May 16, 2019 at 12:53 PM #1017
Suprak the StudMember
Rating: 2.5 – Playable
Return to Sender
Tearaway was supposed to be one of the blockbuster exclusives for the PS Vita, also known as the “hey what is that weird rectangle thing you’re holding?” console by gamers everywhere (and Sony too). The Vita is a remarkable little piece of technology that just never caught on, possibly due to the fact that Sony treated it with the same level of love and care people usually show to racist bricks. The Vita was the unloved stepchild that Sony fed table scraps to under the garage door, so it was encouraging when the people behind LittleBigPlanet not only released a brand new exclusive title for the handheld, but a completely new IP as well. Tearaway was an utterly charming, heartfelt experience that took all of the functionality of Vita, used it in a variety of ways in the gameplay, and then pinned you down and anesthetized you right in the throat with 100 ccs of boredom. For all that Tearaway had going for it, I just never really found myself interested in the actual game and all the little ideas they had never really found their way into a cohesive experience. Tearaway Unfolded looked to remedy that by adding new gameplay elements and a bunch of new content into one enhanced package for the PS4. Unfortunately, it turns out more “meh” doesn’t really make for anything than a bigger pile of “meh”, and despite all of the new stuff they add, this doesn’t really feel like an improvement over the original Vita experience.
Tearaway probably seems like a strange kind of game to port to the PS4, on account of it being literally designed around the functionality of the Vita. And, as you may have noticed, the PS4 is not the Vita. It would be like if you bought a Blu-Ray and tried to play it on your VCR, a reference so dated you probably don’t even know what the hell I’m talking about. The original game wasn’t meant to be played on anything other than a Vita, is the point I’m trying to get at, so already Tearaway Unfolded seems like its going to get off to a rough start. Fortunately, this is much more than a basic port. Sure, the story here is the same and its roughly the same concept from beginning to end, but its been redesigned with the PS4 functionality in mind. On top of that, there is a bunch of new stuff here that has been built around the pre-existing core, and we have new levels, new mechanics, and a bunch of new goodies to track down and find. It really is more of a reimagining, and this game wasn’t ported to the PS4 as much as it was adapted for it.
At its core though, Tearaway Unfolded tells essentially the same story as the original game. You still play as Iota, a papercraft messenger that is probably the most adorable bundle of scrap paper you’ve ever seen. He is tasked with delivering a message to a You because apparently this magical papercraft world hasn’t gotten around to developing cell phones yet. The You in the game is played by you, yes you, the person reading this review right now. Stop reading this now, because you’re already late for your scene. You might not remember even auditioning, but everyone was blown away by your performance so make sure you get the royalty checks you’re owed. Two different narrator type characters introduce you and Iota to this world and then seem able to change the tale on the fly, giving advice to Iota at times and arguing amongst themselves about which way the story should progress at others. Iota works to deliver his message while avoiding nasty little creatures known as scraps, little scrap pieces of paper with a bad attitude that want to stop you because…you know, they never really said. They must just have issues with the postal service, I guess, because they pop up occasionally to try and impede your progress.
The story here is somewhat basic, and things never get much more complex than “uh, just keep going forward to find the You”. There are some odd characters that pop up once in a while, and what they say can be mildly amusing, but at the same time most of the specifics of the story are largely forgettable. What is far more interesting is the way the game tells the tale, and how it works to actually integrate you into the plot of the game. You need to guide Iota to get your message, and will do so by actually interacting with the world yourself. At various times you actually need to interact with the story, and put something into the world that will be entirely unique to you. This guy needs a face because someone stole it (I swear that is far less terrifying than it sounds)? “Cool,” the game says, throwing some stickers in your direction, “you direct it how you want, man.” Another man may want you to design a crest or a snowflake or butterfly, all things you can do using the touch pad on the controller to cut out shapes in digital construction paper. These are all minor changes to be sure, but there is something interesting about a game like this that gives you a role in the design of the world around it. It makes you feel more connected to the game, because the game is forcing you to connect with it.
It is really clever how the game managed to frame this story as a cute little character trying to get you a message, with you helping him along the way. This concept is even reflected in the gameplay, where you actually interact with the world in various ways to help Iota along. The Vita title was fantastic in this regard, actually using the system as a portal to tie you in the game as best as it could. This port has some clever ideas as well, and the functionality of the controller is tied into the gameplay in some interesting ways. Using the shoulder buttons turns on the “light” on the back of your controller, and it shines into the game, allowing you to move it around to memorize enemies or clean up scrap paper. Enemies or objects can be “flung” into your controller, where Iota will actually look at the screen and throw something at it. There are a handful of similar examples, and the game really does the best it can to make you feel tied into the experience. The aesthetic feeds into the story, which in turn feeds into the gameplay at times, and Tearaway Unfolded does a nice job making this feel like one adorable little package.
This was actually the Vita’s strongest feature, and it doesn’t quite transfer all the way here. The Vita made it feel like you were really handling a portal into this adorable little world made of paper. You’d tap the back screen and your fingers would manifest themselves into the game, or the front camera would capture your face and put it into the game alongside Iota. They try a lot of those same tricks here, but it doesn’t work quite as well. It is interesting to see the various tricks the PS4 version has in store and it still does a fairly decent job of putting you into this world. At the same time though, this concept was clearly designed for the Vita at first, and that console is pretty much the perfect platform to execute the fundamental concept behind the game. It is a definite step down from what the Vita offered, and with its strongest feature nerfed somewhat, its flaws become all the more apparent.
Something that did transfer over nicely, however, is the presentation. Tearaway Unfolded utilizes the same papercraft presentation the original Tearaway used, where the entire world and everyone in it is made to look like they were constructed from various bits of paper. The aesthetic here is great, and the visuals are so well designed and creative that it breathes this vibrant life into the world even before you really get a chance to start playing it. Everything is lovingly crafted from the characters to the backgrounds to random little pieces of scenery and it is remarkable the amount of personality and charm that emanates from this visual style alone. The entire world in rendered this way, and it is great to stop for a moment and just take in some of the environments to see all the creative ways the world unfolds before you. So much time and effort went into making this a great little package that it is truly impressive what they have created here. The visuals, the little sound effects, the handful of characters that have voice acting, everything here is so well polished and put together that you really want to love it, and the game is worth playing for the presentation value alone. Some levels, especially some of the later ones, felt a bit empty at times, causing things to almost feel incomplete. Overall though the presentation is quite strong, and the game’s creativity is in full display here.
Unfortunately, this creativity didn’t quite reach all aspects of the game, and notably the gameplay is fairly dull. Sure, some of the ideas here are clever in concept, but they never really get around into working them into the gameplay in any real, interesting way. They built a good experience but a pretty lackluster game, if that makes any sense. It is a very basic experience, and the whole game can easily be wrapped up in a couple of days. It is a shame the game couldn’t really think of any noteworthy gameplay additions, because the game winds up feeling wildly creative and painfully predictable at the very same time. “Look at all these clever papercraft environments I built for you,” the game proclaims proudly, standing back to show off its work. “Cool, what should I do in them?” you ask. With this, the game looks around nervously for a minute before jumping out the nearest window and sprinting out into the woods. There is some very simple combat and basic platforming, but nothing that really stands out as noteworthy or memorable.
Both the combat and platforming are a bit dull and straightforward, and the ideas really don’t get beyond the most simple or basic of concepts. I almost feel bad whenever I have to fight some of these poor scraps in the game, because they are so weak and fragile that it feels like I’m fighting a bunch of ceramic puppies. Enemies actually jump at you and stun themselves, and most battles I wound up beating a couple of scraps purely by accident. After they are stunned you can then pick them up and throw them at other enemies, or the wall, or anything, anywhere really to dispatch of them. Certain enemies require a slightly different approach and might require you to roll or jump at them first, but it really never evolves to anything beyond that. There are really only a handful of different enemy types, and none of them are particularly interesting from an artistic or design standpoint. When the strategy of “move slightly out of the way” can thwart almost every enemy in the game, you might want to add just a bit more complexity to the battle system because it feels like I’m perpetually fighting against Charlie Brown, pulling the football away when he gets close to hear him yell "ARRGGGGHH" and tumble off a cliff.
This was all true in the handheld version as well, but here they somehow made things worse. You can “shine” the light from the back of the controller on the screen, which is an interesting idea and is most frequently used to add color back to scrap paper it was stolen from. It has a second purpose though, where it hypnotizes the scraps and leaves them defenseless. They become memorized and just follow it around. You can lead them off a cliff and they’ll jump right after it because they didn’t want to fight you anyway. They took something that was too easy in the original title and made it even easier. Why even put enemies in the game? These guys are more fragile than glass, stun themselves, and even jump right off cliffs at the slightest provocation. I was surprised there wasn’t an enemy variant that lit themselves on fire if you asked them to, and it is kind of hard to be interested in battles when pacifist glass statues of a white flag would put up more of a fight.
Outside of battles, really all you need to do is keep moving forward. There are little bits here and there where you learn some new ability to help you in this fashion, and for example rolling into a ball will help you sneak through small holes or maneuver like a marble on some narrow path, while jumping will help you…uh…well, jump. I’ve never played a game where I needed to unlock the ability to jump in order to use it, and it really shows how strapped the game is for interesting ideas when the concept of "jumping" isn’t something they wanted to spoil right away. “No,” they thought to themselves, “We want to save this. Put it back as a surprise.” This is one step away from the game forcing you to stand there for five minutes before you unlock the "move around" option, and although the jump command unlocks early it is still bizarre that they felt the need to hide away for a bit.
There are other new aspects added occasionally as well, like tapping the back touch screen to initiate a jump on one of the bounce pads or using the front screen to unroll something to walk onto, but there really are only a handful of truly interesting platforming portions, most of which are tucked away at the end. The game doesn’t even seem really built for any sort of interesting platforming, as the jumps are kind of floaty and not very precise. Almost the entire game feels like a series of the simple tutorial levels from other games, and there is a disappointing lack of ideas for fun platforming challenges. You just move forward a bit, do a simple little jump, and then move forward some more. The most challenging thing about it is sometimes the camera decides you haven’t been paying attention to it enough lately, and begins violently begging for attention by wildly flailing all over the place and trying to give you motion sickness. It isn’t a good sign when your most challenging foe is "a camera that wasn’t hugged enough as a child” and the camera goes AWOL way too often to be acceptable.
So if the game doesn’t really want you doing the combat and the platforming is never really developed into anything interesting, then what is the main point here? The real primary focus seems to be on a little light exploration of the levels and digging around for every stinkin’ trinket you can get your grubby mitts on. The levels themselves are fairly linear, but hidden in them are handfuls of notes, presents, and extra tasks to be found and completed. This isn’t usually the kind of game this works well in, as collectionfests seem far more at home with open environments that encourage exploration. Here, you proceed forward in linear levels with multiple points that become inaccessible as you move forward. The end result is that you can miss out on items without any sort of chance to go back for them short of starting the entire level over. It isn’t a good way to design something like this, and the only saving grace here is that the levels themselves are so short and the objects so easy to find that if you do need to start over it will only take a couple of minutes to run back through anyway.
Most of the collectibles are right out in the open, and even worse is that most of the things you can find aren’t worth finding in the first place. There are little music notes to gather, and present filled with music notes, or little simple quests that award you with music notes. The notes are everywhere, basically, and somewhere some conductor is very confused why his music sheets are completely empty. These are used to buy little stickers you can stick on your messenger (or a handful of other objects the game wants you to stick stickers on) but not much else. The only interesting collectibles here are objects drained of color that are hidden throughout the levels. By taking their picture you fill them back up with color (I don’t have to explain the fundamentals of photography to you people, I’m sure everyone knows how cameras work and how they magically color things in). More interestingly though, you also get instructions of how to make a real world version of that object out of paper. The game is really trying hard to put you in their world, so it is interesting that they give you a way to put the game into ours. It is a clever idea, and essentially makes these the only collectibles worth gathering up.
Even if you do go around collecting every single little thing you can find, there really isn’t much here that is particularly memorable. The biggest issue is that there is really no challenge to any aspect of the gameplay. Even if you die, you immediately respawn without any sort of penalty. You will lose maybe five seconds of progress at most as the game warps you back to one of the all too frequently appearing check points, and you can respawn as many times as you need to without anything bad happening. The arena battles that occur with a bunch of scraps at once are the worst, as you could literally sit there for an hour and let scraps pound away on you while you peruse your PS4 library and try to find a more interesting game to play. Then, once you return and decide to start playing again, you can wipe them out in five seconds without absolutely no difference than if you had sat there and skillfully dispatched the entire horde without taking a single hit. It is like an army of gnats is trying to take down a rhino, and sitting in one place for two hours won’t have any tangible effect on the eventual outcome. I guess that isn’t entirely true, because if there happens to be a cliff nearby there is a good chance that all the scraps will have accidentally launched themselves over it at some point, as there were always a couple of enemies that seemed to have gotten themselves killed before I got a chance to get around to them in most encounters. If you die mid battle, no worries little buddy, you will immediately respawn in the same area with all the previously defeated scraps still gone. There isn’t even any reason for these infinite continues, as neither the fighting nor the platforming are difficult enough to really even warrant a single one.
And while there is new stuff in this version of the game, it doesn’t necessarily make the game any better. Much of the core here is largely the same as the Vita version, but there are new areas to explore and goodies to find. Unfortunately, they just sort of pile on the bland gameplay that I didn’t really find that appealing in the first place, and this is a good example of too much content making the final product feel bloated. The original game had a good flow to it with some really nice pacing that fit into the story it was trying to tell you. Here, things feel decidedly more disjointed and none of the new areas or gameplay elements really stand out. It just doesn’t feel like this has the same tight, coherent idea and vision that the original game had and some of Tearaway’s overall appeal was lost because of it. It definitely loses that clear sense of purpose the original title had, and the final product here lacks the same focus of the original.
While I felt the original Tearaway was overhyped, it was still easy to see its appeal. Tearaway Unfolded on the other hand has all the same lows but never hits the same highs. The biggest issue is still the lack of any sort of challenge, and the gameplay is utterly unremarkable from top to bottom. It feels like you’re in kindergarten at times, moving from soft cushy station to soft cushy station so you can cut some designs out of construction paper, and all the dull scissors and padded edges make it so you can’t ever get hurt. The game coddles you beyond belief, and I almost felt like I was being followed around by an overprotective parent, swatting my hands away from anything to sharp or dangerous or scary. On top of that, this simply isn’t as good as the Vita version. There are some somewhat clever tricks here with the PS4 controller, but it simply isn’t the same as what they did with the Vita. The vision for the Vita version was brilliant, and this feels more like “uh, well, how do we get this to work on the PS4”. It isn’t as tight or cohesive or clever, and all the new stuff just makes it feel unnecessarily drawn out. It is hard to adapt a game like this that was specifically made with one system in mind for another console, and while they did the best they could, it still feels underwhelming. This is simply a game that didn’t need to be ported, and it would’ve been best if Tearaway Unfolded had been folded right back up again and returned to sender.
Paper Craft (THE GOOD):
+Fantastic art style that is incredibly unique (ignoring the original Vita version that had the exact same art style, of course)
+Cute little story that does its best to draw you into the game
+Central concept here is solid, and they do a great job trying to make you connect with their world
+Some clever use of the PS4 controller functionality
Scrap Paper (THE BAD):
-Gameplay is extremely basic, and there really isn’t any aspect of gameplay that is done really well
-Combat is not well thought out and they made it almost impossibly easy
-Platforming is dull and they don’t come up with any fun challenges along the way
-Overall the game is too easy, and it is nearly impossible to lose
-Most of the collectibles are utterly pointless and not interesting or challenging enough to go around collecting
-Not nearly as well thought out or polished as the Vita version
-Camera is frustrating, cutting away from the action or hiding the path in front of you for seemingly no reason at times
Paper Cut (THE UGLY): The “drawing on the touchpad” mechanic doesn’t work nearly as well as it does for the Vita. On the Vita, you have the touch screen, you draw on it, what you’re drawing appears on the screen, hooray, everything makes sense. Here, you draw on the touch pad, but what you’re drawing isn’t visible on it, so you need to look up on the television screen. It isn’t nearly as smooth, and it feels a bit like you’re trying to lead a blind person through a maze from the other side of the room.
THE VERDICT: 4.75/10.00
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