You have never played through a world quite like this. Maybe you’ve glimpsed the creative range of developer Media Molecule turned loose in Little Big Planet 2, widely mistaken as a repository for 100 crappy player-made levels to every good player-made level. You might appreciate that Little Big Planet 2 had a clever platformer already in the box, but you’ve never seen Media Molecule’s creativity this focused, this poignant, this lovely, this literally transcendent.
After the jump, it is only a paper moon.
Tearaway is a world of rustling paper constructs, crinkling and curling and flapping with the lovingly hand-touched flutter of stop-motion animation. Everything here is made of paper. The trees, the cities, the sky, the creatures. A windy seaside city with frothing waves clutching at the shore is rendered entirely in paper. Confetti is the currency. Sometimes you’re tasked with using a simple system of cutting shapes out of construction paper to lend this world your own interpretation of fire, stars, or snowflakes. Among the unlockables are plans you can download and print to make real-world versions of the things you see in the game.
Sometimes you need to add a photo or a texture. The world in incomplete. It needs touches of you — You — to fill in the blanks. This is the point of Tearaway, which is just partly a game. It is also and perhaps most importantly a chronicle of your participation. With Tearaway, Media Molecule knows how to incorporate customization into content rather than presenting customization as content, a la Little Big Planet.
There are some gimmicks with touch (front screen and back pad) as well as camera shenanigans and even a couple of nifty mic moments, all of which are used to drive home the point that you affect this world in unique ways. A single late-game level takes the gimmickry a little too far with some annoying tilt tomfoolery. But otherwise, Tearaway smartly earns its place as a Vita exclusive. The camera is the key. The fundamental fact about this world is its religion. Namely, that its God — You — has revealed Himself or Herself to the people in here, just as the real world God breaks into history to make some revelation, whether it’s commandments or resurrections or prophets. The God outside Tearaway shows up in a sun, peeking in, probably scowling because He’s seeing Himself in the game, looking back at Himself, wondering what the hell kind of game is this that needs My ugly mug presiding over this cute little lively presentation? Naturally, everyone freaks out in reaction to the scowling mug, at you peering into the loop of yourself peering at yourself, an infinite divine reflection reverberating above these bewildered paper creatures. Who is that? What is He doing? What does He want? Is He friendly?
The answer lies in your avatar, a little messenger in the form of an animated envelope — what’s inside? — making his or her way to God, delivering to You something that is surprisingly meaningful. The easy journey through these adoringly realized paper worlds is only partly the point. But you can’t really appreciate what’s going on until you get Where you’re going, because Tearaway is one of those rare games that gets exponentially better with its ending.