Tearaway Unfolded Review

September 20, 2015

Tearaway, from the extraordinarily creative folk at Media Molecule, was one of my favourite games of 2013. An absurdly inventive and deliriously charming exploration of the art of interactivity, Tearaway wow’d with its authentic investment in this tiny digital world. It was a game of love; love for the player, love for interactive 3D spaces, love for hardware, love for the little knobs and buttons we tweak and press, and a love for play. It’s a game that loved being on the PlayStation Vita, which in retrospect was both a blessing and a curse.

The blessing came in the form of comprehensive integration of the Vita’s diverse methods of control, utilising both the front and back touch pads, the camera, the sticks, and the buttons to directly involve the player in all manner of creative craziness. Tearaway adhered a hugely admirable vision of what video games could be about, and explored the philosophy behind the role of screens and controllers as our bridge to interactive worlds, and what this means as both strengths and weaknesses. It was all very fourth wall breaking, a self conscious exploration of you being you, and interacting with a meticulously designed 3D space, the extent of your interactivity bound to the display, audio, and control tools that physically sat in your hands.

Meanwhile the curse was simply that the PlayStation Vita, as we all know, tanked in the market. It’s neither here nor there as a debate, one I’m not particularly interested in tainting this review with, so I’ll simply leave my thoughts as this “curse” being that I firmly believed Tearaway to be a game well deserving of huge success, and its achievements of such brilliant use of the Vita hardware was in turn at a cost of limited commercial viability.

Tearaway is very much a game everybody should try. And so to see it remade for the PlayStation 4, where at the very least more people have the chance to give it a shot, is an absolute delight.

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So here we have Tearaway Unfolded, a game that straddles the line between full remake and port. It’s teetering more towards the former, mind you. Though it’s based on the core idea, plot, and content of the original Vita build, the engine and assets have been overhauled to make proper use of the PlayStation 4’s hardware. The result is sharp image quality, gorgeous use of colours and lighting, and a stable 60 frames per second performance. I’ve long felt that Tearaway was a good contender for the nicest looking PlayStation Vita game, and Unfolded is a strong contender for the same on PlayStation 4. Its Vita origin is perhaps most evident in its arguably conservative use of geometry, but it’s all very deliberate and where such discrepancies in other ports may highlight cross platform roots, Tearaway‘s papercraft aesthetic effortlessly hides potential blemishes. Media Molecule’s artists, animators, and engine programmers have borderline perfect understanding of the texture and weight of paper and card, creating an interactive world made up of these things that all move and bend believably. Lighting and shadow cascades onto papery surfaces just as it would in the real world, giving the vibrant paper craft landscapes and characters a texture you could convincingly reach out and touch.

Stop motion inspired animations applied to movement of paper craft characters and effects go the extra mile while avoiding the low-frame rigidity that such a direction can lead to, and the game world itself, like the original build, is absolutely chock full of little visual and audio details that give every object a proper sense of presence in the play space. Tearaway is a game that both in presentation and play invites the player to interact with the world in whatever way they can, and having the world react to their presence and involvement, if just through a cute little audio cue or contextual visual event, goes a long way towards developing a real attachment to the interactive space.

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Like the original, Tearaway Unfolded follows a plot that recognise the player (You!) as an entity in itself, interacting with an interactive world, guiding the papercraft Atoi hero to rid their world of “scraps”. Unfolded follows many of the same notes as the original, with a few amendments and restructuring here and there, which may disappoint those deeply familiar with the Vita build though comes at no cost to the charm. Tearaway is built around breaking the fourth wall, its narrators continually referencing your existence, and the cute and quirky Atoi critters and creatures remarking on your involvement in events as they play out.

But play is without a doubt the most important quantity of Tearaway Unfolded, including the aforementioned fourth wall breaking. As said, Tearaway pride itself on transforming the PlayStation Vita hardware into a direct conduit to the game world itself, and rather than straight port the game as is here Media Molecule has re-imagined the entire art of play for the Dual Shock 4 and additional PlayStation 4 peripherals. It is immediately noticeable from the onset, with the introductory film clip acknowledging the fact you own a games console on a television, and it only gets better throughout. At worst Unfolded would have too strictly adhered to the design of the original, simply transferring game and control systems across wholesale, but with Unfolded that is not the case. Familiarity with the Vita build is there, the Dual Shock 4’s gyro as a light-pointer-thing in many ways emulating the touch panel of the Vita build as a means of quickly and easily interacting with key points of the world, but the implementation has been wholly revisited and amended to account for the change. The world reacts that little bit differently to the Dual Shock 4 over the PlayStation Vita. Even touch controls, something both the Vita and Dual Shock 4 share, have minor amendments to better suit each method of control.

And these amendments and changes are comprehensive throughout the entire game. Unfolded adds several new areas and puzzles, but generally the bits and pieces of the game, even based on the Vita’s source material, have been reworked for the strengths and weaknesses of the PlayStation 4. This goes a long way to help define Tearaway Unfolded as its own excellent game, rather than a straight port of an already excellent game found elsewhere.

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The downside to such detail to change is that the PlayStation 4 as it is lacks, out of the box, all the little technological feats of the Vita. The content is there, but sometimes requires an additional peripheral or tool to explore in the same way as the Vita build. For example, if you have a PlayStation camera Tearaway Unfolded will use it in the same way as it did in Tearaway, but if you do not (like me) you’ll miss out on some of the goofier, charming quirks like your own face appearing the game as a literal representation of “You”. Similarly the paper craft customisation has been adapted to the Dual Shock 4’s gyro, and while I think this works exceptionally well, there’s no denying the original vision of the game was built for that drag-and-drop touch-and-tweak formula possible with the Vita’s touch screen. You can replicate that here, using either a Vita or touch screen device (like a phone) and connecting them to the game, but like camera it’s still one of those original ideas that’s taken a bit of a back seat simply due to the transition between platforms.

And honestly, I don’t think it’s a big issue, given how inventive Media Molecule has been towards re-imagining ideas for the PlayStation 4’s base hardware while still providing options for those who have extras, but I do think an argument can be made for the end result marginally depersonalising the overall experience. It’s a tough position for Tearaway Unfolded as it’s not one easily overcome, and perhaps even just a point of preference, but having the world of the Atoi and the goofy interactivity, from the way it sees and speaks to you and vice versa, all taking place in your hands is never quite replicated in absolution with the PlayStation 4 build. Though perhaps without exposure to Tearaway for Vita this is really very much a non-issue, as without a point of comparison Tearaway Unfolded will excel almost perfectly at everything it does.

A part of me envies those whose first exposure to Tearaway will be through Unfolded. Irrespective of its source material, Unfolded stands strong as its own brilliant, inventive, and borderline masterful exploration of interactivity and all the charms that come with. Even if it’s not the most challenging game, simply having so much presence in a game world rich with self awareness is a joy from start to finish. Some of that charm may be mildly diluted for those who’ve explored Tearaway for Vita so thoroughly, but even so, Media Molecule deserve a great deal of praise for re-imagining and reinventing the Tearaway experience for the PlayStation 4 so ingeniously that even the most well versed Atoi will easily fall in love with one of the most charming games ever made all over again.


Charming, inventive, cute, and imaginative.


Quite easy, and most impactful on first time players.

Overall Score: