Platforms: PlayStation 4
Tearaway Unfolded is a re-imagining of Tearaway, a 2013 release for the PlayStation Vita. While Tearaway was well received, the Vita isn’t the most popular of consoles. With Tearaway Unfolded, enough has changed that it’s close to being a whole new game. If you’ve played the original Tearaway, it’s worth it to give this one a try.
If you haven’t played Tearaway yet, now is the time to start.
The star of Tearaway is a little paper messenger, named either iota or atoi. The messenger’s journey is wrapped in a meta-story with two mischievous narrators and another co-star: You.
As the game opens, the narrators introduce You to the messenger and set up the drama to come. There is a tear in the sky and nasty newspaper scraps are pouring in and taking over. There are a load more problems besides. The messenger needs to deliver that message and fix the tear so that the paper world can get back to normal.
It’s a simple story that’s absolutely soaked in charm and a little weirdness. Everything in the game is modeled in paper. In fact, developer Media Molecule worked with craft paper to learn how to create the environments you see in the game. What they achieve is near-perfect realism, despite how obviously fantastical the world is.
When you go across a paper bridge, it bends under the weight of the messenger. Paper banners flap in the wind, and confetti flips and flutters through the air. It’s incredibly beautiful, and it all looks handmade.
The messenger’s quest to reach the tear and deliver the message takes you from a pastoral countryside, to a rowdy port town, to deep into the forest and… somewhere else entirely.
I won’t spoil it here. But Tearaway Unfolded’s three-act structure lets it take you a little deeper into the mythos of the paper world at each turn. Don’t be fooled by its twee beginnings. Tearaway Unfolded will take you to strange, unexpected places over the course of your journey.
Along the way, the game puts you through your paces with some of the most innovative uses of the Dualshock 4 that I’ve seen. It ramps things up slowly—if early gameplay doesn’t feel complex enough to you, don’t worry. Before the game’s halfway point, it gets challenging as anything.
At its core, Tearaway Unfolded is a platforming game. The variety of actions it introduces along the way set it apart. Early on, iota and atoi can’t jump at all. Instead, the player can press on the touchpad in the center of the controller to hit a drum in the game. That will send the messenger flying into the air.
The player also controls the light on the back of the controller. This light can be shone into the game world to clear newspaper, light a dark path, or just dazzle the paper people. My favorite touch: when you shine the light on the adorable monsters, they squint at how bright it is. It’s discovering little touches like this that make Tearaway Unfolded feel like a living, breathing world.
The touchpad is also used to blow a gust of wind, by swiping your thumb across it. This comes into play in a big way with one of the new gameplay elements: paper airplanes. In certain sections, you can use the wind to fold a paper airplane and send the messenger wheeling into the air. The flying sequences can either be really fun or really frustrating. In one open exporation section, I had a great time swooping around. A later section that requires some precision flying saw me dying repeatedly—it was just hard.
At other times, swiping on the touchpad is used to throw objects. If it sounds like a lot of uses for one button, yeah, it is. But they’re all distinctly defined, and I never got mixed up over what I was doing. The throwing action is actually really cool because it sends part of the world into your controller. Atoi or iota will pick up an item in the world, and you tilt your controller back, and then press square to make the character throw. And then you’ll hear the object land inside your controller and be able to aim and fire by swiping up on the touchpad. This is especially cool when you throw animals like squirrels or gophers and hear them squeaking and rattling away in the controller.
In later levels, the apparent existence of space inside your controller becomes a big deal. You’ll have to play the game to learn more, but I loved the way Tearaway Unfolded continually mixes up the digital and physical world.
The final thing you do with the touchpad is craft decorations.
This is one of my favorite aspects of Tearaway Unfolded. While the action gameplay itself can be pretty punishing in later levels, it is interspersed with these crafting sequences where you’re asked to design a banner, or decorate a pig, or make new eyes for someone whose eyes were stolen by squirrels… it’s a long story.
You can cut and layer colored craft paper on your cutting board, send it back into the world, and see your creation in action. Early on in the game I was asked to design a butterfly; since then I’ve seen them flitting around throughout the game.
If you have the PlayStation app on one of your devices, you can use the second screen function to add photos to the world. These will appear on surfaces and gradually fade away over time; it’s a kick, but it doesn’t quite live up to the original Tearaway’s ability to take selfies with your messenger. I don’t want to dwell on the differences between the two versions of Tearaway, but this was really the only thing that I missed.
The companion app can also be used to make decorations, just like the cutting board. If you want, you can let a friend do this while you play, and then use their decorations in the game. Same with the photos—every action with the companion app can be performed without interrupting your gameplay.
Speaking of photos, using Tearaway’s in-game camera is a big part of gameplay. The messenger has a camera (complete with different lenses and filters), which you use constantly during the game. One of the new additions in this version is the Animated Gif lens, which lets you capture a couple of seconds of footage. All these photos and gifs can be uploaded to your profile at tearaway.me, where you can stare fondly at them or share them on social media.
If it doesn’t sound like I’m excited about this, don’t worry, I am. When I play Tearaway Unfolded I’m taking photos and screencaps almost constantly because everything is so darn cute.
My major complaint about the gameplay is one shared with the original Tearaway: sometimes those camera angles are just unhelpful. Usually you can control the camera to some extent, but sometimes it locks into place and makes it difficult to see where you’re going, which is not great when you’re in a hard platforming section.
Awkward camera controls aren’t enough to offset everything this game has going for it. Just be warned.
Tearaway Unfolded is rated E for Mild Cartoon Violence. Everything is made of paper; when you defeat a Scrap it explodes into confetti. When you are defeated, whether by being smacked around too much or falling, your envelope splats up against the screen and you respawn instantly.
There’s no keeping track of lives or health. You want to keep the messenger out of harm’s way as much as you can, although it can take a few hits before dying.
I talked earlier about Tearaway Unfolded mixing up the digital and physical worlds. You have the digital world that looks crafted from paper and seems so real you feel like you can reach out and touch it. And at every turn, you have characters and objects crossing back and forth between the paper world and ours. This is a game that knows it’s a game and makes blatant references to the controller, the buttons, and your own control of the character.
It doesn’t feel gimmicky, because it’s all so well integrated. I felt a real connection, especially to my little messenger. There are so many interactions that bring your relationship to life. When you shine the light, the messenger will look at you wide-eyed. As you trot along, sometimes the messenger will tilt its head back to see you, and if you throw something into its arms it’ll catch it.
I was always confident that Media Molecule could bring the same intimacy of Tearaway’s Vita version to the PlayStation 4. I didn’t expect to love the changes as much as I did. If you’re concerned about playing the same game twice, know that there are added levels, and some of the levels from the original game have been totally changed.
One thing worth mentioning: I love the trophies for this game! There are so many quirky trophies (like a picture of a gopher riding an elk with a black-and-white filter…) that carry the same playful spirit that the game itself does. It made trophy hunting fun rather than drudgery.
Anyway, I loved this game. If you love challenging platformers, humor, and getting overly attached to video game characters, there’s a chance you’ll fall in love with Tearaway Unfolded too.