Every now and then a game comes along with little warning and hype that manages to charm the pants off you unexpectedly. We call those little beauties “pleasant surprises” and they make the business of reviewing games worthwhile. Tearaway is one such game. It’s an unassuming little platforming puzzler that seems generic when you pick up the box, but is packed with so many innovative ideas and gorgeous designs that you can’t physically put the game down until it’s complete. The good folks at Media Molecule whipped up an original concept, covered it in charm, incorporated all of the Vita’s bells n’ whistles, and delivered an experience that provides pure childish glee for the player that ends before wearing out it’s welcome. The designs might be childish, but the endlessly creative game is strong enough to make anyone feel like a giddy kid with an overactive imagination until it’s all over.
The world of Tearaway looks like it was dreamed up by a particularly imaginative kindergartener with a love of arts and crafts. Everything appears to be made out of construction paper, yet still breathes and moves with impressive character despite homespun designs. Frequently you even have the option of designing your own trinkets and decorations with virtual construction paper that can be put into the game world and the function works flawlessly. Combined with appropriately bouncy music and endlessly adorable designs, the Tearaway world is a real charmer. Wandering through levels feels like walking through a child’s storybook come to life. It’s like a low-fi Little Big Planet (unsurprisingly Tearaway is from the same creators as that contemporary platforming classic) and…well, maybe low-fi is the wrong term.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect about Tearaway is the fact that the game incorporates every single one of the Vita’s inputs. The simple story involves a little character named either Iota or Atoi (depending on which gender you chose), whose head is an envelope and whose only purpose is to deliver a message to you, the player. That’s right, you are in the game as a sun god of sorts. Every time characters look up to discuss the sun, your image appears in the game in real time through the Vita’s front camera. More than that, throughout the game you’ll have to help Iota by sticking your fingers on the back sensor which causes your fingers to burst through the paper backdrop of the game to kill enemies. Elsewhere, rotating the system will cause other enemies to fall off ledges and if you ever poke a hole in the paper world, you’ll see your world peeking out through the Vita’s rear camera. Each and every input design is clever and gorgeously implemented. But more importantly, none of these things feel gimmicky. Media Molecule made them all vital part gameplay and as a result Tearaway feels like nothing else on the market. This is the game that makes good on all of the handheld system’s promises and it’s impossible not to be charmed by what the designers have whipped up.
There’s really only one problem with Tearaway as a game and that’s the roughly 5 hour playthrough time. There’s not a moment of those 5 hours that you won’t enjoy, but there’s no denying a sense of surprise and loss when it wraps up so quickly. However, that’s one of those hidden compliment criticisms. For a handheld title, 5 hours is plenty (and you can stretch that out by going back and finding extra hidden items if you’re “one of those” players) and really, the only reason to complain is because the game is so gosh darn great. From the moment the story fires up until the heartwarming conclusion, Media Molecule delivered a charming, immersive, and innovative experience that is instantly addictive. Even the simple story harkens back to folklore and fairy tales in a clever way without ever beating players over-the-head or becoming distracting. Simply put, this is one of the most original and creative handheld games on the market at the moment and a perfect showpiece for the capabilities of the Vita to sway anyone who doubts the potent handheld system. I encourage everyone with access to a Vita to run out and buy this thing immediately, if only because I desperately want a sequel and that’s only going to happen if you buy up enough copies, people!