A ripping good time
HIGH Adorable overload! Intense whimsy!
LOW The withdrawls after the credits rolled.
WTF Why did this drop on one of the most crowded weekends of the year?
I've never been a big believer in any of the interface gimmicks that have come down the pike over the last few years. They're nonessential enhancements at best, and annoyingly nonspecific methods of control at worst. I can count on one hand the number of times I've played a console or handheld title that genuinely benefitted from something other than a controller, but with Tearaway, I am both happy and surprised to say that I can add one more to that short list.
Coming from Media Molecule, the same people who turned out the wildly overrated and thoroughly-not-enjoyable Little Big Planet games, Tearaway is an incredibly unusual, incredibly interesting meta-story of a paper character in a paper world who is on his (or her) way to deliver a message to "You", the actual player.
Tearaway uses every one of the Vita's native inputs to create a unique situation in which the player is interacting directly with the game world. Rather than simply moving the character via the sticks and buttons, the "You" (which, again, is you) will be manipulating objects in the game by representing a godlike force at work from outside the Vita.
For example, when the character is swarmed by enemies in certain zones, the player can "poke" their fingers through the floor and smash them, or send them flying. By incorporating a feed from the Vita's rear camera, a fairly convincing augmented reality effect is achieved. For a moment, I can almost believe that they're my actual fingers in the game - it's as if I were a giant cradling a tiny world in my hands.
Other types of interaction aren't quite as illusory, but they're no less satisfying. When a rolled-up bridge needs to be unfurled, the player can tap it on the main touchscreen to create a walkway. When the character needs to pass under a torrential waterfall, the player's fingers can act as a shield, creating a dry passage underneath. There are dozens of other examples of Tearaway taking fullest advantage of the features the Vita has to offer, each one more delightful than the last. However, the real trick -- the magical trick-- is that these deviations in standard control never feel intrusive or irritating.
Aside from action-oriented ways of affecting with the game world, there are just as many that don't necessarily impact play itself, but serve to add personality and flair to the proceedings.
At one point, a papercraft elk asked me to redesign his hide. The Vita's camera turned on, and I was prompted to snap a photo of something in my immediate vicinity. I took a picture of some nearby wallpaper, and was quite amused to see that the garish design was instantly transferred to the animal. It was no longer a random elk in a game, it was my elk. A floral, swirly-skinned elk perhaps, but still, my elk.
Other times, characters will ask to be redesigned in a bigger way. There's a squirrel that needs a crown, and one fellow who needs a new mustache, to name just two of many. In these situations, the game provides a virtual craft table upon which paper and scissors appear. After drawing the outline of a shape with the tip of a finger, it's then cut out and can be "glued" on in any way that strikes the player's fancy. It's fast and simple, and that character then retains that appearance until the player decides to alter it again.
Putting an enormous handlebar mustache on a squirrel or giving a paper pig the most cockeyed set of eyes imaginable delivers an elusive sense of mirth and joy that so many titles lack. Too often, developers seem reluctant to let players actually play, so to find something which is absolutely begging for this sort of engagement is refreshing. Further, while things like this may seem silly or nonessential, it's exactly the sort of thing which leads to player ownership and a level of investment most developers would kill to achieve.
I can't overstate how so many interesting situations and scenarios pop up, and every new thing, whether in terms of play or other interaction, is a surprise. Even Tearaway's writing is charming, and the pleasantly bizarre turn it takes in the endgame spins things even more meta and surreal than they already were.
As the adventure rolls along. Tearaway unlocks blueprints to recreate many of the characters and objects from the game. Since everything is made of paper virtually, it's not a stretch to make them out of paper in reality. I was absolutely tickled to put some of these things together, and it's just one more example of the far-outside-the-box thinking Media Molecule offers up. I enjoyed every minute of it, and it's rare to find something that radiates as much pure joy as this does. I can't say enough good things about it.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Vita. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: Mild Cartoon Violence. This game is rated E, and I think that's entirely correct. The main character will crash cartoonish enemies into each other and they sort of explode, but everything is made of paper and it's a bit of a stretch to call and violence. I think this game is entirely appropriate for players of all ages, and most kids will probably love it.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled, and there are no significant auditory cues necessary for gameplay. It's totally accessible.