After revolutionizing 3D platformers with the PS3’s first couple of LittleBigPlanet games, Britain’s Media Molecule decided to try doing the same thing on the Vita. The result was, of course, 2013’s well-received Tearaway; a title that many gamers continue to hold dear. Although it sold poorly, it was a new IP that attempted to do something different, and one that did its best to aid Sony’s struggling portable.
Now, nearly two years later, Media Molecule has revisited its cult classic and re-released it on the powerful PlayStation 4 as Tearaway Unfolded. A mix between a remaster and a remake, it’s an interesting package that cannot be defined by one particular word.
Before we progress, I need to come out and admit that I’m a Vita owner who’s yet to play Tearaway. I’d planned to, but just never got around to doing so because of reviews and my gigantic personal backlog. Plus, once I heard it was on its way to the PS4, I figured it’d be best to hold off and play that instead.
Now, I’m not so sure if I made the right decision, and find myself wanting to go back and give the original version of this game a shot. I’m not saying this because I feel that Tearaway Unfolded is a bad game, but I would be lying if I said that it’s something I loved playing through. There’s a good game here, but it’s somewhat convoluted, suffers from questionable pacing and is simply too busy for its own good. Those aren’t things I remember people saying about the Vita release, but Media Molecule has openly admitted that it recreated a lot of this game from scratch and added a plethora of new content into its confines.
Tearaway is the story of iota, a paper-crafted messenger with an envelope for a head and a stamp as a life force. He (or she) is dreamt to life by a couple of quirky narrators who’ve become disappointed at the lack of quality programming on their television set, and is then tasked with delivering a message to one particular person: The You. That’s us, of course, and we’re depicted as being from another dimension that is only accessible through a large hole in the sky.
Our paper-limbed protagonist begins his journey in a beautiful world, where the sun is shining and everything is made out of construction paper. It’s a beauty to behold, but all is not well. You see, dangerous enemies named scraps have entered the realm, and they want nothing more than to stop iota from finishing his quest. The story even delves into these enemies’ reasoning and desires within the second part of what ends up being a three-story campaign, although the grand reveal ends up being rather underwhelming.
This leads me to one of the main problems with Tearaway Unfolded, that being its pacing.
Since I’d heard so many complaints about the game’s original length, I went into it expecting a relatively short campaign, but that didn’t end up being the case. In the end, Tearaway Unfolded lasted upwards of eight hours over the course of three different sessions. That’s a good length for a game such as this, especially one that began its life as a handheld exclusive and is coming to console with a budget-friendly, $40 price tag, but poor pacing makes it feel like a slog at times.
As I mentioned, there are essentially three individual stories that one must play through within the one overarching campaign, and the narrative that intertwines them is a bit flimsy. The game also could’ve ended following the last act of any of its chapters, and surprised me when it continued on as it did.
Adding extra content to lengthen a game that has been criticized for being too short is a good idea on paper, but Media Molecule’s execution will likely leave a lot of people wanting. There’s a noticeable lack of cohesion here, and it hurts a game that has some truly excellent moments and is very memorable because of its unique art design.
One good thing about this converted platformer is how well it uses the DualShock 4. It truly does feel as if the game was built from the ground up for Sony’s newest controller, because every one of its facets is taken advantage of. This includes the light bar, which is used to reveal new pathways or distract and lead enemies, as well as the touchpad. You’ll get a lot of use out of the latter, too, because it’s often used as a way for the player to draw his own items, such as a missing crown, a gaseous star or the design for a new flag. Anything you create using this mechanic can also be added on to iota, as the character is fully customizable, like Sackboy is in LittleBigPlanet.
In fact, the main theme of Tearaway Unfolded is customization. The developers have designed the game in a way that allows each individual player to put his or her own stamp on it, and that’s something that kids will really enjoy. Pictures can also be snapped at any time, and there are tons of different filters and effects (like a .gif creator) that can be used to give one’s photos an extra ounce of personality. You’ll pay for every new lens and filter the same way you’ll buy pre-made body parts and accessories for iota, and that’s with confetti. Don’t worry about running out of the stuff, though, because it’s spread generously throughout the game world, as well as in lots of easy-to-spot hidden presents.
However, while Tearaway Unfolded has the look and feel of a children’s game, its difficulty can sometimes become frustrating. Things start off well, with very easy platforming and mechanics (like iota’s roll, his ability to control the wind through swipes on the touchpad and how he can use the light bar to distract enemies) that are introduced efficiently, but later sections end up being rather cheap. The platforming becomes more luck-based, the enemies start to become a nuisance, and far too much precision starts coming into play, lessening the easygoing feel of the previous levels.
Enemy encounters were never fun for me, and I started to dread them as I progressed. That’s mostly because of how weak iota is, and how limited his ability to fight back happens to be. Sure, he can roll and stun foes, or guide them into their doom with light, but it doesn’t always work perfectly. The same is true of the game’s throw mechanic, which allows the messenger to toss rocks and enemies into the screen, activating a motion-controlled aimer. It’s neat, and is used pretty well for different puzzles, but you rarely have time to deal with it in the heat of battle when so many enemies are nearby. Of course, you usually won’t have to, though it’s required to knock some long-legged enemies off of their game.
Thankfully, the platforming found throughout Tearaway Unfolded is quite solid, even if it’s a bit frustrating at certain times. It introduces quirky ways of getting from one place to another, and is responsible for a lot of the most enjoyable parts of this game. It’s the 1080p/60 frames-per-second presentation that really steals the show, though, because no other game looks like this one does. Every single part of it is made of paper, and it looks incredible in action, especially when things flutter or unfold. The animation is top notch, too, and really sells the paper craft motif, which the developers have taken a step further by introducing collectible and printable designs, alongside a companion app that can be used to customize the in-game world even further.
As a whole, Tearaway Unfolded is a decent and interesting affair. It’s convoluted, and can be both flawed and frustrating, but it’s full of charm and great when it’s firing on all cylinders.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 exclusive, which we were provided with.
Tearaway Unfolded doesn't benefit from an everything but the kitchen sink approach to development, but it stands as one of the most unique video games out there and has some truly great moments.