Tearaway is a wonderful little Vita game that couldn’t possibly make sense on any other system. The literal and figurative fabric of Tearaway is artfully woven through its mechanics and narrative, tightly around the PlayStation Vita. If you were to remove all Vita specific aspects from Tearaway, you’d have about twenty seconds of platforming and some silly dialogue. That being said, Media Molecule took it upon themselves to put together Tearaway Unfolded – a PlayStation 4 re-release.
Unfolded doesn’t make my previous comments redundant, though, because it isn’t just Tearaway on PS4 with some new bells and whistles glued on. It’s a new, different game. To be clear, there’s plenty of overlap between the two games, but no more than there is in, say, different Zelda games. While Unfolded was marketed as a fairly hefty port, it’s really closer to a sequel. The beautiful papercraft world, charming characters and poignant commentary on the connection between a game and those who play it is still at the core of Tearaway Unfolded.
Tearaway, to grossly oversimplify, is a 3D platforming adventure game in a beautiful, charming world. I’d describe it as Banjo-Kazooie meets LittleBigPlanet meets Journey. Typical platforming makes up the bulk of the experience, but never without a twist. As well as controlling the main player character, we have control over the world itself. The salient point of difference in Unfolded is, of course, that the Vita has been superseded by the Dualshock 4. Thankfully, every clever utilisation of the Vita’s capabilities has been matched by a brand new DS4 based mechanic. You can shine your controller’s light bar straight into the game world to brighten up a dark area, or swipe the touchpad to send through a gust of wind. You’ll even toss items back and forth through the screen between player and character, ‘catching’ them in your controller.
Rather than replacements for the Vita release’s brilliant ways of interacting with the game, Unfolded’s unconventional controls are completely new ideas. Different, not just alternative. Levels are creatively filled with neat ways to use each of these tricks in conjunction with your standard running and jumping. As a result, Tearaway Unfolded can range from feeling like a classic platformer to a thoughtful puzzle-exploration game. Side tasks are scattered throughout, splitting up the base gameplay nicely. A lot of the time, these tasks will have you drawing something, letting your designs cover the game. You’ll draw a snowflake early on, for instance, and you’ll see your art gracefully falling whenever you’re in a snowy setting from there on out. Sometimes you’ll have to take a photo of yourself or record your voice (given you’re using the necessary hardware). As gimmicky as it all sounds, it really goes a long way to attach you to the world, and serves as a great reminder of your influence over this world.
Unfolded, like Tearaway before it, is a self-admitted video game, directly addressing that you’re playing it. The fourth wall isn’t broken, rather, the game insists it was never there to begin with. The player, or the “You”, is as much a part of the game as the playable character. Iota and Atoi are messengers. It’s your job as the “You” to guide one of them to a hole between our world and theirs and deliver their message to the player. Some intimacy is lost in translation to the PS4, but the story turns in a more appropriate direction part way through, suiting the PS4 as the original did the Vita. As Unfolded twists and turns, though, it feels a little less fluid than the original. Given the context it establishes it’s no issue, but it did mean the pacing wasn’t quite as tight as it could have been, as proven by the Vita release.
In its acceptance of itself as a game, Tearaway Unfolded’s story doesn’t hold the weight of a conventional narrative. That certainly doesn’t mean it doesn’t get heavy. While discreetly reflecting the evolution of the medium, Unfolded evangelises video games and what they can mean. In admitting that it takes place outside of tangibility, Tearaway proves how real it is. It’s a video game, as it says it as, just as we are players. While simple and endearing, the real substance of the narrative is fundamentally brilliant and incredibly interesting.
The papercraft setting couldn’t be more suitable, and it helps that the motif is strictly stuck to and thoughtfully explored. The beautifully colourful and boisterous world of Tearaway is even more charming on the PlayStation 4, showing off sights as pretty as Journey and as endearing as LittleBigPlanet. Paired with a superb soundtrack, you’ve got yourself an excellently presented video game.
Unfortunately, Unfolded isn’t without its flaws. ‘Combat’ still grows a little tiresome. Enemy encounters feel strangely out of balance. Areas that allow you to shine your light are cakewalks while others can be inexplicably tough with the new controller mechanics. Trying to scribble on the touchpad and arrange paper via motion control can be a little irritating. These sections are greatly aided by use of the companion app on a phone or a Vita, but still come off a little shallow. That said, there’s plenty of joy to be had in sending your creations into the game world, and the companion app is perfect for families with multiple players.
Tearaway is an experience I’d recommend to anyone with any history with video games. Unfolded gives the PS4 audience its own take on the Vita gem, without losing its genuine heart. Unfolded also adds so much and removes so little to the point that I’d consider it a sequel, not a port. Play Tearaway Unfolded for the great, clever fun for all ages and delightful world, but remember it for its sincere sentiment and thoughtful discussion of video games as a medium. While the platforming might not be for everyone, there’s so much more here to enjoy.
DISCLOSURE: this game was supplied to us by the publisher, and reviewed on PS4 across 12 hours of gameplay.