You are the star of Tearaway. Yes, you. No other modern game puts the player so squarely in the centre of everything it does. It isn’t just the story that focuses on you--the tale of a paper messenger called Iota, delivering a missive to the person holding the PS Vita--it’s everything. From controls to customisation to characters: everything is about you. It’s a bold, utterly inspired ploy by LittleBigPlanet creators Media Molecule, and the result is one of the most beguiling games ever made. It wants to delight you (yes, you, again) with every interaction and--for the most part--it succeeds admirably.
Tearaway’s world is infused with the same homespun charm as LittleBigPlanet, however, instead of cloth and sponge, everything here is made of paper and glue. The texture of the landscape is hugely important, because it dictates the way you interact with the game. Pushing your finger against the Vita’s rear touchpad, for example, lets you poke a virtual finger through the paper floor and into Iota’s world. Stroking the front screen, to give another example, allows you to unfurl curled-up scraps of paper, creating bridges across otherwise uncrossable chasms.
Every gimmick and gizmo in Vita’s arsenal is employed at some point. At the very start of the game, the camera is used to live-stream your face (yes, your face) into the centre of Tearaway’s paper sun. All the characters in the game look up at your visage in amazement, and it’s at this point Iota is told to deliver his message to ‘the You’ in the sun. After that, both touchpads, tilt, microphone, camera, d-pad, face-buttons, and even Wi-Fi are used to help you guide Iota to this rather self-referential goal. It’s a fantastic showcase for the capabilities of the machine, and none of the features feel forced.
The net result is a game that defies traditional classification because you interact with it in so many ways. Sure, there are platforming elements--which are actually the least enjoyable sections of the game, as the camera angle occasionally makes leaps more awkward than they need to be--but the majority of the fun lies in creating your own items, solving puzzles, and exploring the game’s various hub worlds for collectables.
Tearaway really makes me feel warmest and fuzziest inside (yes, me, a man who openly confesses to never understanding Nintendo, and who is most at home when he’s shooting other men in the face in Battlefield 4) when I’m being asked to draw and cut-out a crown to stick on a squirrel’s head, using Vita’s touch-screen. I put little jewels on the crown and everything.
My only gripe with the ‘crafting’ options in game is that they’re a little limited. At one point you’re asked to draw and cut-out a snowflake. Once produced, your snowflakes (the one you shaped like a penis, because you could) gently fall from the sky during the course of an entire snow-themed level. It’s a wonderful moment but, sadly, it’s a rarity--the rest of the game limits customisation to sticking random items on in-game characters, taking photos of textures, or creating decorations to slap onto Iota him/herself. Tearaway lacks some of the real player-created wow-factor that made LittleBigPlanet such a phenomenon.
It’s a little short too. The game lasts around 5 hours, even if you’re carefully hunting for hidden presents and papercraft items, and dying at any point really is a non-event. Fell off a ledge? Oh well, just try the jump again. Looking for a hidden present? Oh, it’s just around the corner, off-camera. Fair enough--Tearaway would lose much of its charm if it hammered players with brutal platforming and stern puzzles, but I did find myself wishing for more complexity as I played through.
However, the low price really balances out concerns about length. It’s £20/$40, which is great value for something that gives every aspect of your Vita a workout while making you smile the whole time. Will you play through more than once? Probably not, unless you’re hunting for papercraft items. Ooh, that reminds me… Value is extended a little further if you log in to Tearaway.me, which--among other things--lets you download papercraft designs that you’ve collected in-game. Yes, you can actually make every character from Tearaway in real paper, and sit them proudly on your desk / mantelpiece / fireplace. Hmm, actually, best not sit them on your fireplace…
Tearaway really is the game Vita has been crying out for. It feels like a bridge between indie and traditional, super-polished AAA game design, something reinforced by both the length of the story and the price. There’s genuine charm and ingenuity here, and my only real criticism is that I want more of it. So will you, when you put yourself in the centre of Tearaway’s magical world.