Tearaway - PreviewPlatforms: Sony PS Vita
Rip, poke, cut, paste. This has been the promise of Tearaway from the start, a papercraft world where you not only act as the guide for your messenger friend, but also interact and shape the very world they are in. Developer Media Molecule has been beavering away for a good while now, allowing information to slowly trickle out as we get ever closer to release. Famed, of course, for their fantastic LittleBigPlanet franchise their work on Tearaway has caused a lot of excitement, the characters of iota and aota becoming the focal points of much of the material released to date. We were recently given the chance to play through the first third of the game, and at first glance Media Molecule have a little way to go if they wish to recreate the kind of magic they have released in the past.
As concepts go then Tearaway is certainly intriguing, the cut paper aesthetics of the world and characters creating a unique look . You, as the player, act to help guide either iota or atoi in their quest to deliver a message to yourself, controlling them directly with the physical controls and helping them in an indirect fashion with touch. Certain highlighted points within the game allow you to poke your fingers through the rear touch pad, or even pull or push various pieces of terrain through the front screen, and you’ll need to master both to help your messenger continue through the story. These interactions begin in a very simplistic way, having you poke through the rear touch pad simply to dispatch some foes, but quickly progress to item related puzzles, although we didn’t find anything that would hold you up for too long.
Those expecting an adult platformer hiding behind a facade of innocence then are likely to be disappointed. Clues appear from the off – an initial settings question asking you if you have big hands or little hands, Richard Ridings (of Daddy Pig fame) voicing one of the supporting characters, your Teletubby-esque appearance as the Sun – Tearaway feels clearly aimed at a younger demographic. Checkpoints are extremely forgiving, and often actually respawn you after the jump or touch puzzle that probably contributed to your death. Enemies, or ‘scraps’ as they are known in game, don’t really pose any sort of threat at all, all of them allowing themselves to be easily dispatched. If they do manage to get you then, as you have probably guessed, you’ll respawn with no real loss.
That’s not to say that there won’t be enjoyment for older gamers, but there was a distinct lack of challenge in the areas we saw. Also, the game starts slow. Really slow. New abilities are trickled out over the levels, with jump, roll and the in-game camera unlocked as you trawl through the first few levels. In fact, much of the early part of the game feels like an elongated A-B exercise, giving you less to do than even the tutorial levels of a particularly easy LEGO game.
Much of the enjoyment that we found within our preview code came from the customisation opportunities that appeared within the game. Collected confetti allows you to buy features that you can paste onto iota or aota to give them your own unique look, and you can very quickly build up a large library of goodies. Fancy an extra eye (evil style) on one knee? Yep, feel free. Or how about a massive poppy stuck to the back of the head? Go for it! A cut out option allows you to create you own bits and pieces of papercraft to use as decorations on your character and at certain points in the game, and while the touch interface can feel slightly clunky when you get down to the finer details you can create some smashing little bits and pieces in there – I’m particularly proud of a woolly hat I made for iota. At certain parts of the game you’ll be stopped and tasked with utilising your cut out skills to solve a particular problem, usually for an NPC - sure, you could make the Squirrel King a fairly standard crown easily enough, but why wouldn’t you spend another five minutes and give him a massive gaudy creation with added pink horn bling?
Disappointingly though this player agency within the game seems to be far lower than we hoped. While you can select iota or aota at any time to enter their customisation screen, the chances to interact meaningfully with the environment are far more limited. With the cut out creation ability Media Molecule has a chance to give Tearaway a far more powerful mechanic than LittleBigPlanet’s scenery stickers, and yet it is woefully underused in the section we saw. There are rays of hope though; by the end of the preview code we were provided with Tearaway did feel as though it was finally beginning to open up, with small, magical touches beginning to take you by surprise – a small piece of cutaway art that you create that then pervades the rest of the level, a voice capture that is then reused as part of level progression. These are the interactions that draw you in and help you feel part of the world of Tearaway.
Tearaway feels as though it still has a long way to go, which isn’t the best position to be in this close to release. Media Molecule has managed to create a truly unique world, but on current showing we’re unsure whether there is a great game hidden within that world. Much talked about features such as the papercraft art are still inaccessible (when they do appear you’ll find them on Tearaway.me) which makes it a little harder to appreciate holistically the inter-world metagaming elements that Media Molecule are experimenting with here. One thing’s for certain though – those with little hands should love this, with the world and customisation options sweeping away gameplay concerns for them. I’ll still hope, however, that the final delivery helps us all appreciate the world of Tearaway.