When the Vita game Tearaway came out in November of 2013, it was hard not to feel bad for the little guy. Here was this charming, idiosyncratic game, released exclusively on a stumbling handheld console in the same month as the PS4 and Xbox One were hogging all the limelight. Poor Tearaway!
How nice, then, that the game is getting another shot thanks to Tearaway Unfolded, an updated and expanded version coming next week to PS4. I've been playing the game off an on for the last couple of days and find myself just as won over by its distinctive charms as I was — and our reviewer Tina Amini was — when it came out two years ago.
Tearaway is another strange creation from Media Molecule, a British studio best known as the the starry-eyed drama kids of Sony's video game empire, as well as for making LittleBigPlanet. Like LBP, Tearaway is a game that's half-platformer, half "go nuts and make stuff!" You jump around, gather collectables, solve puzzles and battle weird enemies, all while creating papercraft creatures and contraptions that make the game's levels customised and personal.
For example: There is a squirrel king, and he needs a crown. Maybe you would like to make it for him! Or, in an early scene in the game, you're asked to craft a wing for a butterfly. You trace an outline, pick a colour, and reshape and resize the wing. When you're done… voila! All of the butterflies around you have wings like the ones you made. It's a little thing that gets cooler over time, as your creations manifest themselves in the world in unexpected ways.
Tearaway puts you in control of an anthropomorphic envelope named Iota or Atoi, depending on if you choose to play as a boy or a girl-envelope. (I played as Iota this time around.) Turns out, Iota's job is to deliver a message to… You, the player, who actually inhabits the world via various cameras and touch interfaces.
The characters in the game are aware of your presence, and refer to you as a "You," which is apparently some sort of benevolent demigod. If you look up at the moon or sun, you'll see your own stupid face staring back at you. (The new version uses the PS4 camera instead of the Vita's camera, so the end result is more zoomed-out and, well, flattering than the Vita version. You don't need a PS4 Camera to enjoy the game, but it's a fun addition.)
I haven't played a ton of Tearaway Unfolded — three or four hours — but I like what I've played so far. Some thoughts:
All The Vita Stuff Has Been Reimagined, And Works
Much of Tearaway Unfolded has been updated to work with the PS4, which has led to a more drastic overhaul than your average handheld-to-console port. The original game was deliberately made to make creative use of the Vita's many peculiar input mechanisms, and those have been necessarily removed from Unfolded. In their place, you'll use every part of the DualShock 4 controller.
Where once your fingers popped into the world to push around baddies, now your DS4 light bar will shine a light beam to hypnotize enemies and lead them to their doom. You'll use the touch-pad in inventive ways, too, clicking it to launch your character into the air from certain trampolines, and swiping it to generate gusts of wind.
The Second-Screen App Adds A Lot
The in-game papercrafting works well enough via the DS4's touchpad, though it will never be as seamless as it was using the Vita touchscreen. Media Molecule compensates by supporting the PlayStation mobile app, which lets either you or a second player constantly input via a proper touch screen. (You can even use a Vita for this.) If you draw something in the app while playing, you can tap a button and have it manifest itself in the game.
For example: On my iPad, I drew a (sad) version of the Kotaku "K":
I hit the "send" button, and this happened in the game:
It's raining Kotaku! I then rebranded my little main character. I think he looks swell.
The second-screen stuff is neat, though I was annoyed to find that I lost my previous creations when my iPad went to sleep and the PS app had to re-connect. Still, the extra input source is nice, and it seems like it'd be a terrific way for two people — a parent and child, two siblings, etc. — to have fun playing together.
As a bonus, if you take a picture with the app and send it to the game, weird stuff like this can happen:
Thanks for the nightmares, Tearaway!
It Plays Pretty Well
Media Molecule is still overcoming the challenge presented by combining a wild creative toolset with an actual puzzle-platformer. If pressed, I'd say that while Tearaway will never be Super Mario 3D World, it certainly plays more responsively than LittleBigPlanet. Some of the story challenges I've come up against are surprisingly involved and difficult, forcing me to manipulate enemies on the screen with motion controls while steering Iota clear of them with the thumbsticks. It's odd, often interesting stuff, and while it's too chaotic and slippery to feel truly masterable, I've had fun.
It Looks Lovely On PS4
The game looks terrific, running in high-definition and sticking with a fairly solid 60fps frame-rate that, at its smoothest, greatly helps this weird papercraft fantasyland come alive. It looks lovely even in a lower-framerate GIF:
The frame-rate does take some significant hits at times, though, chugging along before jostling/catching its way back up to smoothsville. It's not a huge deal for a game like this, and by and large, Unfolded looks tremendous — and runs smoothly — on a big screen.
Every Game Should Let You Make GIFs
The splendid in-game camera returns, and this time it is possible to make GIFs and upload them to your linked profile on the game's website. I'm sensing that in-game GIF-making is about to become a trend. At least, I hope it does. My kingdom for a "GIF" option in the PS4 share menu!
Here is a GIF I made in Tearaway Unfolded:
I follow a familiar pattern when it comes to Media Molecule games. At first, I'm charmed — won over by the soundtracks, the lovely ugliness of everything, the sense of play and earnest worship of creativity. Soon I begin to feel overwhelmed, as the game starts pushing me to share my creations to a new profile on its website, download others' stuff into my game, and so on. I lose focus a bit. Not long after that, I'm off playing another game.
It isn't such a bad way to play, and I'm sure lots of other people — particularly people looking for something to play with their kids — have longer relationships with these kinds of games. For my part, although I rarely finish Media Molecule games, I have a good time losing my way. (And let's be real: I don't finish most games I play.)
Like its Vita predecessor, Tearaway Unfolded is an uncommonly joyful game. Back in 2013, it was a shame to see such the original get swallowed by the inescapable excitement surrounding the PS4 and Xbox One. It's fitting, then, that Tearaway would find new life on one of the very consoles that so overshadowed it two years ago. I'm happy that those who missed it on Vita will have a chance to check it out.