The first time my face popped up to animate the sun in Tearaway's papercraft world, I beamed, as a sun should. From ear to ear, I smiled, and I watched my smile grow in real time.
And the little paper messenger girl named Atoi, who is fashioned out of an envelope, looked up at me with what I interpreted as trust and longing. Because although I mostly control her, using the Vita's joysticks to make her hop around colourful construction paper levels, I also direct and protect her as the being that lives in the sun. I play as You, as the sun that oversees everything. And most everyone but Atoi seems to be baffled by my presence. (You can also choose the male messenger as the protagonist. His name is Iota.)
If paper trees and paper animals and a paper protagonist are the good entities of this world, angry scraps of paper are its enemies. And as you get further into the game you'll meet tougher enemies that can fly or throw spit balls of paper at you. It's elementary school all over again.
As a You, you have several ways of manipulating the world to help your messenger reach you, which is the ultimate goal in the game. Using the Vita's rear touch panel, you can poke your fingers through indicated parts of the floor, moving objects around or even hitting the scraps. While everything else is the texture of paper splashed in some colourful shade, your fingers (represented in a skin tone of your choosing) poking through look like real fingers, nails and all.
You can unfold pieces of paper to create new bridges. You can peel back other pieces of paper to reveal hidden rooms. You can give the messenger a boost when she's standing on a bounceable part of the floor. Some of these levels can get a little tricky, requiring you to simultaneously move Atoi while you use your fingers on the Vita's underbelly to do the rest of the work.
All the while you're interacting with the world in ways that don't necessarily tie into its more game-y moments. You're taking pictures of creatures and objects that have been drained of colour (taking their picture imbues them with the orange and pinks of the rest of the world). You can collect confetti that's sometimes strewn about on the path and sometimes hidden. Confetti points can be used to unlock new pieces of flare and facial features for your messenger — everything from funky eyeballs to cat pins — as well as features for your camera. Including Instagram-like filters for capturing those retro moments. And you better believe I spent every loose leaf of paper maximising the zoom, unlocking the macro lens and that high contrast filter.
You can take selfies of your messenger or even selfies of You, yourself, the player. Tearaway is fairly simple as a game, and quickly gets redundant and almost predictable. You'll meet a few new features like sticky paper coated with glue. You can walk upside down so long as your feet are sticking on that part of the paper bridge. It gets a little tougher and there are some time pressures further down the way. But you'll feel pretty familiar with the game by then. So what held my interest was seeing the little paper messenger through her journey. It was unlocking decorations to change her style and take pictures of her proudly showing it off on a different glossy filter.
As a platform adventure game, Tearaway isn't mindblowing. But in how it connects you to its world and its protagonist, in the ways in which it lets you indulge in playing dress up and snapping shareable pictures, that's where Tearaway shines. You can take pictures of your brown Domo-kun blanket to make the texture of a deer's coat. Or maybe a squirrel needs a new look, and you can take a picture of your tabby cat to create a pattern based on her fur. You'll draw and cut out flames from pieces of cardboard to light the way and snowflakes to complete the ambiance of winter.
And as a Vita game, too, Tearaway takes advantage of its platform. As the You of this narrative, you're constantly tapping and sliding across the Vita's rear touch pad. You'll think from the perspective of two protagonists: yourself, the god-like overseer, and the messenger you're guiding along safely to you.
When you play a game, chances are you're somehow inserting yourself into its story. You're the one holding the gun, making the decisions, climbing walls. So it's especially delightful when a game actually includes you, the real you, in it somehow.