Leave it to Media Molecule to find a purpose for all of those gadgets that Sony stuffed into the DualShock 4 controller. Tearaway Unfolded, a remixed edition of the Guildford-based developer's underappreciated PlayStation Vita exclusive, may feature a papery protagonist named either Iota or Atoi, but it's the PlayStation 4's input device that's the real star of the show here. You'll need to push, poke, and stroke your way through this whimsical world, and while other developers would falter at the first hurdle, the LittleBigPlanet maker somehow finds a way to make the title's gimmicky gameplay work. Of course, this will come as no surprise to some of you, as the studio's done this once already before.
In fact, it's a testament to the achievements of this papercraft platformer that it even plays on the PS4 at all. The original was so tightly woven into the fabric of Sony's flagship handheld format that a straight port was never going to happen, and so what we have here rests murkily between remaster and fully-fledged sequel. Many of the locales are, in fact, the same as those that you'll have explored on the platform holder's portable – but they're re-ordered, refreshed, and, in some cases, resized. This means that the green plains of Maypole Field now stretch on as far as the eye can see, while the seaside town of Sogport includes faraway islands and galleons bobbing brilliantly on the ocean.
The release was always a looker on the Vita, but the presentation is taken to the next level on Sony's new-gen machine. Running at a super smooth 60 frames-per-second in ultra-crisp 1080p, this is one of the better looking games on the device – despite its roots reaching all the way back to significantly less powerful hardware. Of course, it's the outstanding art direction that's doing much of the heavy lifting in this instance; director Rex Crowle and his crew have not only found a way to build a virtual diorama out of cardboard and glue, but they've also managed to make it look appealing across a ten or so hour single player campaign. It's an extraordinary achievement.
But we could wax lyrical about the stop motion-style animations and folk-cum-synthpop soundtrack all night long, and we'd merely be regurgitating our handheld review from a few years prior. Indeed, the more interesting thing about this re-release is the way in which it uses the DualShock 4 to frequently make you think about the mechanics that you have at your disposal, and how you should use them to progress. This is a game that re-invents itself more times than Madonna over the course of its running time, and you still get the impression that the developer left more ideas on the cutting room floor.
For example, relatively early into the escapade you'll obtain the ability to control the wind. This allows you to blow down barriers and obstacles by stroking the touchpad in different directions, but the mileage that the maker gets out of this one idea is amazing. You may, for instance, need to lift tissue paper flags so that you can walk on them or lower pop-up book like platforms so that you can reach faraway destinations. The light bar is also used heavily, enabling you to power up generators through the might of your controller, or stun enemies so that you can guide them to their doom when you're in a scrap.
The game arguably starts a little slowly, gradually introducing each of these ideas individually so that you have ample opportunity to wrap your head around them. But when you reach the later levels and all of these concepts are combined at once, it results in some really challenging gameplay, which is both taxing and extremely rewarding. The most important thing, though, is that the game always finds new ways to subvert these underlying ideas, meaning that you'll need to be thinking outside of the box if you want to progress – and this is especially true if you decide snag all of the title's various collectibles, which are plentiful.
Speaking of which, this isn't your standard platforming affair – it shares more in common with the collectathons that were so common during the Nintendo 64 era, occasionally giving you hubs to explore where you can go out and complete side-quests for the various people that inhabit the title's paper-based planet. These distractions are rarely deep – they typically involve creating new decorations or photographing landmarks – but the impact that these objectives have on the plot's conclusion is profound. We won't spoil the ending, but needless to say everything that you do in Tearaway has a purpose, and while it may not feel like it at first, the agency that you have over the world is something else.
And this all plays into the title's main narrative conceit: You (with a capital) are the main character. The game breaks the fourth wall with regularity in order to sell this concept, going as far as to include fake television shows to make it feel like everything is occurring inside your TV screen. The illusion isn't quite as pronounced as it was on the Vita because Media Molecule can't ensure that everyone has a PlayStation Camera, for example, but the ability to toss objects out of the game world and into your controller – among other sequences which we'll keep secret for the time being – do just enough to ensure that you feel connected to everything that's occurring in-game.
There's also second screen support for smartphones, tablets, or the Vita which essentially allows you to draw objects to send into the title, as well as take photographs and more. This is a title that leaves no aspect of the PS4 experience untouched, and while inputs like the touchpad can be a little less precise than we'd like, everything works adequately at worst and exceptionally well at best. Even the gyroscope controls, which were nightmarish on the PlayStation 3, feel extremely responsive and are used sparingly enough to make them entertaining when they do feature. The game deserves top marks for that feat alone.
It's not always perfect, though. Bizarrely for a game that gets so much right, its camera can be a teensy bit cumbersome, seemingly unsure of whether to opt for a fixed perspective or enable free rein, and it ends up occasionally frustrating as a consequence. The story structure, which has been chopped and changed, doesn't quite have the consistency of its portable predecessor either, leaping from idea to idea without articulately finding a way to tie them all together. These are nit-picks in a title that's hard to fault in other departments, but they do put the slightest dampener on the experience at times.
Tearaway Unfolded is so imaginative that you'll feel yourself wanting to applaud it at points. An occasionally clunky camera and some narrative issues do threaten to screw up this paper-based platformer, but the quirky controls and sheer variety of the gameplay will keep a smile glued to your face. Pitch-perfect presentation and a well-executed conclusion ensure that this remixed release is in tip-top shape, while the sheer wealth of collectibles give it value long after the credits roll.