As a day-one PlayStation Vita owner, I don't subscribe to the notion that the handheld lacks quality games. I've enjoyed plenty on the Vita, but I can also understand how non-owners would have trouble identifying a killer app for the system. Many of the titles have been represented elsewhere, with games like Persona 4 and franchises like Killzone. Sure, Gravity Daze is a unique Vita experience, but it's not a system seller.
Tearaway, however, could definitely be that game. Really, it should be that game. Without a doubt, it is the best thing I've played on the Vita, and it represents an experience that can't be had anywhere else. That's not necessarily due to visuals or other technical limitations; rather, Tearaway uses just about every feature the Vita has to offer. While some titles have felt a little hamstrung in their decisions to include rear touchpad functionality or overly awkward gyroscope controls, Tearaway executes each function in a near-flawless manner. Even the external front and rear camera are tossed into the mix, drawing the player into Tearaway's charming paper craft world.
Tearaway puts the player in control of a male messenger, Iota, or the female, Atoi. You'll guide these walking, emoting envelopes across a number of open stages in a quest to deliver a letter to you, the player. See, you'll also inhabit this world and not only guide Iota or Atoi through the game, but you'll also overlook events in the game world via the sun, which your face constantly inhabits through the Vita camera function.
At different points in the game, windows are opened in the reality of Tearaway that peer into the world outside of the Vita. It'll showcase your face at different points and some objects or people that are picked up via the rear camera. Sometimes, these images can be captured and used as textures for different models, but beyond that gimmick, I think people will find that Tearaway plays with fourth-wall-breaking concepts in a way that few games ever have. It doesn't rely heavily on this, so if you're not a huge fan of seeing yourself while playing games, you won't have contend with it much. It's a neat little touch that makes Tearaway feel unique, and it plays into the latter half of the story in some interesting ways.
As the game begins, Iota and Atoi don't have much in the way of traditional platforming abilities. You start off doing little more than walking around the world, interacting with various animals and creatures, and occasionally completing quests to collect confetti. Confetti is essentially in-game currency, which you can use to purchase paper craft pieces that can be used to change the appearance of your messengers or other characters.
If you don't find a pre-created piece that suits your needs, you can create your own. At any time, you can hold your finger down on the screen where Iota or Atoi stands, and you'll enter a customization screen. From there, you can select different-colored pieces of construction paper, draw designs on the paper, and then cut away the excess to create new shapes. You can stack shapes on top of one another for more intricate designs, and fans have already contributed a bunch of guides and ideas. There are also real paper craft model designs that can be unlocked, which are then tied into your PSN account for access through Tearaway.me. Basically, if you want to bring some of the characters from the game into the real world, Media Molecule gives you enough info and plans to get you started on the actual hobby of paper crafting.
Of course, Media Molecule is already a developer who's well known for creating games that empower players to create their own fun. What I liked about Tearaway is that it offered up a more guided experience than something like Little Big Planet. There's a bunch of customization, but at the same time, Tearaway feels more like a traditional 3-D platformer and features controls and stages that put Little Big Planet to shame. When you gain the ability to do things like jump and roll, you'll have a hard time believing that you're not playing the game on a Nintendo-branded device. At times, Tearaway feels in line with the design sensibilities of Nintendo EAD Tokyo, which is about the highest level of praise I can heap upon what Media Molecule has accomplished.
What really helps sell Tearaway as a remarkable experience is the incredible amount of detail and beauty packed into its unique visuals. While the thought of playing a game crafted solely out of paper might lead you to believe you'll see a flat and lifeless world, Tearaway is anything but. There are some amazing moments scattered across this adventure, with unique ideas formed from paper crafting that allow for realistic depictions of unexpected elements, like water. The outdoor dock area really stood out, as it's surrounded by water with waves of paper crashing against structures. Seeing these neat little curls of paper flow seamlessly against items in the world was captivating and memorable.
The incredible visual design is also aided by one of the best original soundtracks I've heard in recent memory. There's a whimsical nature to much of the music in Tearaway that encapsulates the feeling of joy you'll constantly feel while playing. There are a lot of charming melodies that are easy to remember and hum with long after you're done playing, which is a sign that Tearaway's soundtrack is truly special.
Finally, there's Tearaway's control scheme, which would only work well on the Vita hardware. There are a host of touch-screen functions, which have the player unwrapping presents, pulling down pieces of paper for platforms, and attacking the villainous, cube-like scraps that act as enemies. Front touch-screen functionality and traditional controls are rarely handled well, but Tearaway provides an excellent mix between the two that never becomes frustrating.
The rear touchpad is generally underutilized by software on the Vita. You'll come across sections in Tearaway's world that are marked with the Circle, Cross, Square and Triangle design found on the back of the Vita. These sections either allow you to tap the back of the Vita to make Iota or Atoi jump higher, or for a more dynamic effect, allow an in-game human finger to puncture the world of Tearaway.
In the way of negatives, there's very little that I find at fault with Tearaway. My biggest issue came from some of the platforming sections that involved the rear touchpad. There are a handful of sequences where you'll need to bounce across small platforms by utilizing the rear touchpad, and this becomes tricky because the ground shadow isn't shown on the marked platforms beneath an airborne Iota or Atoi. It makes it difficult to tell where they'll land, and it can often lead to some cheap deaths. The checkpoint system in Tearaway is incredibly lenient, and loading from death is remarkably quick, so at worst, you'll lose seconds of gameplay when it happens.
Basically, if you own a Vita, you should own Tearaway. For me, it's the best piece of software the handheld has seen to date, and it's the best Sony release since The Last of Us. It's a remarkably interesting, charming and emotional platformer from Media Molecule, and it shows that this studio is capable of more than just Little Big Planet. While this is certainly one of the busiest video game seasons in recent years, you should take a little time out of your next-gen schedule to experience a modern-day classic.
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