At this year’s PAX, I played a short game demo that stole my heart. Now, three months later, I’ve finally been able to play Media Molecule’s Tearaway. Somehow, after so much anticipation, it exceeded my expectations.
Tearaway is about You. Yes, you, the player, and the tiny envelope person with a message for you. The player guides the chosen character—either Iota or Atoi—through a fantastic world constructed entirely from digital construction paper. The goal? Deliver the message, and in the meantime, stop the nasty newspaper Scraps from causing havoc in the paper world.
The game is made my Media Molecule, creators of the hit LittleBigPlanet franchise. Like LittleBigPlanet, Tearaway is an unconventional platformer with a charming protagonist. Tearaway takes things to the next level by giving the player a direct connection to the game world, thanks to the Vita’s front-facing camera.
The concept of the game is that a tear has opened between the game world and our world. If you look at the sky you can see your own face peering into the paper world from a hole in the sun. Characters react to your presence and talk about you as if you are some kind of god. In a sense, you are. Players press the back of the Vita (there’s a sensor there!) to poke their fingers through thinner parts of the world and manipulate objects, as well as smush the Scraps.
Tearaway breaks through the fourth wall in more ways than that. Throughout the game there are items that have been drained of color by the Scraps. You need to photograph them to restore them, and when you do you unlock a papercraft plan to create that object in real life. This means that when you’re satisfied with decorating the digital world, you and your kids can start decorating the real world with papercraft flora and fauna.
Unique PS Vita Controls
Tearaway makes a point of taking advantage of every single part of the Vita. That means platforming in this game has a bit of a learning curve, because you need to get accustomed to moving with the thumbsticks, making Iota or Atoi jump by tapping on the rear touchpad, moving objects on the touchscreen with your fingers, and using the right and left bumpers to blow and suck air. All these elements are introduced gradually, and by the end of the game I felt like a mastermind, my fingers dancing over the Vita as I helped Iota tackle his foes.
Combat in Tearaway was fun, but not challenging. When Iota or Atoi are hit too many times they will “die,” but immediately come back to life to finish the battle. Fights with Scraps consist of Iota or Atoi running or rolling around until they have an opportunity to grab a dazed Scrap and toss it so that it explodes into confetti. Players who fall off a ledge while platforming are generally taken back to the last checkpoint—and checkpoints are fairly frequent.
The game saves by this series of checkpoints, and also by bookmarks placed at the beginning of each “chapter.” You can go back and replay a chapter at any time—keeping the abilities that you gain later in the game.
Like LittleBigPlanet, which lets the player place stickers and objects all over the world, Tearaway features delightful customization. In keeping with the paper theme, the game lets you access a virtual cutting board where you can draw and cut shapes out of colorful construction paper—all with a finger on the touchscreen.
The decorations are then used to customize Iota or Atoi, as well as pretty up other characters. With my big fingers (useful for squashing Scraps, less useful for precise art) I was hard-pressed to make anything beautiful. But it didn’t matter—every decoration that I made and stuck to Iota’s face had a unique, handmade charm. And they were completely mine—no other Iota or Atoi looks exactly like mine. Though a lot of them look better.
Painfully Charming Characters
While its mechanics already distinguish Tearaway from other platformers, the characters really make it shine. Iota and Atoi are more than avatars; they are the player’s friends. The player gets to help them, decorate them, photograph them, and guide them. Iota or Atoi will respond when you stick your fingers into the world, or when they see your face in the sun. It’s painfully charming. I felt immediately connected to Iota when I played. He was my little buddy, and I wanted to protect and help him, and go on adventures with him forever.
Length and Replayability
Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever, and Tearaway took me about eight hours to play. It was eight hours of sheer quality and fun gameplay though, and I can’t find it in me to complain, because the pacing of the story was perfect. At a couple of points the game teased me into thinking I was on the last level, and each time I was filled with sadness because I wasn’t yet ready to go. When I finally reached the real ending, it felt natural and satisfying—if melancholy. It’s hard to say goodbye to a world and a character that you’ve had such wonderful adventures with, and Tearaway acknowledges this with its final send-off. It’s certainly a bittersweet experience—but one that is very touching.
Tearaway does have some replay value. For adults the allure of replay might be slight—though the lure of completionism is always powerful. Kids who have a strong imagination and high capacity for immersion might want to play Tearaway again and again. Tearaway brings its value into the real world as well, by rewarding the player with papercraft plans to recreate the game characters in real life. Replaying the game also gives you the option to redo some of the decorations you made. Not a huge fan of the crown you made for that squirrel, or the pattern you put on that elk? Try again, and see the world reshape itself around your creations.
The Big Takeaway
Tearaway is insanely cute, and very fun. It doesn’t feature any content that would make it inappropriate for kids, but later levels are pretty challenging. That being said, there is no upper age limit on this game; it has timeless appeal, and loads of charm. Making papercraft can be a great family activity, and some parents have even found that their kids were ditching the game for arts and crafts—before going back for more.
It is slightly short, but packed with emotion and a touching ending that will stick with you. If you have a Vita, Tearaway is a must-buy game. If you’re thinking of getting a Vita, put Tearaway in your list of reasons to do so.
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