Sony is known for producing the large-scale titles like God of War and Uncharted, with the later even gracing the Vita early in it’s life-cycle. But the platform holder is open to more creative ventures and it leads to some really wacky franchises being born. Ranging from you hunting around for monkey’s with a catchers-net in Ape Escape using the analog sticks in creative ways or playing as a puppet who can swap his head to use different abilities in Puppeteer, Sony is known for making some really creative IP.
The studio Media Molecule after coming off of the success of LittleBigPlanet 1 & 2, set sights on a new way to bring creativity to gaming. After being presented PlayStation Vita development kits, the early ideas of Tearaway was born.
In Fall 2013, Tearaway released to the world but was sadly in the wrong place at a really crowded time-frame. With little marketing push and being ignored in favor for the launch of Sony’s own PlayStation 4, the little paper adventures of Iota & Aota was left on the wayside. Despite that, the game was a critical hit and many enjoyed it. Enough to the point where it released (and undersold….again) on PlayStation 4.
Today I will be looking at the original Vita release of this game and ask the following question; Does this paper adventure still pull at the heart strings with a powerful message or does it crumble apart?
The plot opens up with the game calling out to you. Yes, YOU, the player. They are completely aware of the fourth wall and how that does not exist in the world of Tearaway. The narrators want to tell you a story and you pick either Iota or Aota to join you on a quest. You have to guide them to the sun, which opened up to send YOU a message.
So the little paper message (Iota or Aota) works with you to find a way through the sun, just to give you a message. The plot is filled with charming characters like a Squirrel King, a little monster fella that becomes your friend, a pig that you dress up for an event and more. The cast is diverse and well written, ensuring that every bit of dialog stands out.
I kept thinking of my childhood as the story progressed, as the narrators felt like a parent telling a story but not agreeing on when or how the story ends. A huge simile was on my face throughout most of the game just because of the charming story but also from the Vita hardware itself.
The system has a front camera and your face is always watching the game world. It is a small touch but adds a lot to the game. One late moment in the game I just stopped touching the analog stick and let Iota look up at the sun, and I looked back at him. As this haunting track played, I realized ‘This is going to end soon, huh?’ and just was still for a good two minutes or so.
There was a connection between me and Iota, with that being further showed at the very end of the game where I honestly was tearing up. The story of this game is very simple and not very complex but it uses emotion so well in addition to having strong writing. I loved the story a lot here and it is one of my favorite stories in gaming.
Gameplay & Design
Tearaway is structured like a linear 3D platformer, where Iota/Aota explores various locations in your quest to find a way inside the sun. They are varied too; a snowy mountain, inside a tree, exploring a dock and even a desert. What makes this interesting is what you do in the levels and this is where the studio’s past work on LittleBigPlanet bleeds it’s way through.
You have the power to interact with objects in the game world in various ways. You can place stickers on objects, cut out paper crafts to make NPC’s happy (like making a crown), and even use parts of the Vita hardware to great effect.
Using the rear touch pad when on a drum to bounce in the air, tilting the Vita to move platforms, taping on objects to open them up and more. They are very natural fits for the gameplay, as they never feel forced; they are always natural and never intrusive. One example is a platforming bit during the middle of the game where you are chased by a large creature.
Through a combination of pulling away objects with the touch screen, tapping the rear touch pad to bounce across pits and using careful jumps; it was an intense bit that while not challenging, is still rewarding and justifies the Vita ‘gimmicks’.
As you play the game, you get confetti which you use to purchase various objects and camera filters. You can place stickers on objects in the world and even Iota/Aota to give the game your own personal touch. The camera you get early in the game too and this can be used at any point in the game (you can even move around and jump when it is opened). Taking pictures of the world is wonderful, as you get to capture moments of the game you want to remember. This is also a major mechanic, as one of the goals is to take pictures of whited out objects. Once you take the picture, you give them color again.
By doing so, you unlock the crafting blueprints to make that in-game object yourself via paper craft. It is a nice way to not only get across the game’s message (which is about one’s creativity and impact on the world around you) but also give you a tangible reward for exploring everything.
Iota and Aota control like how you would expect a 3D character platformer mascot to control; you use the analog stick to move around, the right stick for camera control, the X button to jump, Square button to pick up/interact with objects and Circle to roll around. This control set up is simple and very responsive, ensuring that platforming and combat are never frustrating.
Tearaway has combat and that is one of the games weakest elements. In locations where you have a lot to work with (the arena where you can interact with the game world in some fashion for example) this isn’t much of a problem at all. But when you are just alone? It can be bit annoying as Iota & Aota have no melee attack; they can just pick up and thrown things. So you have to roll into foes to stun them, and later pick them up to either toss them at another foe or outright toss them off the platform.
It can be fun but when the game pushes frequent combat encounters later in the game, I can see this getting stale. The game focuses more on exploration and platforming thankfully, so this isn’t that big of an issue.
Overall, the core gameplay skillfully blends the traditional 3D platformer with deep creative elements and some fantastic usage of the Vita hardware.
Tearaway is a title that is not the longest experience, as it took my about six hours to fully beat the main story but an extra two hours or so to collect everything. You might want to play the game again with a different main character (if you picked Aota, then play it with Iota) but the game does not change much.
This is easily one of the Vita’s most beautiful games, with the paper art style being in-bedded with the entire game world. Walking over paper sticking out of the ground can be walked on, and they press into the floor. But once you get off the paper, it pops up again. Jumping on water puddles makes paper ripples and even simple things like pressing buttons or moving the analog sticks cause some parts of the world to move around.
Attention to detail in making the game world a living, breathing place living inside your Vita is effectively presented to you at every turn. The game also runs very well, with the controls never feeling unresponsive and the camera/Vita gimmicks feeling responsive as well. Textures and character models are great looking, with them popping off the Vita’s screen thanks to the game running at native resolution.
The audio for the game is really solid, as it has a lot of personality. Paper crumbles sound right and doing things like throwing objects at walls have impact. Characters speak in gibberish (outside of the games two narrators), but each character sounds different so it never gets old.
Music is very emotional, with it matching every single moment in the game. Opening your adventure to a peaceful and relaxing tune, running through a orchard with a bouncy beat, and climbing a mountain with an adventurous track. The game’s music towards the end gets more emotional and haunting, really connecting with me as I played through portions of the game when challenge is presented to me. It is a fantastic soundtrack and some of the best audio work Media Molecule ever produced.
Story: 4.5 out of 5 / Gameplay: 4 out of 5 / Lasting Appeal: 3.5 out of 5 / Presentation: 5 out of 5
Tearaway is a gem on the Vita. It is a game built in mind for everything the system can offer and it creates one of the best gaming experiences I ever had on the handheld. Years since it’s release, I still tear up thinking about my adventures with Iota. While the game is a bit short and the gameplay is not the most challenging, it is an adventure that I highly encourage any Vita owner gives a shot.
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita using a copy I purchased in November 2013. Tearaway was also released on the PS4 under the name Tearaway: Unfolded but the game has major differences from it’s original Vita release so this review DOES NOT apply to the PS4 title. Music used and referenced in this review is owned by the copyright & trademark of Sony Interactive Entertainment, Media Molecule and PlayStation.