Review: Tearaway Unfolded (PS4)

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Title: Tearaway Unfolded
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (6.6 GB)
Release Date: September 8, 2015
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Media Molecule
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: E
Tearaway Unfolded is exclusive to PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Golden Minecart Award Winner 2015
– Most Unique Experience (PS4)

Editor’s Note:
Portions of this review also appear in our PS Vita coverage of Tearaway.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 439 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
This is not the Tearaway you think you know. Sure it looks the same, and some of the levels may even be familiar, but a DualShock 4 is not a PlayStation Vita and Tearaway Unfolded is not Tearaway. Maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, maybe it’s not. You’ll probably need to figure that one out on your own.

Let’s talk about the game first. There’s a papercraft world out there in some other dimension. You, yes literally “you”, have broken through the barrier separating our worlds, scaring the inhabitants of this other world with your ability to physically reach into it 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, well… to you.

In the original game, Media Molecule took advantage of every single input option on the Vita to accomplish an amazingly deep level of interactivity and immersion. For this reimagining of the tale they had to find a way to replicate that level of immersion with a DualShock 4 (DS4) and they’ve succeeded.

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Without all the tricks and nuances of the DS4, Tearaway Unfolded would not exist on PlayStation 4. It’s absolutely vital, and much like with the Vita, every single feature on the controller was used in the game and every last bit of it feels natural and integral to the story.

Interestingly enough the PlayStation 4 Camera, a very useful addition and a fun part of the story, is not required. Much like any add-on there’s no guarantee that everyone buying the game would have one, and requiring a peripheral that costs more than the game itself would be downright foolish.

… it’s not the same thing you may have experienced on the Vita …
If you have the camera you’ll be treated to a lot of fun interactivity but what happens if you don’t? If your camera is unhooked or, gasp, you never bought one, the hole in the sky where you reside is a bright white instead. You also won’t be able to take pictures of things in the real world and use them as patterns in the game world (see my Hartford Whalers beauty below). Seriously though, it doesn’t drastically alter the game in any way, but it’s much more fun and interesting if you do have the camera hooked up.

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The story itself is excellent but it’s not the same thing you may have experienced on the Vita. By necessity, large sections of the game would have to change simply because the player doesn’t have access to a back touch screen, a back camera, or potentially any camera for that matter, and there’s no guarantee of a microphone. I know, I know, a microphone/earpiece combo comes with every PS4, but how many of those were lost or even thrown out with the box because people didn’t realize they were there.

Before we get into the control differences, let’s talk about the story a bit. 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 Unfolded so unique is the interaction you have with the world.

… a sense of childlike giddiness and wonder …
Because a DualShock 4 is not a Vita and because the folks at Media Molecule wanted to utilize the DS4 to its fullest, this game is a full-scale reimagining of the original. Sure a few sections here or there are similar and a couple feel nearly the same, but even in those there were changes made to accommodate the different control scheme.

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There are a number of twists and turns, more so if you’ve played the original, 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.

Obviously, I’m not going to spoil any of it here but I was genuinely surprised and had a sense of childlike giddiness and wonder during several critical moments in the game. You’ll have to play it for yourself to understand. Keep in mind that this is a very beefy game. It’s much longer than you’d expect a $40 game to be.

… the Light Bar nearly steals the show …
Where the original Tearaway made it pretty clear where you could swipe things on screen, this version tends to hide them a bit more, making them a little less obvious. The Touch Pad on the controller does a fine job in this respect and gets quite a workout over the course of the game. At times it almost feels like the controller was designed specifically with this game in mind rather than the other way around.

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The DS4’s Light Bar nearly steals the show as you’ll be using it to illuminate darker areas, to clean up the mess that the Scraps (your enemies) have made, and more. You can actually hypnotize the Scraps with the light and lead them to their doom.

Things really get fun, and a little surreal, when you’ll have the Messenger take an object they’re holding and toss it directly at the screen. An object that enters your controller can then be thrown back into the game world as a deadly projectile with a swipe on the touch pad. But before you throw something back, shake that controller a bit and listen to the object (or creature) rattling around in there – it’s magical.

… the Animated GIF Lens …
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 paper in several different colors to make your own creations. Not full on 3D creations mind you, think of them more as analogous to the costume parts in LittleBigPlanet.

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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. Much like on the Vita, trying to make a somewhat precise design, or even to connect a beginning point to an end point while drawing on the touch pad can be a problem. (See my ugly crown on the squirrel above)

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. Understandably, the game is about whimsey and fun, so the perfect drawing might not fit as well. But when you can see it in your mind, but don’t have to tools to create it even if it’s relatively simple, it can be a drag.

… frustratingly difficult in certain areas …
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. New lenses and filters are available that weren’t in the original version of the game. These are all available for purchase with the confetti you’ve found throughout the game and one of them is the Animated GIF Lens which was used to take all the GIF’s in this review.

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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.

Early on in the game, I thought my previous complaints had been fixed for the most part. The deeper I got though, the more they cropped up. 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.

… it flirts a little too much with that line …
The biggest problem however is in the platforming and it tends to be more pronounced in the later levels. Because of the semi-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.

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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. This was my biggest problem with the game on the Vita and it’s still here.

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. It is disappointing that the issues are still here though.

… the effect is flat-out amazing …
I understand there’s a fine line between challenging and unfair but I really feel that for a game as fun and magical as Tearaway Unfolded is, it flirts a little too much with that line for my enjoyment.

Yup, that's the Whalers shirt I was wearing. Grabbed by the PlayStation camera and inserted into the game as a texture.

Yup, that’s the Whalers shirt I was wearing, grabbed by the PlayStation camera and inserted into the game as a texture.

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.

As long as you have the PlayStation camera hooked up, seeing yourself brought into this world is another treat as you’ll pop up in the sky and other places at unexpected times. Throwing something at the screen and then from the DS4 back into the game world never gets old.

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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. Lorna Brown has been replaced this time around with Alicia Suszka-Fielder as The Fortune Teller and she’s made things even better.

She fits so well with the returning and incomparable Richard Ridings. That dude has a fantastic voice, evidenced by his long list of voiceover credits. And for you parents out there, he’s also the voice of Daddy Pig in the Peppa Pig series. That’s one that genuinely made me laugh out loud when I realized it.

… Everything is beautifully crafted …
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) and Kenneth C.M. Young (AudBod), 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.

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Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only, but… if you have a Vita, smartphone, or tablet, a second person can add to your adventure. Using the PS4 Link app on the Vita, or the PlayStation App on your smart device, you can connect to your PS4 using the Second Screen option.

Once connected you’ll see an artboard with a few choices. You can create something by drawing directly on the screen and send it into the game where it’ll be replicated and scattered to the winds, flying all around the level. You can also take a picture of something or use an image already on the device. When these are chosen they’ll usually replace paper in the environment.

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Finally, you can use a stylus on a tablet to create much more precise drawings. On the Vita any line you were drawing was always obscured by your finger, often making it an exercise in frustration. You still don’t have a fine level of control, but one of my complaints from the original has been (mostly) eliminated with this option.

All of your Second Screen options are context sensitive, so depending on where the other player is within the game, you may get different results. It’s a cool way of keeping spectators occupied and involved and allowing them to be as creative as they want.

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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. Much like the original Tearaway on the Vita, they’ve taken advantage of every last input the DualShock 4 has to offer, using each of them in some wonderfully creative ways.

There’s so much more here than in the original and it’s told in a way that’s unique to the PlayStation 4 and DualShock 4, meaning, this game couldn’t exist in its present form on any other platform. Everything is beautifully crafted in a way that makes it all feel natural and never forced in terms of how the DS4’s inputs are used.

As I played I felt as if my camera and platforming complaints about the original game had been largely fixed. While they tend to come into play later on in the game, they’re still there, and they still serve to suck some of the fun out of an otherwise magical experience.

What we’re left with though is one of the most unique titles on the PlayStation 4. This is a really long game with a lot to find, making replays a must and at $40 it’s an absolute steal. Even with the occasional control issues, this is one game that everyone needs in their collection.

Score:
9.0

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

The in-game shots were uploaded to tearaway.me and then downloaded for this review. The Vita shots were used to illustrate the Second Screen functionality.

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Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

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