Tearaway takes a unique approach to dual playable characters. You control Iota or Atoi, a messenger made of paper with an envelope for a head, as they try to deliver a message to you, the one playing the game. And you use the Vita’s various control schemes to affect the gameworld as a god-like being to help guide Iota/Atoi on their adventure. Throw in the game’s one of a kind artstyle and you get a very original adventure bursting at the seams with charm and creativity.
It’s hard to not start with the gameworld that Media Molecule has created here. Tearaway sets you into a brilliantly built papercraft world. It’s extremely unique and this really adds to the fun of exploring its every nook and cranny. It’s hard to not love all the little details that accent this universe like the look of the ripples in puddles as you run through them for example. Seeing the way everything comes together is fascinating and oddly enough you can unlock plans to create the papercraft in real life, so you actually can see how some of them are made.
The papercraft aspect permeates the gameplay as well. For one there is a lot of in-game crafting. You can customize your player character with all kinds of decorations you cut out and create. You’ll also be tasked with making stuff for various NPCs. You can put as much or as little time into this aspect as you want. Much like in LittleBigPlanet, I’ve seen some insane creations (meanwhile I’m sitting here wondering how they have the patience to draw all this stuff with their fingers!). You can also use the game’s camera to take pictures of patterns to color different things in the game which is a neat touch. The camera itself is a really great mechanic as well. You can snap pics in game (including selfies of Iota) and use a number of filters and lenses. I know I found myself taking lots of photos throughout.
The game isn’t as focused on the creation elements as LittleBigPlanet was. As I mentioned earlier the game involves you controlling a character on the screen and the player themselves in the game and story too. As Iota/Atoi, the game plays like an adventure/platformer of sorts. You’ll explore the world collecting doodads and doing tasks for characters you meet while trying to deliver your message. I was pleasantly surprised by the game’s platforming. It’s solid stuff bolstered by some interesting mechanics and creative levels designs. This is due in large part to the player’s involvement in the game. As the god-like being, you’ll actually peer into the paper world through the sun via the game’s camera. You can manipulate the environment to create new paths for your little paper friend with the game’s touchscreen. The game even uses the back touchpad well. Tapping it will activate bounce pads which help to create some unique jumping sequences. More interestingly you can poke your fingertips into the game to take out baddies and manipulate the environment and the game actually simulates your fingers tearing through paper and into Iota’s world (which you can see in the screen above). I guess the amount of ways you use the Vita’s various features might not be for some, but I really enjoyed it. None of it felt very forced (well maybe the seldom use of the mic, but that didn’t even bother me) and it all came together to make a very fresh gameplay experience.
And there is also all these little things that added to the joy of playing Tearaway. Like the way you way the gameplay matches the artstyle (you walk on walls… that have glue on them, you crumple into a little paper ball to roll around and so on). The fitting musical score which is surprisingly varied with a mix of different styles. The charming cast of characters you meet along the way from elks searching for a new look to the pigs you help get together for a date to a little buddy you adventure alongside for part of your journey (one of my favorite parts). There are even some touching moments sprinkled throughout the game’s narrative. It all comes together to create such a wonderful experience, one that feels greater than the sum of individual parts I’m explaining here.
The biggest knock against the game is probably that it just doesn’t pack a ton of content. Unless you get really into making papercraft inside or outside the game, you can see and do everything before too long (if I had to guess maybe 12-15 hours for 100%). I guess the combat isn’t anything to write home about, but it isn’t really a sore spot either. And while I enjoyed them, people’s mileage may vary when it comes to the game’s touchscreen and camera functions because that stuff always seems to be divisive. These just feel like minor issues when I’m enjoying a game as much as I enjoyed this one.
I’d been trying to find an apt comparison for Tearaway. Maybe because when it comes to new IPs, it is the easy way out. If I can find the game it is like, it will be easier to describe. I thought about saying, “It’s like Journey if Journey were an actual video game.” There is some truth there (though I also wanted to take another potshot at my favorite video game punching bag). It kind of reminds of me early 3D platformers like Mario 64 or Banjo Kazooie which mixed typical hop and bop gameplay with some adventure elements. Even Psychonauts for similar reasons as those, but also for its creativity and on a more superficial level its lanky playable main character. And it certainly exudes the kind of charm that developer Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet series does. But none of these quite nail Tearaway down. It is its own thing. Beautiful, creative, original. It will put a smile on your face and it will be there until you reach the end. It’s the kind of game we need more of on the Vita or really any platform. It’s a brilliant adventure that I really fell in love with. It’s kind of hard not to.