Tearaway Unfolded Review: Paper-Thin

When Tearaway first came out on the PlayStation Vita in 2013, it got a lot of accolades, but not a ton of sales. Because the PS4 is riding high and the Vita is, well, not, Sony has decided to hedge its bets by releasing Tearaway Unfolded, an expanded version of the papercraft platformer, on its powerful home console.

The game has made a successful transition to the PS4, but whether it was worth the trip is another question. Tearaway Unfolded is a beautiful game with an inspired art style, memorable music and a charming voice cast.

However, when push comes to shove, the gameplay is almost as thin as the paper that inspires its arts-and-crafts visuals. Tearaway Unfolded is enjoyable enough, especially for a young audience, but it was probably better in short, handheld bursts.

Gameplay

Have you ever played a platformer in which you can't jump? Tearaway Unfolded starts out that way. When you first explore the game's colorful world of paper trees, grass, ponds and wooden bridges, your skills are limited to running around, shining a flashlight and throwing benign objects. Although this skill set increases over time, the beginning of the game is a very slow burn — and the lack of penalties for dying does not do much to build tension or excitement.

Then again, Tearaway Unfolded isn't supposed to be an action-packed thrill ride. It's laid-back and bucolic, and adopts a deliberate storybook feel. Rainbow "bookmarks" denote the beginning of each chapter, while the villainous Scraps (bits of assorted newspaper and cardboard) exist only because the story needed antagonists.

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You take control of Iota or Atoi (male or female, respectively; your choice doesn't affect the story beyond that): a papercraft person being guided by the You, the all-powerful entity on the other side of the screen. Sometimes, you'll shine the DualShock 4's light to stun the Scraps, or press the touchpad to activate Celtic drums that launch your avatar to new platforms.

Iota or Atoi can run from place to place, leap to low ledges, toss small objects and do a few other context-specific actions. (One especially memorable section lets you mount a war pig and ride into glorious battle, although the section is neither difficult nor radically different from regular gameplay.) Combat isn't a huge part of gameplay; in fact, solving simple environmental puzzles to dispatch the Scraps feels almost ancillary to the rest of the game.

Tearaway Unfolded's beauty is in its simplicity, but this simplicity is also its downfall. Almost anyone could pick up a controller and play through Tearaway with little difficulty, but it doesn't offer much in return from a gameplay perspective.

The difficulty increases, but there's not much to master or customize (aside from your avatar's appearance). Optional collectibles don't do you much good. You can draw items or take photos with the PlayStation App or Camera and import them in-game, but it's more of a gimmick than a substantial addition. Collecting papercraft items that you can download, print and craft, and sharing your own designs on the Tearaway website, likewise are a fun toy box, but they don't do much to complement the core experience.

Story

Two lively narrators from a storybook world encounter you — the You, as they say — sitting on the couch, watching TV. Unfortunately, there's nothing good on, and they decide that a story from their world might be more entertaining. The one they tell is about a young avatar who must make his or her way to a hole in the sky, which acts as a link between their world and yours. A motley crew of Scraps stand in the way, however, putting a series of obstacles in the way.

Tearaway Unfolded isn't exactly a story for the ages, but it's not nearly as cloying as the saccharine LittleBigPlanet, an earlier title from British developer Media Molecule. Like the papercraft world its characters inhabit, the plot is paper-thin and is really only there to facilitate the beautiful visuals and fitting music. The narrative is there, but something a little richer would have gone a long way.

Graphics and Art

If there's one reason to play Tearaway Unfolded, it's to see the incredible world its developers crafted. Every level, from placid fields to dark forests to creepy castles, has the look of a handcrafted papier-mâché project.

The way the characters and environments move is mesmerizing, from waving grasses to bits of newspaper that burn up when you shine a light on them. A bit of druidic influence colors the story, the locations and the music, and it helps the world feel just a bit more distinctive than the average children's fantasy tale.

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As you play, you can also collect confetti, which acts as a currency. This allows you to buy tons of eyes, noses, mouths, patches and outfits to customize your character, as well as other characters you encounter throughout the story. The number of ways you can customize your protagonist is astonishing, and even though the feature doesn't have much of an effect on gameplay, you have a significant degree of control over how the world and its characters end up looking.

The animation also warrants a mention, as it's as fluid and faithful as that in any game I've seen. The characters move in believable ways, and the environment is never still — there's always something moving, and it always looks like a favorite children's book coming to life.

Music and Sound

Another area where Tearaway Unfolded excels is in the way it sounds. The music is subtle, but it's a real treat once it gets going. You might start out a level with just a few simple drumbeats, but as you explore more, a rollicking Celtic tune takes shape. The rhythm is uniformly excellent across the soundtrack, and you can sometimes even help it along yourself with drums that double as jumping platforms.

The voice acting also deserves special mention. The two dueling narrators are a pure delight, and hearing them advance the story is just as much fun as hearing them bicker. Richard Ridings and Lorna Brown play the male and female narrators, respectively, and the two of them elevate a low-key tale into something much more engaging.

Bottom Line

Tearaway Unfolded is a beautiful game with stellar production values. It's a shame, then, that the top-notch music and sound don't highlight a substantial game underneath. While Tearaway Unfolded is fairly diverting and relatively amusing, it's also insubstantial, not doing much to escalate the challenge or gripping narrative.

In the final analysis, Tearaway Unfolded is a cute game, both in the positive and negative senses of the word. It's charming and delightful at best, but superficial and forgettable at worst.

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