That I’m struggling to find anything other than minor criticisms of Tearaway is testament to what Media Molecule have achieved with it. Tearaway isn’t just one of the best handheld games available; it persistently feels like one of the best made this year.
As the next-generation becomes the current, the PlayStation Vita lingers in a space between, occupying the slightly awkward territory of being a console that compliments the newest innovations while being a product of previous ones. Games are being developed infrequently for the platform, as even indie developers are being transfixed by the possibilities created with the introduction of new home consoles. Vita will still remain an indie-friendly platform though, and studios like FuturLab (Velocity), Armature Studios (Arkham Origins: Blackgate) and Media Molecule in particular will (hopefully) continue the champion the possibilities of Sony’s handheld device for years to come.
Developing a game for the Vita should not be seen as a diversion from making something for the PS4, but it’s easy to see why the larger studios are reluctant to pour resources into making Vita games when the temptation to make games with the latest technology for larger markets. These three studios – along with a handful of others like Cambridge Guerrilla (Killzone Mercenary) and Telltale Games (The Walking Dead) – to an extent themselves embody what the Vita represents: middle ground. They reside in positions to choose between developing games intended for Vita, games that are Vita-compatible, or games that avoid the platform altogether.
Media Molecule are perhaps one of the newests studio to declare their interest in developing for the Vita, with Tearaway being their first legitimate entry for the system (LittleBigPlanet Vita was developed by Double Eleven and Tarsier Studios in tandem). However, you’d sincerely hope that they’ll look upon what they’ve produced for the system with their first effort and consider themselves pioneers of it already; Tearaway feels like a game suited to its individual platform better than most else to date.
Tearaway evokes a keen sense of childlike innocence from the moment you enter its paper-crafted world. As you take control of Iota, a humanoid message traversing strange lands, you feel entirely immersed in a story that’s being crafted like a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Media Molecule make use of the Vita’s two cameras to place you and reality in this story: you are You, an entity within the Sun watching over Iota’s world. You don’t narrate – that job’s given to two wonderfully designed, in-world omnipresent characters – but you manipulate the world, and Iota as a consequence finds you both fascinating and terrifying.
Iota’s world is overrun by Scraps – square paper monsters – and You help destroy them by using the Vita’s dual touchscreen/touchpad functionality. Sections of the world have areas where You can burst through the seams, fingers poking through to wipe out enemies or create pathways for Iota to walk across.
The immersion is incredible, as Tearaway’s beautifully constructed world folds and tears to the touch. The sounds and music playfully coarse through events manipulated by your pokes, prods and swipes, Iota’s journey ever-altering as You do your best to assist them. The game invites you to take photos of the world around Iota, even giving it a paper camera with which to do so. Players are incentivised to explore every inch of the world, seeing what Media Molecule’s artsy and crafty developers have created and hidden in-game.
Exploration within Tearaway usually leads to You and Iota meeting the denizens of the world who each have involving little stories to tell. There’s the Squirrel King who requires you to make them a new crown; there’s a baby creature you bump into who follows you around for a spell. You’ll meet a pig trying to find its lost love, who offers you a ride or two, and interesting citizens of a seaside town and a science lab fittingly trying to create new things.
Iota’s journey repeatedly proves to be an evocative one, and that’s down to the way Tearaway allows You to control things as much as become a part of a gorgeous, character-rich world live and breathe. Media Molecule have shown distinctive care in utilising what the technical side of the PlayStation Vita has to offer us, while giving everyone who owns one a delightfully carefree platformer which provides players with a truly rewarding experience. Tearaway at times elevates itself to the esteemed plateau occupied by thatgamecompany’s more recent work, and is certainly one of the most emotionally involving games to have been released since Journey.
Tearaway is – if you’ll pardon the pun – magnificently enveloping, a love letter to both the platforming genre and interactive storytelling that embraces what indie gaming in itself always seems to be about: creativity through imagination.