“It sort of feels like an old-school Nintendo game.”
“That’s EXACTLY what we were going for,” replied the Media Molecule guys.
Media Molecule, if you don’t know, was behind the 2008 sleeper critical-hit LittleBigPlanet. That game was about creation. In the upcoming film From Bedrooms to Billions, co-creator Mark Healey speaks about LBP saying that he intended to make LBP as a game design tool so people can experience the same feeling he had growing up, making games and selling them in the schoolyard.
From my hands-on time with Media Molecule’s latest game, Tearaway, I saw the aesthetic DNA of LBP, and its heart, but a totally different point behind the game.
I played its introductory level, where I was prompted to choose my character’s looks based on my own (the point being that you and your character are one, and you are repeatedly forced to interact with this world from within using the Vita’s rear touchpad, touchscreen and camera).
In the beginning, you choose from three different paper types the one best matching your skin tone (choices are an oak red, orange and high yellow). Then you pick eye color (purple, brown, green), gender, hair color (white, yellow, brown, red, black) and whether you’re left or right handed.
Aesthetically it’s very similar to LittleBigPlanet, what with its whimsical storybook style that beckons to your childhood. It’s Tim Burton on olanzapine. Conceptually, it’s in the same genus as LBP but belongs to a different species. In LBP you played as Sackboy, essentially a blank slate doll that the player personalized along with her world.
In Tearaway, you’re prompted to tailor the key features of the characters (Iota and Atoi; male and female, respectively) to your own. The characters are messengers, accentuated with envelopes for heads and made completely from paper. What message are they delivering? Themselves.
Which, essentially, is you. Where LBP was about in-game customization, Tearaway is about blurring the lines between reality and game, forcing you to interact with it as if it were tangible.
Tearaway accomplishes this by using the Vita’s unique controls. The rear touchpad is especially useful, and you’re prompted to use it multiple times in the introductory level. (The creators note that this doesn’t mean rear touchpad controls will dominate gameplay, but that they want to take it away and introduce it periodically throughout the game.) Its use has different meaning in different contexts.
In one scene, the touchpad acts as a portal for your fingers to shine through into the game world, allowing you to control the environment as if reaching into a diorama and manipulating its small world. Your fingers act as sword and shield, combating and protecting Iota and Atoi from enemies.
Your fingers also move around obstacles and solve puzzles. Other times the touchpad acts as a drum that you beat to interact with the virtual drums that send your character flying into the air.
You also use the touchscreen, specifically in one scene where I had to make a crown out of paper and position it on a squirrels head. What’s more, the Vita’s camera showed me peeking into the world, or was it the world peeking out at me?
Tearaway releases on Oct. 22 in North America and Oct. 25 in Europe for the PlayStation Vita.