Tearaway (PS Vita) Review
Ben Sheene / Dec 10th, 2013 No Comments
Since its debut nearly two years ago, the PlayStation Vita has been on a constant uphill battle to stay relevant. At launch, games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048 proved that the system could deliver on its promise of generating console-like experiences on a handheld. Though those titles are fun, they simply mimic their superior console brethren.
Then Gravity Rush came along and proved the Vita was capable of delivering fun, creative experiences that incorporated those unique controls. “But where’s the killer app?” people say. 2013 has certainly been kind to the Vita with games like Killzone: Mercenary and Soul Sacrifice. Sony truly grabbed everyone’s attention when they revealed the Remote Play functionality between the Vita and the PS4. Suddenly interest swelled and the Vita’s appeal grew. But where was that killer app? Where was the actual game that could sell people on all the touch screens and cameras and motion control the Vita was offering? Well, that’s where Tearaway comes in.
In Tearaway players take on two roles, that of papery messenger Iota (or Atoi if you prefer his female counterpart) and You – the player. Using the Vita’s front-facing camera, the player’s face will be projected right into the center of the sun in Tearaway’s world. The easiest (and most terrifying) comparison is that weird sun baby from Teletubbies. And while it may be initially jarring to see yourself projected in the game, this is the first of many tricks that Media Molecule uses to bring players into the world.
Iota’s mission is clear: deliver a message to the player, to You. The player’s role as a You is to assist and guide Iota in his quest by interacting with and manipulating the world. The colorful characters of Valleyfold and Sogport refer to the Yous as a god-like force capable of creating things out thin air who is at first terrifying but then admired. On the surface, this is all standard adventure fare. Iota and You face many obstacles and personalities on the way towards the finish line. Even the main enemies – Scraps who have come from the You’s world – only wreck minimal havoc and don’t pose too much of a threat. But the true magic of Tearaway is how it brings the player into this world and gives weight and meaning to their actions.
[adsense250itp]Throughout the story, Iota comes across many characters in need of something. One of the first of these occurrences is a squirrel who says he is the Squirrel King that lost his crown. As a You the player must then make a crown using the game’s crafting mechanic. From that point on, the Squirrel King always has that crown whenever the player meets him. During a snowy level the player gets an opportunity to create snowflakes. Those unique snowflakes then blow around the level as not only your creation but a part of the game world. Tearaway is full of these moments where the player is asked (as a You) to become involved and have a hand in the story. Only during puzzles and combat does it ever feel like the player is intervening or stopping something; instead they are creating, breathing life into the game.
Most games have a main protagonist that represents the actions and desires of the player. Mass Effect has Commander Shepard. The Witcher has Geralt. Skyrim has the Dragonborn. They are extensions of the player made out of polygons. In Tearaway, Iota functions as a mere character in the player’s – Your – game that you happen to control. The importance of the You allows the player to be an actual part of forming the story. No longer being a passive observer but an active participant is player agency at its finest. Tearaway also asks the player to take pictures of things around their own world that are then brought into the game, further enriching the experience. All of this culminates in a surprisingly surreal, poignant ending that changes the way gamers might think about how stories are told.
Gameplay & Controls
One of the biggest selling points of Tearaway is that is makes use of every feature the Vita has to offer. Both cameras are extensively used. Rear and front touch pads are integral to interacting with the world. Even the capabilities as a microphone along with motion controls are put in. But where several games and ports on the Vita either tack on these controls, use the bare minimum or poorly implement them, Tearaway executes them with care and accuracy. Players will use the rear touch pad to use drum-like surfaces to bounce Iota higher or push their fingers up and into the game world to move platforms or block obstacles.
The camera is often used to take pictures of surfaces in their world that will be used inside the game. A cute application of this is when asked to find a new coat of fur for a colorless animal. Whether it is a shower curtain, pizza or even piece of cardboard, finding the right pattern is something most players will seek out. That new pattern or image is then used throughout the game and acts as a smile-inducing reminder of past deeds. Places where the touch screen can be used are marked with shiny thumbprint labels. Platforms can be swiped into existence or buildings can be folded down to reveal a secret. A rough spot with the touch controls is that crafting and creating objects out of paper is a bit touchy to say the least. Players with larger fingers might have trouble with being accurate enough to truly invoke the objects they had in mind. A simple solution might just be using a stylus but rotating objects also requires using two fingers to twist them, which can be awkward. However, even when screwing up your artistic vision, it’s impossible not to be charmed by the pure effort of the game’s creativity. Despite the weird and awkward bits, the fact that all these elements work so cohesively together is a joy and a relief.
There’s no denying that Media Molecule is behind Tearaway. Like Little Big Planet before it, players can customize the world and Iota by throwing all kinds of stamps and decorations on them. Where Little Big Planet allowed players to create their own worlds, Tearaway focuses more on creating a unique story. Platforming in Tearaway is by no means difficult but there are some challenging bits. Things stay fresh by incorporating new powers and items over the course of the game. Combat is never difficult but also doesn’t feel unnecessary. Fighting scraps is just one of the many obstacles in Your and Iota’s way as the game never focuses on fighting. The initial story will take around 8 – 10 hours to complete but there are plenty of secrets to be found including papercraft models that give players the actual plans to make the various objects and characters in real life.
Graphics & Sound
It’s hard to judge the papercraft aesthetic without seeing it in action. Screenshots of Tearaway certainly allude to the artistic beauty the game has. A still image looks as if the scene and its characters were made from construction paper, glue and a very skilled hand. But watching it all move and work together makes for one of the prettiest games in the Vita’s library. Seeing a paper waterfall make ripples and splashes is a true sight to behold. Never once does Media Molecule break the aesthetic and it only serves to further draw the player into the fiction. The game knows when to impress with action sequences and big levels and it knows how to be profound with understated moments in a desert or on top of a mountain. From time to time, the game does suffer from slowdown and Iota is able to pass or fall through the paper scenery. Players who are too curious about their surroundings might find themselves glitching into an abyss but a generous checkpoint system ensures little progress is lost.
An absence of dialogue isn’t missed due to the adorable gibberish uttered by Iota and every other character in the game. It works much like a storybook where the player is able to come up with their own voices and ideas for how things should sound. That simple approach is complimented by an incredible soundtrack. Full of themes that evoke folk music, carnivals and even action movies inject further life into a world that is already overflowing with wonder.
Tearaway is painfully cute. Imagining a game that could make a player smile more would be difficult. Though the game rarely asks you to, every time Your face shows up in the sun, it’s hard not to wave and make faces at the world below you. You the player are a part of those creature’s lives and are helping them live it. As the story comes to a close, Tearaway reflects on itself and the player’s actions. The moment makes for an incredible ending with a powerful emotional impact that is sure to leave all but the most heartless a little wet around the eyes.
The way Media Molecule creates a harmony with the PlayStation Vita is a revelation. The concepts used here could not only make for a great sequel but some potentially incredible moments on the PlayStation 4. Does Sony have a new mascot on its hands with Iota? Perhaps. Tearaway might not be perfect all around but looking past some occasionally awkward controls, there is little to dislike here. The game proves the Vita’s potential and shouldn’t be missed. For that it receives our Editor’s Choice Award.
tags: Media Molecule , ps vita , review , sony , Tearaway , vita