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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: Tearaway

I'll come right out and say it: I dislike mario-style platform games. I don't think I'd ever finished a platform-style game in my life, not even when it was Braid, written by my college friend (now video game illuminary) Jonathan Blow. Part of it is that most of those games are too difficult (and yes, Braid definitely falls into that category), and geared towards hardcore gamers or kids with a lot of time on their hands with which to get good at anything.

Yet the metacritic scores for Tearaway are simply amazing, with review site after review site proclaiming that if you bought a Playstation Vita, you should play this game, as it is not a game that can be played on any other platform. Thus when the Playstation Network had a holiday sale at $18, I jumped on it. As of this writing, Amazon still has this game at $19.99, but it is out of stock and could take a while to ship. It'd be worth the wait though.

The conceit of the game is that you're controlling a paper message with an envelop making it's way through a world made out of paper from kindergarten arts and crafts projects to you, the player. Everything in the world you wander through is made out of papers, from trees to waterfalls. The rendering is very well done, and has a very natural feel to it. I was never any good at those arts and crafts projects when I was small, but I still enjoyed the visual look and graphic design behind this game.

The word most frequently used to describe Tearaway is "Charming." Despite my prejudice against platform games, Tearway certainly charmed me into playing it. For one thing, the game is not too frustratingly hard, segmenting itself so that you can make it as difficult or as easy as you like. By this I don't mean that the game has difficulty settings: it doesn't. The sidequests and optional goals are what let you adjust the difficulty: if it's too hard you can proceed on with the story without much loss. Even though I dislike platformers, I found myself playing some of the levels in a mode of flow, indicating that the game designers did a good job of making you feel competent despite the complexity of some of the inputs: the rear touch pad, motion sensors, shake sensors, joysticks, and buttons all come into play.

The game makes a great effort to include you in it's presentation. This ranges from displaying a photo of you in the sun "teletubbies-style", to breaking the fourth wall, directly talking to you, the player. In fact, the entire game revolves around delivering a message to you, the player. In particular, one of Iota's idle animation sequences is to turn to you and look adoringly. Early on, the game asks you to draw a picture of a crown using the touch screen, and then immediately uses it when displaying characters to you. The game also lets you shoot photographs in game, in addition to using both front and rear facing cameras to capture textures for in game use. This is a game that truly makes use of every facility on the Vita, and uses it with a facility that puts other games to shame.

A lot of the complaints that hardcore gamers have about the game is that it is too linear. I'm definitely not going to complain about that. You never have to guess as to what you have to do next, and the game provides plenty of hints if you get stuck.  The story is fairly shallow, though I still found it exciting enough. Other criticisms are that the game is short, but I'm of the opinion that the game was just right: any longer and I might have the time or patience to play it through, and some of the mechanisms (especially the motion control) would overstay their welcome if they were used more liberally throughout the game.

There's some evidence  that girls should play more video games for the cognitive benefits thereof. If you're the parent of a girl, Tearway would be an ideal introduction to video games and 3D-style spatial thinking. Not only is the game non violent and without many horror elements, throughout the game when you snap pictures of white objects you gain access to PDFs of constructibles so you can make replicas of game world object out of paper you run through a printer. Any kid that can be trusted with scissors to build these replicas would be a good candidate to play this game.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that this game was worth buying a Vita to play. For my taste, Golden Abyss is still a more fun game: I wanted more Golden Abyss at the end of that game, but I'm not sure I wanted Tearway to last longer. Nevertheless, the game is creative, innovative, and worth your time to play. I hope it succeeds and Media Molecule (the creators) are encouraged to make more games for the Vita. And if they do build more content for Tearway, I'd probably buy it and play it. Recommended.

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