Tearaway preview & gameplay: “Designed from the ground up” for Vita & contains a unique message for every player

[Get all the Tearaway PS Vita screens here.]

Very little’s been seen of Media Molecule’s papercraft Vita adventure Tearaway since it debuted at Gamescom 2012 and turned heads with its likeable folds, charming attitude and, of course, that ‘sticking your fingers inside the Vita’ moment. Until now, anyway – we’ve been hands-on with it, and talked to designer Rex Crowle about designing the game around the Vita’s controls, and the “unique message” each player will get at the finale.

Tearaway PS Vita hands-on

Explaining the concept behind Tearaway, Crowle talks us through the opening moments of the game, and exactly what on papier mache earth its envelope-headed hero Iota actually is: “our games starts where you turn on the Vita and you just see the live feed on the screen, and you’re moving it around wondering what’s going on and waiting for the game to start.” Stay with him, it gets good.

“And then you notice a little tiny pin prick, in the kind of tissue of lies that we have built around us that this is what reality is. You see this tiny bit of light start streaming in. You realise that this is some kind of portal, and as you’re tugging on it, and touching it with your fingers.

It’s slowly opening more. And you see a little envelope, a message. The envelope is just out of your grasp, and it just falls out of your fingers and gets sucked back into this world that you’ve just had a little glimpse of.”

If an unheardof developer was telling us this, the alarm bells would be ringing so hard the videogame police would be on the scene in minutes, patting them down. But when Media Molecule puts forth such an avant-garde opening, you know it has the creative vision to actually bloody pull it off. Just like you know they’ll make a game about origami appeal to more than just Neil Buchanan and serial killers.

As for the unique message – well, that’s Media Molecule all over, too. But Crowle remains open-minded as to its implementation in the final game: “it’s definitely there to be intriguing. Iota’s head is on screen all the time, you’re seeing this envelope basically bobbing around and running away.”

“You’re just constantly being kind of, little hints at what might be inside, but nobody yet gets to see it until they actually manage to get Iota out of the game.”Wait – out of the game? As in, into real life? Way to go short-circuit our synapses, guys.

Aside from all its thinking outside the box, Tearaway stands up brilliantly as an exciting, unpredictable and charming platform adventure. Levels give you freedom to explore and play in places, then close the walls in and get to to clear areas while being chased by enemies like the Wendigo, one of the many folklore-inspired touches in the game (there’s an invented alphabet,and a port town inspired by the salty tales of Victorian whalers).

Puzzles give you plenty of chance to play with your Vita in all the ways you’ve wanted to since you sucked Frobisher Says dry. Tearing back layers of paper with the front touch screen is a no-brainer for Media Molecule, but the idea of pushing your fingers into the world and poking things so that they splat onto the screen is top-tier territory. By doing so it creates the illusion of a physical space between the touch screen and touch pad in which the world exists. It’s stunningly easy to lose yourself to this conceit.

As Crowle explains, Tearaway’s development was determined by the Vita’s specs right from the word ‘tear’: we’ve designed it from the ground up as a really Vita-y game. The last thing we want is a check list of features that we’re ticking off, it’s that we couldn’t resist putting all our weird ideas in to what we can do with them.”

It’s not like we don’t have great games for Vita already, but many of them are off the beaten track (Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward and Persona 4: Golden are good examples). Tearaway is different. Sure, the papercraft aesthetic is niche, but Media Molecule’s expertise with platform/adventuring, coupled with its panache with touch control (see LittleBigPlanet’s Vita outing for evidence) make Tearaway an important game for the platform. It’s time to start pestering the postman, because there’s a very exciting envelope on its way to you in 2013.