Tearaway

Tearaway

Written by Randy Kalista on 9/25/2015 for PS4  
More On: Tearaway

You can't help but want to root for Tearaway. It's charming. It's fully realized. It's convinced and it's convincing. Tearaway's papercraft world—think origami, but with less folding—is so visually unique within the game space that, if anything even remotely tried to copy it, you'd have no choice but to point to Tearaway as the originator of such a visionary papercraft world. Trust me, Paper Mario fans, this world isn't just a 2D collection of sticker-looking cutouts. This looks like your eight-year-old niece blew her entire allowance on a living-room-spanning extra-credit construction paper project.

Again, you can't help but want to root for Tearaway.

And yet, here I am, insisting that the writing could've been more clever. Or that the camera should've stop wrestling with me at some point. Or that maybe, just maybe, developer Media Molecule innovated a little too much in the span of just one video game.

I know, right? I hate me, too. Just look at that envelope head of yours. Just look at the world with layer upon layer of full-spectrum colors. Have you seen the wind blow confetti around in this game? Have you seen the rain come down off the coast, and the sprawl of paper snow angels on the ground? Look at that papercraft squirrel and tell me you've seen anything cuter this week—you're lying! That squirrel is the cutest.

And yet, here you are. Or rather, here both of you are. You actually play two simultaneous roles in Tearaway, O gamer. You move Atois (pronounced ah-twah) around with the PlayStation DualShock 4 controller, but you are also "You" with a capital Y. You are an omniscient being existing outside of Tearaway's gameworld. You exist outside of the TV screen, but reaching into it and affecting Tearaway's world. Two other semi-omniscient characters within the game, a grandfatherly man and a thickly accented woman, refer to you (the player) as You, too, and they make references to a world full of "Yous" that exist on the player's side of the TV screen. It's a trip.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Tearaway is an adventure. A big one, actually. One in which You must guide Atois the Messenger through the world, while the player provides divine intervention, heading toward a hole in the sky which must be plugged. Dragon Age: Inquisition didn't invent holes in the sky, but it's kind of like a Dragon Age: Inquisition hole in the sky. You've got a lot of ground to cover between point A and hole B. And, this being a world built entirely from cutouts and scraps of construction paper, there's honestly no limits to the environments you and Atois the Messenger run through. 

There are stands of tall, papery pines. There are wide, papery plains settling between the folds of a book. There are deep, purple swamps. Wind-thrashed coastlines. Creaky, low-lit attics. Even dusty, baked-onion and smelly-cheese constructs shaped like Aladdin architecture. 

You can almost always see great distances in every direction, though much of it comes off as barely controlled nonsense. Atois is a mouse-sized creature in a big kid's world, so you get to run around big set pieces, puzzling your way up, under, and around big rolls of paper, cut-up and discarded cliff edges, bouncy drum heads, and wind-flapping playing cards. Not gonna lie: I've played plenty of high-fantasy role-playing games that don't reach for this high of fantasy in their world design.

Much of it, however, contributes a bit too much to Tearaway's sensory overload. Much of it might not even register in your periphery until you pull out the in-game camera. Looking at a single frame of the game at a time will astound you with details. The camera is a blast, though. I've spent as much confetti (currency) on unlocking camera lenses and post-processing effects as I have on customization for Atois.

Tearaway has a lot of exploration, a lot of visual tourism going on. But, spicing things up, Tearaway isn't without conflict. Pouring out of this hole in the sky are little one-eyed critters called Scraps. To be honest, their red headbands make them look like boxy Cobra Kai guys from The Karate Kid. Scraps spin, jump, kick, snarl, and generally pick fights with Atois. Atois can pick Scraps and throw them at others. Others you have to jump on. You can blow them off a cliff's edge with a sturdy wind gust, herd them into a hole by blinding them with Your controller's lightbar (it's awesome), or curl Atoi into a ball and go bowling into them. Except for the Scraps on stilts. They'll likely kick you when you roll into a ball, and that sucks. 

The most important thing you need to know about Tearaway involves the game controls: you'll be using the PS4's controller in ways you've never used a game controller before. And probably in ways that will never be used again. That's how Media Molecule rolls. They're going to make sure you get the most out of your in-game interactions. It's not that they've thrown out everything that's come before it, but they're certainly taking it in directions that other developers never thought of, or, if other developers thought of it, were too afraid to implement.

Atois is basically going to run and jump. The little Messenger has got that much of the controller figured out. But You (the You with a capital Y) will be doing much more. Swipe Your finger on the touchpad in the direction You want the wind to blow. That wind may furl or unfurl a paper bridge. Or shove one of those Scraps out of the way. Or part the seas. Have Atois toss an apple, or an acorn, or a squirrel out of the TV screen at You, then pet the touchpad gently to hear the animal twitter and coo from the controller's speaker, then swipe Your thumb over the touchpad at the TV to throw the object back into the gameworld, to knock out a Scrap, or punch through a wall, or hit the upside of a catapult to launch cabbages into a bucket. At some point, You will use the wind to fold up a paper airplane and fly Atois out across the landscape (or paperscape, rather).

It's nuts. Very early on You may feel overwhelmed by all the stuff You can do with the controller. Perhaps that overwhelming feeling arises because half of the things You can do will be called into action during combat. That can add stress to any fight. But Tearaway does what it can to give You plenty of practice with each technique before introducing a new one. This is simply where the "too much innovation" bug might bite, though. You never stop learning in Tearaway.

One of my biggest ah-ha gameplay moments came when I swiped my finger (accidentally, very early on) across the touchpad--and the record scratched on the soundtrack. No, you can't do it all the time. There was a specific in-game reason for the DJ Hero moment to happen, but it was a great way to add to the party-time vibe.

It's also easy to forget about your overall mission: to plug the hole in the sky. The papercraft world is so huge in scale, and Atois seems so dwarfed within it, that it can feel like there's no end to it all. And that's something you'll have to mentally come to terms with. Tearaway's 3D world, constructed entirely from 2D pages, looks at so many common objects in new ways that it can overwhelm the senses. That's not a bad thing. But sometimes in video games we look for the familiar. And Tearaway takes away so many things that you find familiar and gives them a fresh perspective. If it sounds like I'm complaining, I'm not. But I was personally unable to play the game for long stretches of time. Tearaway started on the PlayStation Vita, a portable device. Portable gaming devices and their games tend to perform well in short, active bursts. And it seems like Tearaway is a game best suited for shorter play sessions.

The story beats are small but spirited. There's a randomness to your encounters that can feel like snippets of a Homeric Odyssey. Not random like there's a random number generator controlling the events. But random in the unexpected sense.

Like when you put the fire to fight back into a downtrodden pig by giving him a new left eye. Then you mount that pig and go gatecrashing into Scraps territory, toppling towers of Scraps standing on each other's boxy shoulders, until you return the rejuvinated pig to the female pig in his life and they both saunter back into their homey-looking pig stye with a heart over the threshold. See what I mean? Random. 

There are plenty of short stories like these within the scope of Atois's adventures. There’s an underlying insanity to everything you do, everything that happens. Paper flowers unfold and bloom as you touch them. You create windstorms swirling with confetti. The ground is littered with paper clippings and unicorn crests, enormous Viking helmets and sword pommels. A postage stamp on the back of your head indicates your health (though “death” simply sweeps Atois back up to the cliff you fell from, or back in the fight with the Scraps. 

And, of course, that’s not even the crazy, fourth-wall-smashing stuff I told you about when it comes to You. Never have I played a game that tears down the fourth wall with such intentionality. That may actually be part of Tearaway’s namesake: tearing away at the border between the player and the character. 

Wrestling with the camera is sometimes a thing. Often the camera wants to draw your attention to long-range views of your next objective, or simply where to head to next, so it rubbernecks back and forth between the details I’m trying to take in, and where the game makers are turning my head. Sometimes I was able to let go and let the camera go where it wanted to go. Other times, I twisted and turned the controller every which way, in addition to pushing hard on the thumbsticks, just to get my bearings back.

The absolute best, though, is when you get to physically contribute to stuff appearing in the game. Sometimes You'll be taken to a drawing board. You'll then use the controller's touchpad to draw, with your finger, something a game character is asking for. Sometimes you'll draw them a crown, or a badge, or any number of story-prompted objects. And then, you'll pick up that piece of papercraft that you drew with your finger, drop it into an envelope, and, the next thing you know, you'll see that crown on a squirrel's head, or that badge on a papercraft citizen's chest. When the clouds you draw with your finger begin to fill the skies, or when the snowflake you created begins to fall lightly to the ground, you'll develop an attachment to Tearaway's world that you had no idea was possible. It's wonderful. I simply can't overstate its effect.

And there's one heck of a romper-room soundtrack, too. Bluegrass with a rap beat. Zydeco with a dubstep-lite ballsiness. Outerspacey bleeps paired with feathery soft horns. James Bond-ian brass with a caged zoo full of perky percussion. My five-year-old's favorite songs are when the Scraps show up; goofy-footed kazoos and oboes capture their blundering, Peter-and-the-Wolf musicality with pitch perfection. It's sometimes brain-addled fun, but also catchy in its carnivalesque kind of way.

You haven't played anything quite like Tearaway. Sure, we know what action-adventure games with environmental puzzles play like. But here, it's retaught with a wacky balance of irreverence and hand-holding. Here, it's done in a papery world as seen through a slightly skewed grade school level of arts-and-crafts imprecision and, at the same time, sincerity. You can call Tearaway a platformer, but you wouldn't even begin to capture Tearaway's essence if you stopped there. Tearaway is something new.

Tearaway is something like seeing Where the Wild Things Are, hobbled together with Elmer's glue, cut along dotted lines with terrible little grade school scissors, and creased with papercraft folds. It's an adventure that's big on controls, a bit weak in dialogue, and best enjoyed in smaller, bite-sized sessions. Tearaway is unusual, in every sense of the word. 

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Randy gravitates toward anything open world, open ended, or open to interpretation. He prefers strategy over shooting, introspection over action, and stealth and survival over looting and grinding. He's been a gamer since 1982 and writing critically about video games for over 15 years. A few of his favorites are Skyrim, Elite Dangerous, and Red Dead Redemption. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oregon.

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