind, paper crunching, rain falling and more all help to make the world feel alive.

The music just wowed me from beginning to end. Composed, performed and Produced by Brian D’Oliveira, La Hacienda Creative, Kenneth C.M. Young and Media Molecule, it’s just a fantastic soundtrack with surprises at every turn. Mixing traditional folk stylings with non-traditional instruments, beats and even a little dubstep thrown into the middle of it for good measure. Whatever it is, it’ll always surprise and delight throughout the game.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

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Conclusion:
Media Molecule made a name for themselves with the whimsically delightful LittleBigPlanet, a series that thrived on the joys of creation and discovery. Turning their attention to the PlayStation Vita, they’ve taken advantage of every last input the handheld has to offer, using them in some wonderfully creative ways. Unfortunately, the fixed camera and off and on platforming issues tend to put a bit of a damper on the party.

What we’re left with though is one of the most unique titles that the system has to offer. Even with the occasional control issues, this is one game that every Vita owner needs in their collection.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built-in screen capture feature.

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