Set your radar to November as something special is coming.
I grew up in the platforming era. Once the 2D generation had ended and the 3D generation began games started to get grittier and more realistic. By the time we hit Playstation 3 territory even platform pros such as Naughty Dog got serious. Outside of Ratchet & Clank the gaming scene is by and large in a generation of action, shooting (I know Ratchet & Clank have lots of action and shooting but their roots lie in platforming) and racing games. When Paul (thanks mate!) gave me a preview copy of Tearaway to have a go at, I was almost uncontrollable with excitement. Developed by Media Molecule who, despite only being formed in 2006 have already won “Game of the Year” awards with the LittleBigPlanet franchise, Tearaway is a clear attempt to bring the joy of platforming back to the forefront of our mind; the light hearted, simpler times where the aim was to get from A to B while collecting C, D and E and discovering F, G and H on the way.
The game begins in a storybook style. A handy voice over tells us that the same stories have been told for generations, countless times and that new ingredients are needed to refresh the stories of legend. Within seconds of Tearaway beginning you are asked to choose a similiar skin tone and hand size to your own, along with deciding whether you want to be referred to as male or female. Once this has been done you choose either Iota or Atoi (letters that have a message just for you) based on preference and the stage is set for your adventure to begin. The idea behind Tearaway is something unique that I don’t feel I have experienced before; the story teller makes you shake the Vita and connect your own world with theirs and you suddenly become the sun in the sky (literally). You are a huge being compared to the characters of Tearaway and the only way to progress is by team work. While you control Iota/Atoi in the main it’s you, the player and your godlike hands and actions that allow Atoi/Iota to progress through the game. The preview build of Tearaway I was playing contains five different areas that you must complete in a fairly linear fashion over around two hours of playtime.
The Standing Stones is the first area you will face as you are eased into the way the game plays. Initially all I could do was run around and talk to characters and, with certain areas on the floor covered with the symbols that grace the rear touch pad I was unaware as to whether Atoi (who I chose for my playthrough) would ever actually be able to jump. It turns out as you progress in typical gaming fashion you earn abilities and are eased into a multitude of abilities of which I believe I haven’t scratched the surface of. You see, as you progress through each area new ways to play are introduced. For example, early in the game you pick up a camera and you can snap away to your hearts delight. Though taking pictures isn’t technically required in the preview build there are characters and objects that are white hidden around every colour. If you find one and snap them they return to colour and you unlock the template to construct them with paper, which is accessed through tearaway.me. While the website isn’t live yet (understandable, though I did try) when the game is released you can sync your progress and print out these templates to make real figurines in true origami style. From what I’ve played so far Media Molecule have managed to make you feel so completely immersed in the experience that you truly feel connected to the world and that you really do have the influence to change anything. This is realised even further by meetings with characters who don’t seem to understand what pumpkins look like, or wish snowflakes weren’t all white. Cue a nifty little creation tool that gives you the chance to take several different colours of paper and to draw and craft what the game is asking for. Before you ask, no, when I was asked to create mittens for Atois hands I didn’t draw phallic symbols but my point is the whole world becomes littered with your own creations. The snowflake design you create changes the snow in game. Some characters will ask you to “improve” their appearance and you can swap out their features for other ones, which also extends to your own character.
Creativity is everywhere. Images you take with the camera are skinned over huge banners or characters that request and in a very similar way to LittleBigPlanet you have many options to pimp your Atoi/Iota until they look completely different. scattered all over the place is confetti which works as currency to unlock these (as well as getting new filters for your camera). I have to admit looking at screenshots in no way gives justice to just how amazing it looks in motion. I had he odd framerate hiccup but generally everything was smooth and there’s always so many animated things on screen that bring the world to life. The fact that you use the rear touch pad and touch screen here was my main concern but it’s been done in a way that feels necessary and never tacked on. It was a joy to record a “roar” sound for a pumpkin head to scare scarecrows away. Progression is often less platforming and more prodding and sliding things on screen. Enemies are pretty basic but you can pick them up when stunned or chuck them at each other. You also gain a neat rolling ability later on that is put to use in the “Barn” level and also to knock enemies off of their stilts. They’re called “Scraps” by the way.
I want to tell you so more and yet I don’t want to spoil things because I really feel (and I’m sure anyone who has had the chance to play it will agree) that Media Molecule are a forced to be reckoned with. Moving away from LittleBigPlanet to a new franchise would always be a risk but it’s looking like it’s one that will pay off big time. The creative streak and sheer inventiveness is still here, it still feels like a Media Molecule game (even down to the music which is often a similar style to their former series), yet it’s grown and progressed to something else that really is different, and we all know different gaming experiences are now very rare (with perhaps the exemption of the indie scene). Tearaway looks fantastic, has an amazing feel and even manages to do away with the slightly less accurate “floaty” feeling LittleBigPlanet was known for. It’s all frighteningly rock solid and in place. My only concerns that I could think of (and these are kind of minor) are that it will struggle at retail and feel to niche for the wider community. Tearaway should and could be a game that could shift units by the bucket load if Sony get there act together and create a media frenzy rather than the relative squib most Vita releases have had so far. My other concern is perhaps a little greater and it’s an issue Media Molecule have danced around for a while now; the length of the story. Now there are loads of collectibles everywhere (I certainly never discovered them on my first run through) but rather worrying the overall story progression at the end of the preview sat at 24%, which would mean about eight hours from start to finish if it continued in the same fashion. The preview was pretty easy to get through but it felt more like “fun” than me wanting a challenge as the joy is to discover what’s next, I just hope Media Molecule have ran with the “message unique to you” thing and can keep things fresh for repeated playing. The bottom line is this folks, unless Media Molecule screw the rest of the game up (very unlikely) we could be getting another “Game of the Year” contender. Yes, it’s that good. We will of course give you the full review as soon as the title is released next month.