Tearaway Unfolded is a lovely-looking game. As you might expect from the makers of LittleBigPlanet, it's a visually textural treat. Only rather than having the more fabric-based look and feel of LBP, this time out everything in this game from its characters to the scenery and backdrops looks like it's made from paper.
It really is a remarkable effect, and gives the game a very distinct look – one that carries all the hallmarks of a Media Molecule title. It's big, bold, bright and colorful, and looks pretty damn stunning. The fact that everything also sounds like paper - things rustle as you walk past them, and paper trees and plants grow with a soft thwap that sounds like a page being turned in a book - really helps make the game feel like a crazy papercraft project come to life.
Originally a PlayStation Vita game, but overhauled for PS4 with new regions, a rearranged story and a ton of new collectables, Tearaway Unfolded spins a yarn of the messenger – called Atoi – a fully-customizable (at least in terms of his or her appearance) protagonist who's on a grand adventure with "the you." And yes, "the you" is indeed you. This game knocks down the fourth wall and often refers to both the protagonist and the player, turning the proceedings into an odd player-referential narrative that breaks a convention that doesn't often get broken in gaming.
It's all very creative, and that's really the fundamental tenet of Tearaway Unfolded. Creativity and imagination are to the fore, and you're given plenty of tools to exercise both. Throughout the game, you're given the opportunity to draw things using the PlayStation controller's touch pad (or the rather good smartphone companion app, which is a far better option), as well as take pictures and record your voice for use in the game. But before I go any further, let me quickly explain the basics.
Tearaway Unfolded is a 3D platform puzzle game featuring Atoi, who's on a mission to fix a hole that's been torn in the sky of her world. Evil scraps of paper are falling through this rift, and they're wreaking havoc upon the happy land of Valleyfold and its poor old residents, and it's up to you to put everything to rights. It's a classic premise, and the objective is to wander through the fairly linear world solving simple problems along the way, as well as completing tasks requested by the residents of Valleyfold.
Some of these tasks involve a bit of drawing on your controller's touch pad (which is easy enough to do). An early artistic opportunity sees you drawing a crown and a jewel for a squirrel, which you then paste on his head. Silly, but fun - which is very much the mantra of Tearaway Unfolded. The game almost feels like a children's storybook come to life. It has a certain childlike wonder about it, and indeed it's something that's ideal to play with a kid, or someone with plenty of imagination who'll enjoy drawing and creating things for use in the game.
Most things that you create become motifs that you'll see plastered on objects throughout the game, so make sure you draw decent pictures - unless you really don't care about that sort of thing. In that sense, Tearaway Unfolded does require some pride from the player. You can go through the game and really not try at all - just drawing featureless blobs and shapeless masses and slapping them on things. However, if you do that, you're sort of missing the point. This game is as much about the journey as it is about finishing it, and having rushed through the game not really putting much care and attention into what I was creating, I ended up regretting not spending more time playing around with the game as I should.
No, I pegged it through the game at top speed so I could write this review, and take it from me, don't do that. The more fun parts of Tearaway Unfolded are found in its creation aspects. It's very imaginative in that sense, and the game has you playing around with a variety of things, like drawing fish that then swim in an aquarium, making flames for a brazier to light the way forward, and creating a logo for a science lab run by merfolk. Yes - merfolk. I told you this game feels like a kid's storybook come to life.
Helping make the game even more kid-friendly is the fact that you have unlimited lives. Most of the time when you get offed, you simply reappear where you died, and continue on from where you left off. Later on in the game when things get a little more challenging, you're sometimes put back to a checkpoint, but for the most part the game is pretty easy to breeze through - it took me a couple of afternoons to finish.
Tearaway Unfolded does have some challenges, however, particularly later on in the game. Some of them are really fun, such as navigating platforming levels using combinations of button presses and the touchpad to activate different platforms and jumps, and - much later in the game - using the joypad's tilt controls to line up spinning platforms or move objects around. The way the game uses the controller is very clever and in some cases quite ingenious, and there are some interesting puzzles to solve that are enjoyable to figure out.
However, not all the game's challenges come from the imaginative design. Some come from what feel like poor design decisions. Being a 3D platform game, there are plenty of ramps, ladders and platforms to run across. The controller moves Atoi relative to the camera, so it's almost impossible to move in a straight line when the camera starts to pan, and that can make jumps trickier than they should actually be. Because of this, in some clutch situations, the game just made me feel clumsy. Fortunately, the unlimited lives mean you just try again, but I did have numerous occasions when I died falling off something and felt that if the game locked movement relative to the controller, it would have been a much better option. That way you could pick a line and if the camera moved, Atoi would continue to hold the line until you changed direction. Unfortunately the converse is true, and as the camera moves, you end up following a curve - which is not always ideal when you're trying to run along a thin platform. And especially when the controls feel just a little vague and floaty like the first LittleBigPlanet game.
I also had several situations where I seemed to get stuck in scenery, or found myself in a situation that was impossible to get out of, and had to restart at the last checkpoint. In that respect, the game seems to be a little buggy. It didn't happen a lot - three times during the entire game - but that's enough for me to call into question how well the game has been tested.
These negative aspects unfortunately take some of the shine off Tearaway Unfolded, and I did encounter a few situations where I really felt frustrated by its vague-feeling controls - particularly during the flight sequences. Which is such a shame, because much of the game is a real joy to play, and there are some entertaining hazards to negotiate where you're using the controller in very clever and fun ways.
Ultimately, Tearaway Unfolded falls short of brilliance. It's definitely a very fun game; its combination of terrific graphics, wonderful narration, great tunes and an incredibly high degree of creativity make it a distinctive and memorable title that helps unleash your inner kid. I really enjoyed playing it, even though I rushed through it, and I can see myself going back to it again to pick up all the collectibles and things I missed the first time around. And to also immerse myself in its creativity - and have fun customizing my character in the way that you can.
However, as I already said, it's not perfect. It's almost like the game shipped too early. Perhaps Media Molecule are satisfied with the game as is, but I feel like it needs a little more polish to tighten things up. Had some of its more awkward camera angles been ironed out, and the sometimes overly floaty controls just honed to give a little more positive feedback in tight situations, this game would have been a classic. As it stands, it's just a fun, enjoyable game that isn't without its frustrations.
Terrific presentation throughout.
It takes a couple of afternoons to get through, but you can always go back and pick up its myriad of collectibles.
The tunes and effects are whimsical and fit the action perfectly.
Wonderful! The whole game looks like a papercraft project come to life.
A lovely game with a delightful story, this platform puzzler has very high audio-visual appeal. It's also really fun to play - although it does have areas where poor camera choices and slightly awkward controls can make the proceedings frustrating.