Two years after its Vita debut, Media Molecule's paper wonderland adventure has come to the PlayStation 4 in Tearaway Unfolded. Swapping out the unique capabilities of Sony’s plucky handheld for the DualShock 4’s touchpad and light bar, Unfolded attempts to replicate the crafting customization of the 2013 original. Are the results as joyful as Vallyfold’s playful inhabitants? Or are these improvements paper thin?
In the vein of a classic children’s play, Tearaway treats its audience as a meaningful contribution to the game’s story. As The You, you’ll need to help the envelope-headed Messenger journey through a series of colorful and treacherous locations to seal the mysterious hole in the sky. The villainous Scraps take advantage of the peril and begin their destructive campaign to transform the world into a newspaper nightmare. It’s up to You and the Messenger to end the Scrap menace and restore imagination to the land.
Tearaway’s story is deliberately small, often tasking the game’s protagonists with resolving the simple problems of adorable creatures. Helping a Scarecrow find his head or putting on a play with a gang of squirrels is every bit as charming as it sounds. Unfortunately, Tearaway’s problematic chorus of false endings frequently interrupt the narrative’s triumphant themes and quickly become predictable. Worse yet, the game’s final chapter exploitation of meta storytelling feels entirely too dark and meditative for a title about woodland pals and pig riding. While Tearaway’s ambitious deviation from traditional storytelling is commendable, its execution sacrifices engagement for unexpected twists. Despite the game’s devastatingly heartfelt ending, the adventure repeatedly meanders without much meaningful escalation.
At it’s root, Tearaway is a common platformer. But its implementation of the PlayStation 4’s controller creates a slew of exciting and unexpected abilities. Aiming the DualShock 4’s light bar illuminates dim environments and bedazzles enemies, leaving the hypnotized Scraps open to attack. Swiping the touchpad creates strong gusts of wind, knocking away obstacles and propelling paper airplanes in flight sequences. Objects and creatures can be hurled into the controller itself to be used as projectiles, with thoughtful sound effects emanating from the controller's speaker. Even the face buttons get into the action as activatable surfaces and switches. Separately these features are cute gimmicks but together they deliver a thrilling sense of omnipotent power while still requiring a healthy dose of deduction.
It’s a shame these inventive interactions are bogged down by Tearaway’s inconsistent platforming. The game’s early flat landscapes are a joy to explore but it’s later precise jumping and rolling sequences expose Tearaway’s problematic controls. Simply put, the Messenger’s movement never feels right. Walking and jumping are entirely too stiff while the momentum sensitive ball form feels excessively slippery. This is further exacerbated by the camera’s constant self correction, frequently resulting in imprecise leaps or simply falling into a pit. The already challenging task of vertically walking along sticky glue becomes overwhelmingly difficult when the objects are in motion. But it's when Tearaway introduces hypersensitive motion control sequences that the platforming truly becomes tedious. While checkpoints are conveniently located and retries are unlimited, they can’t make up for an overreliance on failure states or sloppy controls.
Though Tearaway’s base gameplay is restrictive, it’s visual customization is anything but. From the beginning, players design the facial features of their Messenger, creating their very own protagonistic. Throughout Tearaway’s 8 hour story, players will drawn, edit and incorporating their creations into the world. Changing the shape of snowflakes in a blizzard or designing a flag for your adventure make for some of the most endearing and engrossing moments. The PlayStation Mobile App can also be used to bring your photo library directly into the game. At times these sequences appear too closely together but watching your recent creation come to life is consistently satisfying.
But what makes Tearaway’s personalization elements so successful are its lovingly handcrafted graphics. Every character, enemy, object, and location perfectly emulates the look of construction paper. Watching environments bend to the wind or transform like stop motion animation strongly delivers on the promise of a wood pulp world. The folksy soundtrack ranges from exhilarating to cheeky to moving but always superbly written, performed, and engineered. Tearaway’s marvelous voice acting, music and aesthetics are superbly executed and provide some of the best presentation of the year.
Tearaway is a charming ode to childhood wonder but much like a youthful creation its aspirations greatly outweigh the final result. It’s customization tools and blissful world can’t overcome the title’s aimless narrative and troubled controls. As a stand alone effort, some of these issues could be overlooked, but this is a revamped version of a now two year old project. Tearaway Unfolded has a plethora fantastic ideas but it sadly underdelivers on the essentials.
VGAD Score: 6.5