On the surface, Tearaway looks like another fantastic offering from Sony first party stalwart, Media Molecule. It has a wonderfully realized visual style, quirky characters, a whimsical, LittleBigPlanet-esque narrative and some genuinely interesting uses of the Vita’s unique hardware features. Unfortunately, these positives are undercut by some fairly serious issues that start to crop up quite frequently as more time is spent with the game. The weight of these foibles don’t drag Tearaway completely down into the dark recesses of mediocrity, but the game is certainly made less enjoyable because of them.
First, the positives – as mentioned above, the game looks incredible. The entire world is presented in papercraft style, with characters, environments and even weather effects all adhering to this technique. Media Molecule really went all-in when designing the game’s visuals, and the results are spectacular. Rolling waves are depicted by the furling and unfurling of strips of turquoise paper; papercraft squirrels, antelope and other animals trot around the landscape in a jerky-yet-endearing way, almost as if the invisible hands of a child were manipulating their movements across the paper-hewn meadows, bluffs and canyons.
The narrative is also a strong point. The story unfolds in a distinctly linear, theme park-style, with two excellent narrators chiming in at just the right time to give clarity to some of the game’s more abstract happenings. Character dialogue can mostly be categorized as serviceable, but the environments and narration pick up the slack and give the player a compelling reason to keep playing. Interestingly, in one of the more clever uses of the Vita’s many heardware features, you are also part of the game’s narrative. The game utilizes the system’s frontal camera to project a picture of you in the sun, visible at any time the fiery orb is present on-screen. As a face in the sun, you are a “You,” a sort of deity figure patiently awaiting the message carried by Atoi or Iota, the game’s protagonists.
Your mug in the the sun is only one of many ways Media Molecule managed to integrate the Vita’s unique features into the game. You’ll be using the back touch panel to burst your fingers through into the game world and assist Atoi or Iota by lifting or sliding platforms and knocking enemies around. The rear camera is used to add photo-based textures to some objects and characters, and the system’s internal gyroscope is used to slide objects around, spin wheels and roll Atoi/Iota through mini-mazes. Most of these features fit the oddball narrative and add to the experience the first several times you encounter them, but some do wear out their welcome over the course of the five-hour experience. A few segments in the final third of the game combine back touch and gyroscope elements in a way that requires that the system be tilted away from the player, which, for obvious reasons, is problematic.
Looking past Tearaway’s arresting visual style and glib narrative, the game’s core platforming mechanics don’t fare nearly as well. First, among several issues in this area, is the fact that the game is far too easy. Platforming segments seem to be aimed at the six to eight-year-old age bracket, and checkpoints are often placed literally seconds from each other, so rare missteps are not punished in any meaningful way. Surprisingly, the game doesn’t even allow the player to jump in the very beginning, with this simple-yet-crucial element being unlocked after a few early segments.
Combat is also an issue, being much too prevalent and also far too easy. The game’s enemies, known as Scraps, are effortlessly dispatched, but the player is forced into repeated arena segments where waves of minions spawn, four to five at a time. There are never enough Scraps present on-screen to pose any kind of challenge and the tactics required to defeat them are rudimentary at best. The combat is further trivialized a few hours into the game, when the protagonist receives a vacuum-like item that makes everything, amazingly, even easier. This is certainly the game’s biggest flaw and the main reason I put it down for days at a time, despite enjoying the satisfying narrative and charming environments.
Some other flaws exist, such as a camera that continuously wants to tear away (ahem) control from the player and switch to a fixed view, and collectibles that are a little too easy to find in the bite-sized, too narrow environments. All told, Tearaway’s issues aren’t crippling and the game can still be carefully recommended based on its merits, which include a fetching visual style, excellent soundtrack, fun narrative and touching ending. Tearaway may not be the best first-party game currently available on the Vita, but it certainly is beautiful, ambitious and worth a look, if you’re willing to weather the foibles mentioned above.