Tearaway hands-on PS Vita preview – why Media Molecule’s papercraft buddy movie is unlike anything you’ve played on Vita

Everything around me moves like it’s been filmed by a stop-motion camera, from the flapping of butterflies to the uncurling of plant leaves. While most studios are losing sleep over animation quality and spending millions in mo-cap studios, Media Molecule’s animators are producing a filter that glitches and takes away frames of animation to create something that looks fresh and very unlike a videogame. The engine doesn’t even render textures as such – instead the team builds up layers of paper folded in all kinds of improbable ways to colour the environments.

Oh God, oh God, oh God. A monster just turned up. Sod’s law, this happens just as I’m blithely playing around with screwing Iota up into a ball by holding X and rolling him around – right into a Wendigo’s ankles. The lumbering brute can’t squeeze through the tiny hole I roll Iota through in ball form, though – the envelope-headed one lives to scrap another day.

Somehow the mythical Wendigo makes perfect sense in Tearaway’s landscape, inspired by folklore, sailors’ tales and Pritt Sticks in roughly equal measures. One of the locations is a harbour town called Sogport, which is slowly sinking in an ocean of thick glue, and it’s inspired by the tall tales of sea beasts found in Victorian-era whaling towns. Pictures of Canadian docks and a museum exhibit called Merman (“Clearly,” head of audio Kenneth Young points out, “a fish stuck to a monkey”) grace the walls of the studio. Similarly, the Wendigo Iota meets is a cross between a fish and Sasquatch himself.

There’s an environmental message to Sogport, too – its docker citizens have been tearing up the island for their own greedy means, speeding the collapse. Iota’s going to have to get all Greenpeace to keep that thick glue out of his pulpy lungs.

Glue can help Iota as readily as destroy him, though. In thick pools it’s an insta-death broth, but
elsewhere it’s applied in stick form, enabling him to walk up vertical planes and strut sideways along walls. I use the sticky stuff to dodge another Wendigo, then a trap presents itself: there’s a pearl in front of me, and an ominous square of paper on the fl oor below. Sure enough, lobbing the pearl near it attracts the beast, and he’s instantly trapped in a foldout cage tied with a tasteful bow.

The rest of the hands-on consists of prototype levels showcasing the more leftfield puzzles and control methods. One stage is infested with paper squeezeboxes, used as elevators, bridges, and even one Iota can pick up and use to suck and blow, manipulating nearby objects with the power of accordion. At this point the morning singalong starts to appear less of a lunatic gesture, but only slightly. And yep, there are sandbox areas in which to experiment with the vital mechanic of… poking my fingers through into the game world and watching it react.

And of course, being the creator of LittleBigPlanet, Media Molecule couldn’t omit a user-created dimension. Crowle mentions the concept of “physical trophies” early on in the day, before I see the level editor that shows you how to make game objects with real paper. Hold on, that means… “As you’re progressing through the world, if you’ve beaten certain challenges then you will be rewarded. In traditional in-game ways, but also as a nice bonus you’ve also got certain bits in the environment to print out. So the game almost starts spilling out of your Vita, all over your house, bedroom or whatever.”

This beats the usual token gestures games are often guilty of: play, then make it real. Tearaway’s technical appeal is matched and even eclipsed by its likeable personality. Yes, you get to manhandle your portable in ways even Frobisher didn’t think of, but you’ll also be embarking on a soothing, tactile adventure with a story, varied locations and characters. It doesn’t put on the airs and graces of a grand, straight-faced Journey level contender – but then, could Journey make you feel the sand between your toes?