Usually when a game makes the jump from handheld to console, as with Tearaway Unfolded, its lineage is painfully obvious and results are disappointing. Visuals are crunchy and uninteresting, controls are sketchy at best, and the camera feels better fit to the tiny screen the game was born on.
Not on Media Molecule's watch, though.
When the developer, best known for LittleBigPlanet, decided to take its papercraft platformer Tearaway to the PlayStation 4, it wanted to do exactly what it did with the original: build a game that takes advantage of as many aspects of its platform as possible.
The end result is a game that stands apart from its predecessor and shouldn't be linked to its handheld origins as any kind of criticism, but more as a simple matter of history; handheld is where the game began.
Realism as eye candy
If you didn't manage to catch Tearaway on the PS Vita, here's the basic concept: In a world built entirely out of colorful construction paper, with everything folded and glued into place, something has punched a hole in the world, letting in drab scraps of newspaper, whose only desire is to make everything else drab and boring. Only the messenger, atoi or iota, and you, The You, can stop them, and only if you work together.
Visually, Tearaway Unfolded is a treat. It's eye-candy of the best kind. While the team at Media Molecule did, in fact, go for realism when they built the game, they went for a very specific kind. Instead of trying to simulate the whole world, they're just simulating construction paper – the way it moves, folds, and catches light.
When the game made the shift from Vita to PlayStation 4, it also got bumped up to 1080p resolution and a smooth 60fps framerate, both of which only help with the whole illusion.
It makes a perfect case for the power of art direction and what a game can do when the focus is put on that instead of making dudebros look as realistically gritty as possible. The further I got into Tearaway Unfolded, the more I wanted to head down to the nearest big box store and pick up a stack of construction paper so that I could start making some of the stuff I saw on screen.
The unique look of the game helps it stand out from anything else out there, gives rise to some hilarious art and animation, and gives a lot of room for player input.
This world belongs to The You
And player input is really the key to Tearaway Unfolded.
As a platformer, it's not going to blow any minds. Most of the platforming is pretty simple stuff. Huge chunks of the game are open areas that will give you plenty of room to fail and retry without frustration. Even if you do die, you're not penalized.
The platforming does jump in difficulty toward the end of the game, which may make it more challenging for younger gamers, but experienced platform gamers won't find any reason to throw their controllers here.
The combat doesn't feel like it's there to add challenge, either, so much as a bit of variety. There's nothing too tough about it, and it's never painful.
Instead, you contribute to and interact with the world of Tearaway Unfolded to a degree few other games allow.
Throughout the game, The You (that's you) will be asked to create things. A crown for a squirrel. Wings for a butterfly. A tattoo. A snowflake.
All of this is created on a cutting board. Using the PlayStation 4's touchpad, you'll draw simple shapes and then cut them with a razor to build your own simple paper creations. Those creations will then be incorporated into the game not just in that scene and moment but throughout the game. The butterfly you created at the beginning will appear later as an incidental environmental element.
As I progressed through the world, I continually found my creations scattered throughout and was thrilled to see the things I'd created appearing. I managed to resist the latent urge to make everything I created look like a butt. It was tough, but it resulted in a much more varied experience.
You can also add to the game using the PlayStation 4 companion app. Rather than asking us to download an app we'll use for a week at most, Tearaway Unfolded's companion app is streamed from the PlayStation 4 to the default PlayStation 4 app, which you might even have downloaded and installed to your smart device already.
Through the companion app, you can not only add in your own textures and cut your own creations, but a second player can make things while you play, ensuring that everywhere you go, you'll see their face, your cat's face, or the texture of your doormat.
You can even pull particularly interesting papercrafts out of the game if you want, via the Tearaway.me site, where you can see unlocked papercrafts and any photos and animated GIFs you've taken with the in-game camera's variety of different lenses and Instagram-style filters.
Interaction is as important as contribution, too. On the PS Vita, Tearaway used everything the little handheld had to offer, using the touch panels, microphone, camera, and more as ways to play with the game. It was so well integrated that the announcement of Tearaway Unfolded came as a bit of a surprise – how was this game, so specific to Vita, going to work on PlayStation 4?
In essence, Media Molecule rebuilt much of the game from the ground up to make it work with the PlayStation 4 controller. The touchpad is used extensively. Not just for making adorable hats for everyone, but to create wind, bang on a drum that bounces you into the air, and more.
The SIXAXIS functionality is on display as well, as you can cast light on the world by holding down R2 and moving your controller around. The accuracy of this constantly stunned me. The light you cast on-screen is in the shape of the PlayStation 4 controller's lightbar, and it felt more like I was shining directly onto the screen than I was simulating controller movement.
The game even ends up using the mere idea of pushing buttons as a way to interact with the world, as squares, triangles, and the like start to appear in the world and their movements correspond with your button presses.
Tearaway Unfolded makes optional use of the PlayStation camera and microphone, but these aren't required for the experience. I don't own one and didn't feel as if I was missing out by not having them, though if it's anything like the other integration, it's likely worth hooking the camera up for if you have it.
Tearaway Unfolded is exactly the kind of game we expect from Media Molecule. It's a beautiful, unique experience that shows us what Sony's systems are capable of. It's also a family-friendly experience that encourages more than simple thumbstick twiddling, asking you to become a part of its world.
If you played the game on Vita, it may not be worth picking up a second time. Much of the world is the same, simply customized for the PlayStation 4 controller, though there are some new areas to see, so it's not like there aren't new experiences to be had.
If you didn't get the chance to check it out on its native platform, though, Tearaway Unfolded shouldn't be missed. It isn't a long game, but it offers some good replay value if you have a kid or significant other that might not game as much but likes interacting with the games you're playing. It's also only $40, so the value proposition isn't a bad one if that's an equation you like to do before picking up a game.
If you want an experience unlike anything else on PlayStation 4, check out Tearaway Unfolded.
Disclaimer: We received a copy of Tearaway Unfolded for the PlayStation 4 from the publisher. We completed the campaign before writing this review.