Bumbling folk music, papercraft and comprehensible variety: Media Molecule’s latest beckons to Patrick Garratt’s neglected Vita in Cologne.
I can’t say anything bad about Tearaway right now. It’s a game so different, so multifarious, so loved by its parents and so immediately captivating that it will, without question, have me dusting off my Vita this November.
Media Molecule is a case of life imitating art imitating life. Tearaway lead designer Rex Crowle presents the Vita adventure at gamescom wearing slicked parted hair and a red striped shirt: he could be splashing from a Brighton bathing machine. Studio director Siobhan Reddy’s scarlet lipstick and white mushroom dress are fairytale illustration. They couldn’t be working anywhere else.
And Tearaway, a platforming story set in a paper world (Paperworld, in fact,) couldn’t have been made by any other studio. If you don’t believe pre-embryonic games are whizzing around in some veiled dimension waiting to choose their parents, MM’s nurturing of Tearaway should have you reassessing you extra-life views. It dropped into the right arms. Be thankful.
Because this odd little story of a Messenger trying to deliver his letter to you, the face in the tear in the sky, is all farting folk, circus and sticky tape. Crowle shows a part from Tearaway’s first major section, in which the Messenger needs to find a pumpkin head to build a scarecrow. We’re walking around a ‘magical barn,’ a building “quite like the barns I grew up in as a child,” according to Rex.
There’s endless distraction. Rex shows off the Messenger using his camera to colour objects in Paperworld, such as a marrow. After snapping the vegetable he gets a papercraft version for his collection. I didn’t catch whether or not you’re supposed to build this stuff in-game or out. You can, obviously, take a picture of the Messenger for use on PSN and other social networks.
While Crowle’s twiddling with photos, Reddy notes that the team hasn’t been slave to Vita’s inputs. The studio’s evidently gone to town on the machine’s features, but the core movement’s stick-based.
“When we started on the game we played around a lot with the Vita features, and as we started to craft the adventure we decided to focus more on the 3D platforming,” she says.
“What you’re seeing now is more of a fusion between the two things, of what we could do with Vita and how we could create a platform experience out of that.”
Rex adds: “Because Vita has the traditional controls as well, we really wanted to maximize the controller, show what you could achieve with the movement, let you jump around like a pro basketball player in a paper world.”
He combines leaping and the weight of acorns to scale a wall via a lift and pulley system, then rolls the Messenger up into a ball and tips him through a set of paper traps. When he finally finds the pumpkin head he has to customize its face and give it a “scare,” by recording a yell which morphs into a strangled moan. The game describes this as “unsettling”. There’s a darker edge to the quirky.
You want to play Tearaway. You want to fiddle with it. If you look at the edges of the world it’s torn. Everything’s a puzzle. The Messenger runs over scraps of shiny paper the player has to pull down in order to build a bridge, or bend to allow an acorn to roll in the right direction. You tilt, shout, stick your finger into the game through Vita’s back-pad to wind contraptions. Your face appears in the sky. You collect confetti and wig-out to the “folk-step”. The gameplay section we see is an idea-procession ending with the Messenger standing at the base of the ominous Gibbet Hill. Which you immediately want to climb.
The mountain’s after some open, multi-coloured fields, pastures swinging between seasons as the Messenger bounces through, the scarecrow wailing in the distance.
“It’s very much a journey, and you’ll see very different environments as you progress,” says Crowle.
“Starting off, you’re in a green and pleasant area, but you can see here that things are getting a little more dramatic, a little more challenging. It’s a very smelly area.”
The sun’s peaking through at the end of the session, but grey mists swirl Gibbet Hill as Rex wraps up and the violins soar. I dunno. I can’t say anything bad about Tearaway right now. It’s a game so different, so multifarious, so loved by its parents and so immediately captivating that it will, without question, have me dusting off my Vita this November. Victoriana and fairy whistles. Why wouldn’t you want to know what the message says?