Video Games Review: Tearaway Unfolded (PS4, 2015)

We’ve seen quite a few games from Sony’s library of last generation title arrive on PS4 with shiny new graphics and frame rates but the curious case of PSVita title Tearaway’s current-gen remaster took many by surprise.

Tearaway was built to solely take advantage of the Vita’s hardware – all of its core mechanics and controls were built around the Vita’s particular tech, particularly the touchscreens on the rear and twin cameras. In bringing the game to the PlayStation 4, developer Media Molecule surely had their work cut out for them. Would the move to a controller cause Tearaway, by all accounts an excellent game in its own right, to lose something in translation?

Media Molecule are to be commended for skillfully avoiding a trap that many other developers might have fallen into. Tearaway Unfolded is a complete, ground-up rebuild of the original game that focuses on the ways the DualShock 4 can be used to interact with its many environments and puzzles. This means that there are a wealth of brand new gameplay elements and large areas that have changed entirely to reflect the new hardware.

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The game’s chewy center, however, has not changed a jot. You play as Iota or Atoi, ambulatory envelopes whose job is to deliver messages. Your job is to make your way to a large tear in the sky above the game’s surprisingly detailed papercraft universe. The tear acts as a portal for The You – literally you, the person playing the game – allowing you to look into their world through the PlayStation Camera and become a godhead. This is noteworthy because the original version of Tearaway bound your god powers to your fingers through the back touchpad. The DualShock has a touchpad too but Mm have used it rather differently.

Tearaway Unfolded starts springing the changes on you right away. First, you now hold down R2 to shine a light from the controller’s motion sensor into the Tearaway world. Moving the controller around moves the light which will illuminate various interactive parts of the world – darkened areas, burning up newspaper placed by the evil Scraps and annoying the locals. The Scraps have come through the sky portal and are now wreaking havoc in the idyllic papercraft world and it’s up to you to help put a stop to them. You do this by shining the light on them, dazzling them and leading them into convenient death traps.

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Other abilities include the creation of strong winds by swiping the touch pad. This allows you to send wind gusts wherever you like in and out of combat. You can use it to knock enemies around or rearrange the environment so that it becomes more easily traversable. Mm have come up with whole new sections of the game built around this mechanic.

It’s nice to see Tearaway’s original structure survive the transition into the PS4 version – you still visit the same places in the same sequence for instance, but many of them are completely transformed by all the new gameplay mechanics on offer. At times, it really does make Tearaway Unfolded feel like a brand new game. That’s not to say that everything is different though – there’s a lot that remains the same. The camera still lets you take photos of plain white models in the levels and then colour them in to create physical printouts you can get from the Tearaway website. You can still draw and cut designs of your own and deploy them in-game. Creativity – as with Mm’s other titles like Little Big Planet plays a bit part in the proceedings. It asks you early on to craft a crown for a Squirrel King that will reappear every time he is seen. Little touches like this make the whole affair that much more personal and rewarding. If you have kids at home who are a part of the creator/Minecraft generation, they’re going to love the way Tearaway Unfolded adopts everything you create and makes it a part of the larger world. It embraces you on a very deep level and it’s hard to knock the grin off your face when your creations come back to haunt you later.

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It’s not as easy to create as it was on the Vita, however. The PS4 touchpad is rather harder to manipulate and it resulted in some truly sad looking creations on my part. This is mostly down to the room you have to work with because it’s more than sensitive enough to work with. When the game asks you to get really tricky with your drawing, it became a little annoying to work with. Mm have clearly been aware of this because they’ve created a companion app for tablets and phones that you can do the creating on if you prefer. You can also have a second player jump in to help out but all told this is a bit of a wobbly way to solve the problem – one of the few that appear as a result of the Vita-to-PS4 transition.

The only other problem I found in terms of transition was that Tearaway Unfolded never quite feels as immersive as it did on the Vita. There I felt like I was literally dipping my fingers into this little world and poking around in there. Here, as a god of winds and lights, you feel a bit more detached. The PlayStation Camera also reflects this. The Vita would easily take a shot of your face from the front camera as you held the device and put your face in the sky, making you feel like a true god in this world. The PS4 version attempts to do the same but most of the time the camera only picked up parts of my living room which would lead to a shot of me sitting in my beanbag in a very undignified manner being beamed into the sky above.

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Taking a game like Tearaway and rebuilding it around a new system and controller was never going to be a small feat and you shouldn’t take my piddling gripes as writ that Media Molecule have somehow gotten it wrong because they absolutely have not. There is such love and care wrapped up in every moment of this game that it’s impossible not to fall in love with it.

Most of the time, remasters only offer graphical changes as a reason to come back and play a game again. Tearaway Unfolded works a lot harder than that – yes, it’s prettier than its Vita cousin but there’s so much more going on here than that. It’s a puzzle platformer par excellence and for fans of the genre craving something new, Tearaway Unfolded is a must play.

Review Score: 9.0 out of 10
Highlights: Beautiful; seriously funny; incredibly immersive
Lowlights: Some concessions from Vita-to-PS4 are a mite clunky
Developer: Media Molecule
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Released: September 9, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4

Reviewed on PlayStation 4