This PS Vita-exclusive title that, lo and behold, is neither sequel, remake or stripped down port of an existing game series.
If you've seen the Gamescom trailer, you'll already know that the game's world and characters are made entirely out of paper. Every single tree, every blade of grass and water, well...everything.
The developers have worked hard to make the properties of the animations mimic a stop-motion style. There's the echo of A Nightmare Before Christmas and Wallace & Gromit here that looks lovely.
You play as messenger Iota, whose head consists of a stamped letter, or his female companion Atoi (whose name means, roughly, "to you" in French, and also happens to be Iota backwards. We're not convinced this is a subtle Chuckle Brothers reference), either of whom have one mission, one challenge: successful delivery of a message to the player.
What that message is remains to be seen, but Media Molecule says that it's a unique message for you. Yes, you there. Just you. To deliver the message Iota must navigate through a strange, charming world full of puzzles, challenges and characters that need your help.
Basically it's a classic adventure game, but there are plenty of innovative control solutions. Media Molecule describes the game a little bit like a "buddy movie", since we can help Iota by interacting with the game world in several different ways. In the trailer, we see examples of how the player can press their fingers against the rear touchpad, the sensor translating the touch into the game world as we literally rip though the paper landscape with our fingertips.
During our hands-on, we got the chance to solve some simple puzzles with this (slightly surreal visually) function. Among other things, we held down a lever to expand a bridge at Iota, then we could steer him over to the other side. On another occasion we had to use our fingers as a weapon against some evil Cyclops figures.
When we pressed the finger just below one of the paper figures, they were thrown thrown straight against the inside of the screen. The ability to penetrate the world with fingers only works at selected points though, but for those who love to customize their characters, it is possible to choose the look of the fingers that appear in the game.
In addition to the ability to solve puzzles and spread chaos with fingers, the Vita's tech is exploited in several other interesting ways. Blow and you create a small storm in the game. Take advantage of the tilt function to take pictures with Iota's camera. Add the ability to capture subjects in reality with a snap and then add them directly into the game, and we have a title that tears down the barriers between game and reality.
Iota doesn't belong to the classic game hero archetype: no roundhouse-kicking bad guys or cleaning up the joint with a machine gun. That means it's up to the player to protect him, either through touch functions or by simply luring enemies into traps.
Designer Dave Smith says that in the beginning of the adventure Iota will be afraid of you. He does not know who you are. For him, you're a god-like presence that affects his world in the most peculiar way. But as the adventure progresses, trust will grow, which will open up new combinations of different abilities and also a more intimate interaction between you as a player and Iota.
Tearaway will consist of a number of different areas, each with its own unique character. Rex Crowle, lead designer, describes the game world as relatively open, but with more linear areas. In creating Tearaway they've drawn inspiration from various folk tales and legends.
The stage that we get to play is a tiny, dangerous island surrounded by a sea of glue. Sogport, as its known, is populated by odd folk and
strange fish creatures, all of them designed from fold paper. Iota's nemesis is a sea beast which is tirelessly chasing him.
Here, there was no opportunity to attack with divine fingers, but instead we had to ensnare enemies in traps by luring them there with pearls. Not so challenging in itself, but the game had some camera problems that resulted in some unnecessary restarts.
In general, most of it was pretty basic stuff that introduced different ways to use the Vita. Hopefully challenge will spike later in the game. It feels like Media Molecule has plenty of ideas to create headaches for us and is not letting touch controls be much more than a gimmick.
David Smith does not think it is limiting working on a portable console. Quite the contrary - it's liberating thanks to its ability to integrate the player both through traditional controls and touch functions. And it shows that they've had fun during development. The game is bursting with ideas and as long as the studio can overcome the camera and dare to crank up the difficulty, there's little else that fails to impress with the game.
It feels like a unique title. Something that stands out. And definitely a much-needed, rejuvenating addition to the game catalogue. Some concern arises, however, when we ask ourselves who the target audience is. Hopefully the colourful and cheerful exterior covers an experience that's more than just paper-thin.