LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule is best known for its creative approach to design. All their games feel hand-crafted, filled with childlike glee and exuberance. Tearaway, originally released for the Vita in 2013, was no exception, with its adorable papercraft world and storybook setting. That original release has been revamped and expanded in the form of Tearaway Unfolded for the Playstation 4, more akin to a remake than a simple port.
Tearaway’s papercraft world is adorable, charming, and infinitely endearing. Origami characters fold and unfold as the move around the world as pieces of the environment crinkle and crumple in the background. It’s rare to see a game with art design as absolutely complete and cohesive as this. And Tearaway sounds great as well, with its wacky kazoos-meet-dubstep soundtrack and the nonsense talk of its NPCs.
The core of Tearaway is best compared to a 3D platformer. You guide your little papercraft dude or dudette across various obstacles in the environment, gradually unlocking new abilities over the course of the game. The platforming gets trickier over time, but the controls tend to be floaty and imprecise. I can’t count the number of times I missed a jump I was confident in, or slipped off the side of a platform I was sure I had secure footing on. Thankfully, the checkpoints are incredibly generous and will return you with no more than a few seconds of progress lost, but this left much of the game as a frustrating process of trial and error.
Tearaway’s greatest strength is the variety between its various levels. Some task you with basic platforming, others require you to control the wind, or light your way through a dark cave, or ride runaway pigs, or pilot paper airplanes, or escape throngs of crazed wendigos. Hopping from scene to scene like this helps the game focus on the strength of its artistic design rather than its middling core mechanics, keeping you moving briskly from location to location.
Unfortunately, that brisk pace is frequently interrupted by the game’s worst aspect–its combat. You’ll often find yourself locked into small arena’s with tiny box-shaped creatures called scraps, which you have to dispatch by knocking them out of the environment. There are a variety of enemy types which require a variety of different tactics to defeat, but most fights boil down to you repeating those tactics over and over until each wave is gone. The second act in particular is just drowning in these encounters, and it was an absolute slog to make it through them.
A big part of the original Tearaway’s charm was its use of the Vita’s peripheral features like the motion sensor and touch pad, and these features have been smartly adapted to the PS4’s various features. Early levels have you tapping the touchpad to launch yourself off of drumskins, or swiping across it to cause gust of wind. You’ll similarly use the touchpad throughout the game to craft various objects for the NPCs–this is wildly imprecise, but having your creations look like they came from a kindergartner is oddly suited to the game’s aesthetic.
You can also build your creations via a companion app on tablets, and this app actually ended up being one of my favorite aspects of Tearaway. I handed the iPad over to my wife for most of the game, as she doodled and flinged various bits of confetti at me and filled the game world with goofy pictures.
Tearaway’s whimsy and, similar to LittleBigPlanet, its admonishment to be creative and share your creations and experiences with other players are its strongest aspects. But since the game’s just a few hours long and basically linear, the “sharing” side of it feels slight and inconsequential. The game’s straight-up adorable, and I wish could love it, but its charm is backed up with simplistic gameplay and a lot of repetitive encounters. Tearaway’s aesthetics are incredibly unique and go a long way toward making the game enjoyable, but it ended up just feeling like style over substance.