Tearaway Unfolded begins with a barrage of meta commentary, as two bickering narrators lament the paucity of content out there, flipping through television channels and other forms of media before deciding to cede control to “the You” and to create something new. What follows is unmistakably a game, a 3D platformer in the vein of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, but it’s also an immersive form of edutainment, a gamified art kit that does for origami what Scribblenauts did for dictionaries. As in LittleBigPlanet, players can build their own assets (using either the touchpad or a secondary smart phone as a sketching tool), but Tearaway takes things a step further by allowing players to collect printable, paper-craft guides with which everything seen in-game can be painstakingly re-crafted in the real world. Couple that with the PlayStation Camera’s “Quantum” lens, which often (and optionally) places images of you into the game, and Tearaway is the best sort of pop-up book, blurring the lines between interactivity and creativity.
As a Vita game, Tearaway was praised for finding ways to use the handheld system in novel ways, like poking your fingers “through” the back panel and into the game world. Remastered for the PS4, Unfolded loses some of that playful utility, but manages to keep the “fun” first and foremost in “functionality.” There’s a lot of gyroscopic tilting to control platforms, and the motion of swiping across the touchpad now generates the wind power used by iota (or atoi, depending on gender). Moreover, the DualShock 4 plays a literal role in the game, from the so-called Guiding Light of its light bar, which can illuminate areas and hypnotize the army of one-eyed enemy scraps, to an actual playable area that players must cautiously navigate.
As a platformer, Tearaway borrows from a lot of its predecessors, especially Crash Bandicoot, whether bowling a wild pig through a horde of foes or running toward the screen, away from a herd of irritated wendigo. As an art project, too, it shares a lot in common with, say, the string-y mechanics of Kirby’s Epic Yarn or the inky aesthetic of Ōkami. But Tearaway goes a step further by persistently personalizing its paper-craft world. The player is often tasked with designing environmental objects for the needy squirrels of Valleyfold and the pirates of Sogport, and once that’s done, they’ll remain that way indefinitely. The snowflakes that fall on Gibbet Hill aren’t individually unique, but each player will end up creating their own one-of-a-kind weather. Butterflies from early on in Maypole Fields will continue to flutter by with their distinctly designed wings, and if players teach the analog-stick-shaped mushrooms how to dance, they’ll continue to jam to that groove. The game never hides the fact that iota/atoi is a messenger (his or her head is an envelope addressed to the You), but the finale, in which the player’s individual journey is colorfully recounted, is still surprisingly specific and, because of that, moving.
If Tearaway were a diamond in the rough world of Vita gaming before, it’s an exceedingly polished masterpiece on the PS4. The game is now perfectly paced (and surprisingly lengthy), with a three-act structure that moves from conventional and open exploration to a darker and more tightly controlled area before culminating in an experimental series of levels that take place “between” the pages. (The desert area is undoubtedly an homage to Journey, but there’s also a trippy laser-light zone that brings the evolutionary odyssey of 2001 to mind.) A new mechanic is always around the corner, too, from the ability to take flight in a paper plane (of course) to the game’s ultimate weapon: a squeezebox that can suck up and spit out foes. Giving truth to its title, the more that unfolds, the harder it becomes to tear oneself away, and it’s a true testament to the novel, imaginative ethos of Tearaway that even the most militant parents might be perfectly fine with that.