It's been over five years since LittleBigPlanet made a huge impact on the gaming scene – its 'Play, Create, Share' slogan paving the way for what was almost a new genre entirely. With developer Media Molecule's latest title Tearaway we find a smaller but much more focused adventure that's delightfully charming, accessible, and indicative of the team's incredibly imaginative work.
Playing as either a male or female messenger – Iota or Atoi – your tiny paper-person is tasked with taking a letter to you, the player. Using the PlayStation Vita's front camera, the title pastes your face onto the world's sun, as you gaze down onto the colourful lands below. As the all-powerful You, you'll need to guide your chosen courier though numerous locations as they attempt to reach the big ball of fire that holds your mug. It's a strange premise in writing, but it's adequately explained within the game, and the simple goal allows for an initially basic tale to gradually unfold as you progress.
Much like LittleBigPlanet, the plot is driven by a diverse cast of characters that all make humorous sounds when speaking. The narrative itself is unsurprisingly simplistic but brilliantly charming, and meeting each new personality rekindles your desire to continue. Proceedings are also kept entertaining by the regular requirement to personalise the world as you see fit. From crafting objects like snowflakes and flames using a creation tool which sees you drawing on and cutting out sheets of paper, to placing facial features onto the barren heads of locals using decals, it's safe to say that your experience quickly becomes a unique and personal one.
And much like Sackboy, your messenger can be customised as well through the use of stickers. There's a huge selection to choose from, but to unlock most of them you'll need to spend confetti, a currency that's found throughout every location, whether it's simply strewn across the ground or given as a reward for solving a character's problem. The side quests themselves range from gathering cute little gophers to slapping a moustache or a new set of eyes onto a befuddled personality, and each small objective helps lengthen levels and provides some welcome downtime between large stints of exploration.
Indeed, Tearaway may be billed primarily as a platformer, but it's the exploration of relatively large areas that will make up a hefty amount of your playtime. These open areas tend to house the previously mentioned optional quests, along with bundles of confetti and picturesque photo opportunities. Fortunately, Iota and Atoi are a pleasure to control thanks to their responsiveness and delightful animations, which makes traversing such places a joy. However, within these expansive environments you'll have free rein over the camera that's mapped to the right analogue stick, which tends to get stuck behind scenery on occasion – although this is little more than a brief annoyance, as the perspective is otherwise locked into place during combat and platforming sections.
When it actually comes to platforming, the papercraft release is extremely hard to fault because of its silky smooth controls. Initially, you don't even have the option to jump, but as you make your way through the folded world, you'll gain access to new abilities and tools. In that regard, Media Molecule's latest bears similarities to a typical Legend of Zelda title – not only does it feel like you're partaking in a grand quest, but you'll also be building up a small collection of skills and items that are necessary in order to proceed. You'll be leaping, rolling, and eventually free-falling your way to the next stage, and the rate at which you discover new techniques keeps the journey feeling fresh.
Alongside exploration and platforming is the title's third avenue of gameplay – combat. Fighting nasty little bundles of newspaper known as Scraps, brawling is a surprisingly prevalent component of the game. At countless points during your adventure, the path forward will be blocked off by large, ugly newspaper fences that burst through the floor, and then your poor little messenger will be attacked by dastardly Scraps. The critters come in different varieties, and generally get tougher to kill later in the release, where you'll have to combine different attacks to thin their numbers before you're overwhelmed.
The basis of combat is your ability to pick up and throw small objects, be it rocks or Scraps themselves. After dodging their readable attacks, you can lift the dazed creatures into the air and hurl them at their allies, sending both parties whirling off into a puff of confetti. It's an accessible, satisfying system that fits the weird universe well – and it won't take long before you're tearing whole platoons of Scraps apart. There are also times where Iota or Atoi will need to rely on You. Using the rear touchpad, you can poke your digits through specific PlayStation-themed paper layers, allowing you to brutally smash enemies away from your beloved courier. The touch controls don't stop there either, as you'll also have to unfold paths and move platforms so that your delicate messenger can progress.
More often than not, touch controls equate to little more than gimmicks which do little to enhance a game – but that isn't the case with Tearaway. Every single method of control feels perfectly suited to the release and its world. Touching and feeling your way through the journey helps bolster the sense that you're holding a magical, tangible place in the palm of your hands, and that as the You, you have the almighty power to manipulate and bend the environment to your will. In fact, it's difficult to think of a title that incorporates various control schemes as brilliantly as Tearaway does, making it a perfect showcase for the portable system's versatile hardware.
Despite its responsive platforming, satisfying combat, and perfectly implemented touch controls, though, the title's greatest achievement is undoubtedly its art style and visuals. For a world made entirely out of coloured paper, the release is stunning to see in motion. Wonders such as paper waterfalls and streams are beautifully animated, while characters are incredibly quirky and memorable. It's a universe that's imaginative yet startlingly well-realised, and every element comes together to create an experience that's unique and unforgettable. Topping off the sensory pleasure is the game's emotive soundtrack that's full of personality and melodies that refuse to disperse after playing.
If there was just one criticism that we could level at the release, it would be that it's a little on the short side, clocking in at around seven to eight hours if you want to see and do everything on offer. It's also evident that proceedings lose a little allure towards the end, where the final quarter of the adventure seems to forget all about the charming narrative, and instead funnels you through a series of more traditional platforming sections that fail to really capture the magic of what came before. That said, the journey's conclusion is heartfelt and touching, providing the lovingly-crafted adventure with a fitting end.
Tearaway is a handheld masterpiece, and a shining example of how unique hardware features should be handled. Its short running time is mostly overshadowed by its compelling mix of platforming, combat, and personalisation – a brilliantly crafted gameplay combination that'll keep you glued to the wonderful world that Media Molecule has created. This papercraft adventure is easily one of the best that you'll unfold on Sony's portable system.