Tearaway – E3 Preview
Though I’m not a man for whom graphical fidelity is the be-all and end-all of my gaming experience, I’ve found myself more appreciative of titles with beautiful and unique art styles than I have those that try to shove the most polygons in their guns. Case in point, one title I’ve been eager to hear more about since Gamescom last year was Tearaway, a Vita-only release from Media Molecule – the makers of LittleBigPlanet – featuring a world where everything is wonderfully rendered as paper-craft and charm is oozing out of every orifice. Taken aback by its visual splendour, I was eager to get some time with it, and found myself leaping towards the nearest Vita (sentences you don’t hear very often, if at all) to get a chance to play it.
Playing as a delivery boy – or girl – this colourful adventure starts with the messenger having lost an important letter; one they are meant to deliver to the person controlling them – the player. To succeed in their quest, the messenger has sought the assistant of their special friend – the player themselves – to help them out by directly interacting with the world by employing the Vita’s unique capabilities. With one of the more meta examples of storytelling in videogames, Tearaway will see you team up with the messenger – who you also control – and help out the various denizens of the world who know that your avatar in the world is being assisted by someone outside the world wh- hold on, I’ve just gone cross-eyed. After a quick character-creation that asks you to select skin-tone, eye colour and hairstyle, you’re promptly thrown into the action, that is, if you’re able to do so without falling in love with the beautiful vistas around you. There’s an almost indescribable beauty to Tearaway, and it’s one that in many ways needs to be seen in motion to fully appreciate; watching leaves curl and unfurl to provide platforms, throwing apples into bowls of tea and bouncing around the environment all serve to delight visually, and it’s the perfect example of how the graphics on the Vita can be used to render more than just guns and Nolan North.
An initial concern I had during its initial reveal back at Gamescom was that it would end up being nothing more than a pretty tech-demo that spent more time shoe-horning in the capabilities of the Vita than concern itself with being remotely fun to play. Much to my surprise – and joy – the Vita’s features aren’t anywhere near as overstated as I had once feared, and while you’ll be using the touch-screen and the camera plenty, their inclusion is used in conjunction with the gameplay, not to hamper it. For much of the demo your messenger is unable to jump, and so in order to clear platforms he must stand on selected platforms bearing familiar cross, square, circles and triangles so that the player can hit the rear touch-pad and send the character hurtling across the gap. Surprisingly, this feels very natural, as you’re not having to move your hands any more than you’d have to by holding the controller normally, and so using the rear touch-pad feels like a natural compliment to the action, rather than sticking out like a sore neck.
Less ergonomic is the use of the front touch-screen in order to open presents, as you have to move both of your hands to pull apart both threads of the ribbon, and though it’s over quickly it’s not entirely comfortable. Throughout the demo there were moments where that screen was used for other tasks – with one a rather humorous side-step where you use it to control a pair of scissors to make a crown for a squirrel – but these would pause the main action in order to allow you full concentration to do so, and so didn’t disrupt the flow or cause uncomfortable hand positioning. There was also the occasional use of the front-mounted camera, but it was very under-utilised apart from one moment right at the beginning of the demo and one Teletubbies-reminiscent moment later on where you could see your face instead of the sun, but it wasn’t used as much as either of the touch-screens.
With the full capabilities of the Vita in tow, what remains to be seen is how entertaining the bulk of the platforming is, and I was pleased to discover that even in the first level alone there were plenty of ideas bursting at the seams, and traversal was fun, challenging and error-free, even without the basic capability to jump. In fact, you’ll become so used to using the rear touch-pad that when you eventually gain the ability to jump without the aid of the drum-like platforms you’ll actually find yourself trying to become accustomed to being able to jump of your own free will. Considering that the jump command seems older than time itself, it’s amazing that Tearaway can make something as simple as pressing a button to jump seem so new and refreshing to someone as embittered and cynical as I.
The level was over before I knew it, but not because it was too short, but because I was so engrossed in the beautiful landscapes and the sublime platforming I completely lost track and time flew by as a result. There are plenty of wonderful things I could continue to say about Tearaway, because Media Molecule have clearly put their all into it and are intent on making it clear they’re not just one-trick ponies with the LittleBigPlanet franchise that the upcoming Vita titles deserves to have praise lavished upon them. In one level there were more ideas and intelligent applications than some titles can seldom pull off in a multi-hour campaign, and even with all these ideas there were collectible trinkets scattered about to encourage you to explore every nook and cranny, and in a world this beautiful you’d have to question why you wouldn’t. Tearaway isn’t just a pretty face, it’s an ingenious platformer that shows off what the Vita is capable of, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being the title that gives the ailing console the much-needed jab in the arm it sorely needs.
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