Tearaway hands-on PS Vita preview – why Media Molecule’s papercraft buddy movie is unlike anything you’ve played on Vita
In an open-plan workspace bristling with curious decorations, collectibles and framed doodles, Media Molecule prepares to show me the first glimpse of Tearaway since its reveal at Gamescom. Someone plays a few exploratory notes on an accordion. Behind us, the office dog scuttles around between a collection of lampshades and a recording booth full of Speak & Spells.
Even before the team breaks out into an introductory sea shanty singalong, it’s clear this is a studio with a bombastic personality that diffuses directly into its games. It’s a studio that will never, ever release a new ‘Brutal Takedowns’ trailer or a collector’s edition including night-vision goggles. Its passion lies in making something wonderful out of everyday objects; folding here and colouring in there to make a cheerier world.
Designer Rex Crowle explains the inspiration for the LittleBigPlanet developer’s latest project, a papercraft adventure making full use of PS Vita’s touch controls: “[It] came not necessarily from the outside world, but the world right around us at Media Molecule and our titanically messy desks.
Without really realising it, we were building this landscape around us. I was getting frustrated, doing concept art and screwing it up, and those balls of paper started to take on a life of their own. It was like, ‘Oh, maybe these are boulders.’”
So the office doodles inspire games? In that case, keep your eyes peeled for a game involving a masking-tape astronaut stuck to a cupboard door in the future. For now, Tearaway is more than
exciting enough to hold a flame for (not too close, mind). The central theme – and something of a
studio signature – is experiencing a portal to another world.
The game’s main character Iota, or new female character Atoi, first appears to you as a message (his head is, after all, an envelope with features glued to it) from a mysterious paper kingdom. After your introduction, you take on a godly role in helping Iota deliver the message, controlling him directly with the sticks and buttons, and – most excitingly – by dipping right into the game to make your presence felt.
One puzzle might require folding back layers of paper to reveal a pathway using the front touchscreen, and further down that pathway you might be called upon to poke your omnipotent digits into the world via the rear touchpad – an already famous moment perfectly suited to the platform. Creatures run in fear from your enormous fingers, and by prodding up with enough vigour you can even launch them up in the air, eventually splatting them against the front screen. Hell, you can poke them off that screen, too.
That mechanic goes beyond a jazzy tech demo by conveying the illusion of a physical space between
the two touchpads, fortifying the conceit of looking at a magical world of discarded office memos and forgotten origami projects that literally exists in your hands. You know the feeling when you sometimes touch your computer screen, expecting it to respond like a tablet? Or how you used to press against the TV on a Saturday morning to see if you could somehow caress Cat Deeley? (Don’t look at me that way, that’s absolutely a thing people do.) Well, it’s okay to think like that.
Media Molecule wants to suspend your disbelief not by telling you the Vita isn’t there, but by assuring you it’s channelling the magic. You might be feeling like my hands-on consisted of MM slipping me a sleeping pill and whispering fairytales over the relentless crinkling of paper, so let’s get a bit more grounded. The first area I tackle is a kind of playground, with a basketball hoop to my right, some carnivorous plants to my left and a gigantic tree directly ahead. The folded flora sways gently in the breeze. Butterflies and gophers flit about. Paper gently creases under Iota’s feet as he takes his first steps. I sink a few baskets, and a crowd cheers from somewhere unseen, then I spend longer than I’m proud to admit feeding gophers to the plants.
Further down the path are some ‘drum skins’, essentially bounce pads manipulated by hitting the rear touch pad to propel Iota upwards. The only objective in the area is to enjoy yourself, then move onwards when your playfulness subsides to curiosity and adventurousness. “We’re aiming for an open world feel,” says Crowle, “with playground areas where you’re exploring the potential of the paper world and finding out its various rules – and ways that you can break those rules.”
If that sounds a bit Sunday driver for you, Crowle also reveals “pinch points where [you have] to do something quite challenging to get through a more linear section”. Before I meet said pinch points, I’m launched upwards by the giant tree, which buckles under Iota’s weight and spits him into the air. Like everything in the game, it looks vaguely possible to create in the real world with some ninja-grade origami.
Seriously: in the level-creation software, there’s even a function that shows what shape piece of paper you’d need to be to make any given object, and how it’d have to be folded. It’s the team’s
intention to cheat as little as possible when manipulating the paper into levels.