McGinnis: ‘Tearaway’: A Whimsical WonderWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the downsides to the beginning of a new console generation is how some great games can be overlooked — if they’re being released for systems other than the brand-spanking new ones everyone’s talking about. While gamers everywhere are drooling over their Xbox Ones and PlayStation 4s, with lots of flashy new titles to grab their attention, some great experiences right under their nose may go unnoticed.
The best game of this holiday season, for example, may just be for Sony’s PlayStation Vita. For two years, the excellent handheld console has struggled to find a foothold with the market, despite boasting a number of quality titles. The common complaint would be the Vita didn’t have a marquee title to call its own — a great game that couldn’t be played anywhere but on Vita. (This ignored games like “Soul Sacrifice,” “Escape Plan,” “Killzone: Mercenary,” “Uncharted: Golden Abyss” and many more — but why let truth get in the way of a good stereotype?)
Now, Vita has a game that may stand the test of time as a defining title, one that provides an experience that only this system could offer. And yet, because it came out in the midst of the new console craze, it may have slid right under most everyone’s radar. And that’s a real shame, because “Tearaway,” the new title from the creators of the beloved “Little Big Planet” franchise, may be the most refreshing, fun, whimsical and charming game produced all year.
The idea is simple enough. You play as a messenger — in fact, your character literally is a message come to life — trying to deliver itself to, well, you. Taking full advantage of the Vita’s front and rear cameras, the system puts the player right in the game, with images of yourself as you play frequently appearing during the action. The goal is to guide your little messenger through the game’s world in an effort to reach you.
But describing the game’s basic structure doesn’t do justice to the unique and wonderful things you’ll be doing as you play it. First, like its cousin “Little Big Planet,” “Tearaway” is set in a world that is refreshingly different from most every title on the market. The game takes place in a universe where everything is made from flat sheets of paper, folded into rudimentary shapes suggesting animals, buildings, etc. The art style gives the game its own unique identity.
Then there’s the actual gameplay itself. The basic gist is pretty straightforward — walk from point A to B, collect secrets and so forth. But developers Media Molecule have never been ones to lack creativity when it comes to interacting with their creations. As with “Little Big Planet,” there’s an insane amount of customization available, from the look of your character to creating pieces to decorate the world with. You’re even invited to take pictures of things with the Vita’s camera to provide new textures for in-game characters.
The creativity extends to “Tearaway”‘s controls. There are rudimentary moves, jumping, rolling, etc. But then what gives the game its most unique flavor is interacting with the Vita’s touch screen and rear touch pad. Frequently, to traverse a level, it is necessary for the player to take a hands-on approach, touching the rear pad to literally poke your finger up into the game’s world and manipulate items, or tapping on the front screen to help your messenger squash enemies.
It’s important to note that these touch controls do not detract from the game or feel shoehorned in — they rise as a genuine part of the gameplay. Many of the Vita’s titles have felt like the touch controls were essentially an afterthought, tossed in to take advantage of the system’s gimmicks. “Tearaway”‘s touch controls are a genuine, natural part of the experience, and shows future Vita developers what can and should be done with the system.
In that way, Media Molecule has given Vita a title that is uniquely its own — but beyond that, the developers have given gamers an experience that should not be missed. The main campaign is a little short, maybe, and the title lacks any real online component that gives games like “Little Big Planet” almost limitless replay value. But the gameplay itself is deeper than “Little Big Planet” and its story is surprisingly moving. If you own a Vita, this game is a must-buy. And if you don’t own a Vita, this game may be reason enough to consider one.