Tearaway Review: Papercraft wonder
Tearaway feels like an olive branch for the creative and lazy.
Developer Media Molecule has made a name for themselves with games that allow the player to create, but they’ve never greased the gears of the mind quite like this. Tearaway isn’t a game about creating your own levels or sharing epic remakes of Super Mario Bros. 1-1. It’s about personalizing the world as you play.
That means being able to adorn your hero, Iota, with giant boxing gloves, horns, or a pig face. You could remove his eyes completely, or decorate him with naughty bits if you’re into that kind of thing (and then suddenly this isn’t a kid’s game anymore). You can buy pre-made graphics using your collected confetti, or just create your own in an intuitive workshop where you can trace shapes, cut them out, and piece them together.
You may find a character who wishes they had a fine moustache, and the game will ask you to draw one. At another point, a character wishes it would snow, so you design a snowflake that begins falling in the game world. After a while, you realize you can do whatever you want, and that’s where the brilliance of Tearaway really shines. It doesn’t demand creativity, it encourages it. It might rain hotdogs in your world, and that bit of personalization goes a long way.
“Your story” is a theme of Tearaway throughout, but it starts as a seemingly quaint 3D platformer. It’s the Vita’s Mario 64 in a lot of ways -- just as charming, maybe not quite as polished -- and it really takes advantage of the hardware itself. You control Iota how you’d expect, but you’ll also manipulate the environment using front and back touchscreens, both cameras, and the Vita’s tilt sensor. You’re a part of the story too. The front camera captures your face on a live feed in the sun above, making it feel like an adventure that you share with Iota.
For all its initial quaintness, though, Tearaway develops into something trippy and a little dark through its latter half. It’s still a perfect game for kids, but closer to an animated film from the 80s than today. As much as it incites the feeling of a flagship mascot platformer, it shares DNA with indie platformers like Braid and Limbo. It aspires to tell a deeper story through it’s paper world. It isn’t anything mind-blowing, but the last few levels and the ending are beautiful and touching, to say the least.
It’s hard to write about Tearaway without gushing about its papercraft world. Everything has a stop-motion animation quality to it, and the way the world literally unfolds before you is a joy to watch. Like the timeless graphics of Wind Waker, Tearaway offers a graphical style that is impervious to leaps in technology. It truly looks, moves, and sounds like a world made of paper. Little touches -- like the way the ground crinkles and shifts underneath you as you step on its folded creases -- convey a perfect marriage of technical achievement and artistic vision. The result is a game that’s as fun to look at as it is to play. It makes a strong argument for the impact of graphics, because I spent so much of the game smiling over what I was seeing.
There are a few nitpicky things to address. For one, the jumping feels right, but the use of a proper shadow means it can be hard to aim the landing sometimes. Falling to your death because you can’t perceive depth isn’t really fair, and could have been easily fixed with the tried-and-tested circular shadow. Tearaway also isn’t a very long game, so you’ll have to decide for yourself where you stand on the price-tag-to-game-time ratio. For myself, I was very satisfied with my half-a-dozen hours with the game because every moment felt thoughtfully designed. I have every intention of returning to each level for that 100% completion too, so you can expect at least another few hours cleaning up.
I like a game that doesn’t waste my time, and Tearaway always felt like a joy to play. It’s a charming pleasure right from the start, and it only gets better as it goes along. Each area is more creative than the last, and the final areas push the themes of the game and the tech of the Vita to their limits. What’s more, it’s beautiful how the game encourages creativity, so even if you burn through it in a day, it leaves a lasting impression.
As the credits rolled on Tearaway and I reflected on my experience with a huge smile, I thought how sad it is that so few people will get to play it. At the same time, it’s because the game is so intrinsically designed with the Vita platform in mind that it’s such a success. That’s ultimately where I have to land on Tearaway -- if you have a Vita you need to play it. Media Molecule has truly outdone themselves.
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