PSX: By Moving to the PS4, Tearaway Loses Its Touch

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Tearaway Unfolded is only half of a game. Sure, it’s still a charming, if simple, platformer. Players guide a messenger (either male or female) through a series of whimsical puzzles, many of which require creative use of the PS4’s DualShock 4 controller. To progress, players must tap the controller’s touch pad to make in-game objects bounce to a specific rhythm, or point the gamepad at the screen to aim a flashlight, which can be used to herd “scraps,” the game’s main villains.

But after running through the PlayStation Experience demo once or twice, the controller-specific functions starts to feel gimmicky. The first time your character throws a squirrel toward the screen and “into” the controller, it’s cute. The fourth or fifth time that happens, it starts to feel repetitive. It’s not exactly bad, but Tearaway Unfolded lacks the creative spark players have come to expect from developer Media Molecule‘s best titles.

There’s a reason for that. Tearaway was originally a handheld PlayStation Vita title, and about halfway through the demo, it becomes clear that something’s been lost in translation. That’s not shocking – creative lead Rex Crowle admits that the game was designed specifically for the Vita. In fact, the game’s primary inspiration was the portable console’s rear touch pad. Crowle discovered that by tracking finger movements along the back of the device, programmers could make it look like players’ fingers were appearing in the game itself, interacting with the digital world in a very immediate, physical way.

Early prototypes proved the strength of the concept. Even as Media Molecule started adding extra features, like using the Vita’s camera to customize the game world with real-life photos, touch still drove the experience. The game’s whole aesthetic sprang from the simple act of touching the screen, when Crowle realized that if you have “a world that’s all about your fingertips touching it,” you need a material that would respond “in a really interesting way.”

That’s what led Crowle to paper, which he embraced “not just as an art style, but as the whole ethos of the project.” After all, paper can be torn, folded, and drawn on – all things people can do with their hands. Even better, Tearaway’s papercraft-style visuals make the world look almost real. Combine the physicality of the visuals with the touch-based gameplay and the Vita’s hand-held interface, and the game’s original appeal is clear: while playing, it really feels like you’re shaping an entire world with your hands.

That’s why the experience just doesn’t translate to the PS4. While the DualShock 4 has a touch pad, the space between the controller and the television ruins the illusion. A player holds a Vita, but they just look at a television screen.

Head of audio Kenny Young, audio designer Ed Hargrave, and audio programmer Paul Scargill created the game’s soundscape. Lead artist Francis Pang, art director Kareem Ettouney, technical artist Stefan Kamoda, animator Mike Pang, and 3D animator Lluis Danti shaped the visuals. Gameplay was actualized by technical director David Smith, senior programmer Chris Cummings, and programmers Omar Cornut, Matt Willis, and Nathan Ruck.

To Media Molecule’s credit, it has tried to create something slightly different with Tearaway Unfolded, but without that tactile sensation, many of the game’s unique features fall flat. It’s more frustrating than fun to cut out paper pieces using the control sticks, and without a PlayStation Camera attached, the game’s customization features feel like an afterthought.

It’s a shame, too. The final version of the game should still look great running at full HD and a consistent 60 frames per second, and the development team has crafted a unique and interesting world. It’s just too bad that they’re trying to make the title something it’s not. There has to be a way to bring the Tearaway universe to television screens. Unfortunately, at this point, Tearaway Unfolded doesn’t seem to be it.

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