Stories to Tell: A Review of Tearaway

If you like anything that makes you say “Aw” out loud, or if you’re just looking for a game that’s fun and engaging, Tearaway is a must-play. Released in 2013 on the Playstation Vita, Tearaway showcases all of the Vita’s unique technical features in a fun and creative package. It was also reimagined on the Playstation 4 as Tearaway: Unfolded, though this review is solely focused on the Vita variant.

The main protagonist of the game is…wait for it… You! You’re the primary character, and the one leading the messenger, who is a small envelope who with a message to deliver to someone very important- you! While this may make you roll your eyes as just some cheesy gimmick, the game manages to tell a convincing story with entertaining gameplay focused entirely around this concept. It also tells it in a beautiful environment, which often feels more like a pop-up book than a video game.

Presentation

The aesthetic of the game is it’s strongest point. Tearaway’s entire angle is that there’s a messenger and a story to be told, so naturally, everything is paper-based. Every enemy, every environment, and every effect is based on paper cut-outs. The game even lets you collect patterns in-game designed off of the environment and characters, that you can print off and make for yourself. Anything in the environment that isn’t paper sticks out, and that recognition is useful, as these differentiating materials often signal the next place you need to go. Everything in the game is adorable, even things that are intended to be scary. Tearaway’s style can best be described as having the vision of an artist with the heart of a kid’s kindergarten project.

The music, voice acting, and sound effects are all great too. They help tie the seams- er, um, scenes- together, and are never grating or irritating in any way. The music itself contains a great variety of instruments, and while certain areas contain bits that are callbacks to different game events, the game’s sound remains fresh and new in every stage. The voice actors of the two storytellers who speak with the messenger are particular stand-outs. They contain an age and wisdom that makes it feel as though they are sitting with you around a fireplace and recalling a tale they heard passed down through generations.

Gameplay

Tearaway is not a difficult game, but it doesn’t feel like it should be, either. It’s a platformer with very basic puzzle solving elements. No puzzle will take you longer than 30 seconds to complete. And even if you do get hit by enemies, or miss a jump, the game is forgiving in resetting you to where you were before. Another major part of the game is collecting. Each level outlines what items are within it, and how many of each, so if you’re a completionist, collecting every single thing will take you a bit of time.

The biggest gameplay element of Tearaway is it’s incorporation of the Vita’s features. It’s basically a tutorial for everything the Vita has to offer- even the things you might have forgotten the Vita can do, you’ll use in Tearaway. The game comes up with creative ways to use these tools, too- using the camera to incorporate yourself into the game, and the back touchpad to raise obstacles or move objects are just two examples. These mechanics never feel forced or shoehorned in. Instead, every time a new maneuver is introduced, it feels natural to the game’s flow. Many of these mechanics are also used for little sidequests, which are reprieves that remind you the game is designed for fun, and not to take it too seriously.

There are some glitches, gameplay-wise. Occasionally, I’d fall into an object and be stuck there for about 30 seconds, but it only happened once or twice in my playthrough. Since the game is so generous with auto-saves and it isn’t very difficult anyway, there isn’t any harm in resetting. Tearaway is also a very short game- it took me around six hours to complete- but that doesn’t feel like a fault. The game constantly throws new things at you in terms of levels, puzzles, and mechanics, and while that’s wonderful, it feels as though that would be unsustainable in a longer game. The short play time helps to keep things fun, fresh, and doesn’t make Tearaway feel like any less of a complete experience.

This may seem like a gimmick game, but there’s no point in the game where anything feels tacked on or unnecessary. Every puzzle that requires a different technique and every silly side quest that makes you shout into the microphone feels like a fun and refreshing take to problem-solving and platforming. It’s never out of place, and even incorporating the player as a main character feels natural. For any other game, the use of these mechanics might feel superficial, or might stale quickly, but since Tearaway builds the world entirely around your interactions with it, it works brilliantly.

Story

There are spoilers for story elements below- if you’ve read this far and are interested in playing the game, stop here and play it before you read on.

The story of Tearaway is simple, but that doesn’t make the underlying narrative any less impactful. It’s a story about a little envelope messenger who goes on a journey across many treacherous landscapes to deliver their message to you. During that journey, it’s revealed that foul creatures have started to invade the land. These creatures are called, appropriately, Scraps, and are depicted as bits and pieces of newspaper. It’s up to you and your messenger to defend yourselves against them, while also helping out various creatures throughout the messenger’s journey to reach you.

Tearaway’s entire theme is the power of story. It makes sense, given the whole paper and crafting theme, which only serves to further drive home the point. The narrators and other characters tell a story, connect dots and make sure everything leads to a logical conclusion. But ultimately, the story isn’t theirs, or even the messengers-it’s yours. While Tearaway’s story itself is linear, throughout the game, there are points where you inject said story with your own designs, pictures, and, ultimately, yourself. No one else will have the same Tearaway experience as you do, and that’s the point.

No story is ever the same, and if a story is left untold, no one will ever get the chance to experience it. The game illustrates this with a section near the end where your messenger encounters another messenger- except, this messenger has been abandoned by it’s You, and left deep within the world, without an audience. In this environment, all it does is sing it’s message alone in the dark.

Anyone who works creatively knows what this feels like. You have a voice, and you have a story to tell, but you don’t have a You, you don’t have an audience, and it becomes a story you keep to yourself. Stories have to be told, messages need to be delivered. The narrators themselves tell you this. But the game takes the next, and most important, step- it has you rescue the abandoned messenger and bring it out to the surface, where it’s message is spread to anyone who wants to listen.

Tearaway tells the player to keep spreading their stories, that the point of creating is to share your creations with the world, and that, without You, these stories will get lost forever. It’s a message that every creator needs to remember. Your message can’t exist without you, your stories and experiences are unique to you, and you’re the only person in the world who can tell them.

Conclusion

Is Tearaway worth $50 at the store, or 50 hours of your time? No, and it doesn’t try to be, either. It’s a short game at an incredibly reasonable price point that’s worth checking out if you like cute things, are looking for something to use your Vita for, or are just a really enthusiastic scrapbooker. It tells a potent story, in a pretty package, and feels fresh every step of the way. If you’re looking for a fun platformer and collect-a-thon, with an emotional and adorable story, you should absolutely pick up Tearaway.

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