Tearaway Unfolded is the only good thing in a world besieged by horrors.
Cats, let’s catch up. How are you? How’s your love life? How’s your old mum? Is your chosen sports team performing satisfactorily?
Okay, now let’s do me. I’m having a really bad time. I caught some disgusting bug on a press junket last week and blew an ear drum flying home. I returned to find my PS4 had randomly decided I can’t sign into the PSN any more after the holiday weekend outage, and had to put up with Sony calling me “buddy” over it. Metal Gear Solid 5 has not materialised in the mail.
So I’m in a very bad mood. In the midst of this horror I got a gentle email from a PR person asking if my copy of Tearaway Unfolded had turned up. Sorting through the piles of accumulated mail I found a box with a papercraft DualShock model in it. The disc was folded whimsically into a paper press kit complete with cutting board. I refused to be delighted.
I angrily retrieved the game, angrily put it in my PS4, angrily loaded the game up and angrily smashed buttons to get through the initial story screens. I was already angrily composing an angry editorial about how video games make me angry, because they’re rubbish.
But I couldn’t maintain it. Tearaway Unfolded is just so pleasant. As soon as the big faces stopped nattering away at me and I could run about the little paper world I felt better. Even as I bravely fought to maintain a cynical attitude (“oh look a llama, how whimsical“) I was undermined by the persistent, gentle fun I was experiencing.
One of the first things Tearaway Unfolded does is ask you to shine a light on the game world – the light bar on your DualShock acts like a torch. I rolled my eyes at this nonsense motion gimmick at first but it very quickly became second nature and I was quite cross whenever it wasn’t available to me.
This pattern repeated itself throughout all three arcs of the game. Once you’ve mastered the guiding light you learn to propel your Messenger around the world using drums triggered by the touch pad. Later you stroke the touch pad to control the direction of the wind, and tilt the control pad to move platforms in the world.
There are half a dozen of these little gimmicks. Each of them seemed completely unnecessary for the first 30 seconds and then became so much a part of my play experience that I couldn’t remember life without them. Media Molecule’s puzzle and level design is superb, teaching you a new trick every few minutes, lulling you into a sense of ease and comfort, and then whacking you over the head with a complicating factor so that you sit before the game in a daze.
Although I never got stuck for any serious length of time some of the puzzles are just fiendish. There’s a section where platforms retract when you press the corresponding button on your controller. In one sequence, you need to hold in and release buttons in the right order to drop your Messenger gently from level to level. It’s much harder than it sounds, and it gets harder, because the face buttons also make your Messenger jump and roll.
There’s one memorable sequence where you need to tilt the controller to guide a ball through a maze, while at the same time controlling the movement of platforms and piloting your Messenger across them. At times like this I felt like I needed three or four extra hands. I clutched my head and said “argh” aloud. I felt like I was trying to think with the wrong organ.
I’ve never felt such a 1:1 connection with what’s happening on a game screen before. Obviously with all games things are happening on screen as a consequence to my button pressing, but most of the time when I play video games I forget the controller is even there; it’s just an extension of my brain.
With Tearaway Unfolded, I felt like I was making physical actions that had a direct effect on a physical world inside my TV. At the end of the game I half expected my Messenger to pop out of the disc slot, or something – that’s how real and true the game world felt to me thanks to this impressively direct manipulation. This is the sort of stuff VR and AR is aiming for, and Media Molecule did it with the DualShock 4. Amazing.
That you can create your own papercraft items, and that the game world is littered both with these creations and with photos you’ve taken, makes it all feel very personal. Even if you draw a dick every single time you’re prompted to create, shout DICKS into the microphone when your voice is recorded and name everything “Dick” when prompted, you’re literally leaving your stamp on the world in a way very few games allow, and it is magical.
I was feeling awful and Tearaway Unfolded is so cute and funny and special that it made me feel better. It is the only thing I love right now.
And now for the swearing
If you’ve been following my adventures here on VG247 dot com for any time you’ll know that my liking for a game generally tracks pretty closely to its capacity for provoking emotion in me, and Tearaway Unfolded certainly did that.
To begin with, its cheerful world soothed me and made me happy: at one stage I said aloud “hee hee, I’m riding a pig”. (I wish I’d been filming myself because I felt my expression change as I caught myself talking to a video game like a delighted child.) At the close of the game, I felt a genuine pride in my journeys and creations.
But: it wasn’t all love and joy and peace and special feelings. For the vast majority of the journey what I felt was pure, incandescent rage, because Tearaway Unfolded is a 3D platformer: a genre sent from hell by the devil to prevent me ever attaining inner peace. It’s a good thing the game doesn’t record all the time because my soundtrack was a chorus of “fuck me”, “fuck you” and “FUCK EVERY FUCKING THING AND THIS FUCKING THING IN PARTICULAR, FUCK YOUUUUUUU”.
According to the ending screens I died (or “fumbled”, as Tearaway Unfolded politely calls it) exactly 200 times on my way to the delivery of my message. That is some Dark Souls shit. And that’s after I gave up on meeting all the optional challenges and collecting all the things. I strongly encourage all but the best of you to follow my lead in that regard: every time you see that pissing gopher who needs to be carried back to his house in one life, pick him up, pat him on the head and throw him straight off the nearest cliff.
There is a bit in the third arc where you have to cross some deadly abyss by leaping onto various objects that not only move but change shape as you tilt the controller. I had been under the impression that I keep my hands still when I play video games, but this is not the case – and the DualShock 4’s gyroscope is very sensitive indeed. There was one period of about ten minutes where someone watching the screen might have wondered why I had taped the analog stick down in the direction of a cliff edge and was running my messenger off it repeatedly, as I squirmed and roared and screeched trying to master a wrist-bending combination of button presses and physical gestures that tested me to the limits of my emotional endurance.
This screaming rage was very good for me. It gave vent to a disastrous week. It distracted me from thinking about the fact that I was not playing Destiny, and the throbbing ache in my sinuses. And in between these periods of magnesium flare frustration, I was charmed and delighted and all those other good things. When I finished the game, I felt a powerful satisfaction and may or may not have stood up, pointed at the screen, and shouted “Take that, you little pissant!”
Tearaway Unfolded: it’s pretty good.