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Tearaway Unfolded Preview – It’s bigger on the PS4, but is it better?

The lovely chaps from Media Molecule took us through a few of the finer points of newly enlarged platformer.

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It’s hard to get a handle on Tearaway Unfolded for many reasons, not least of which is that the world in your hands is now three feet away.

It’s a strange move – Tearaway’s first outing made the most of the endlessly tactile Vita handheld, while Tearaway Unfolded will be a Playstation 4 exclusive – but media molecule are a thoughtful bunch. Of all the developers out there, they’re probably the least likely to push one of  their beloved IPs in a direction that doesn’t make sense for the brand.

For me, Tearaway’s thoughtful take on platforming worked perfectly in tandem with it’s innovative use of the Vita’s plethora of inputs as a means for creation, making it the best original Vita game of 2013 by far.

Walking through the paper mountains, I’d see a deer whose fur – thanks to the Vita’s camera – matched the exact pattern of my bedsheets, while black snowflakes – designed on the Vita’s touch screen – fell to the ground. In the Playstation Vita, Media Molecule saw a device that could hold a tiny, home-made reality that could be peered into, prodded, moulded and remoulded until each player’s game was utterly their own.

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Poetics aside, Vita and Tearaway were made for each other, so how exactly does it fit with a home console?

Well, to start, Media Molecule aren’t about to give up on the games special relationship with the outside world so easily. Tearaway Unfolded’s world is still a contained one, but this time it’s hidden away inside your trusty TV. Don’t believe me? Well then, it’s a good thing there are plenty of new mechanics to convince you.

Just as in the game’s Vita debut, Tearaway’s little hero Atoi (or her male counterpart Iota) is aware of your presence. The difference is that now, rather than just being the disembodied head in the sky that controls your hero’s every move, there’s a little more back and forth between a player and on screen adventurer.

With a flick of the thumb, Atoi can now throw acorns – imagination allowing – right into your controller, and from there, the tiny projectile can be used to flick switches, break down barriers and assumingly knock down enemies. But it’s the added extras that really sell the experience: When the acorn leaves your TV, the world is covered in a retro TV filter that places scan lines across the screen and gives everything a slight green tint, give the controller a shake, and you’ll hear the tiny seed rattling around via the controller’s tiny speaker. In later levels, Atoi can even throw a squirrel between your thumbsticks who purrs contentedly when the touchpad is rubbed.

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Elsewhere, using only the PS4 controller’s gyro sensors, a light can be beamed from the controller and onto the screen to brighten dark areas. The rays of light can light candles on screen, and it’s possible, though not confirmed, that it might even be used to lead a certain windigo chum around the world.

It’s a shame that not all of the new ideas translate quite as smoothly. Using the controller’s front touch pad, gusts of wind can be sent into the world in any direction, and although using a flurry of air to hold back waves and fly paper aeroplanes is plenty dramatic, it doesn’t quite fit with theoverall message.

Elsewhere concessions have had to be made to allow for features that lack of inputs on the Playstation 4 system. When designing your own shapes, a boring, old thumbstick and cursor replace the Vita’s intuitive touch screen, and whereas the rear touchpad gave the sensation of tapping the underside of drums in the first game, now the touchpad is pushed down and then released as an attempt towards the same tactile interaction.

The most worrying limitation will be for those without the PS4’s optional camera. Without it, players’ influence on their world will be severely limited, as the camera and microphone effects that made the first game such an individual experience will be missing. Media Molecule assure us that they’re looking into ways to continue to allow for creativity without the Playstation’s all seeing eye, but their message of guidance towards using the camera is worrying.

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As you’d expect, the Playstation 4’s considerable graphical grunt, allows for a graphically superior game. The papercraft world has had a considerable makeover and now displays at 1080p and 60fps. Being a little rough around the edges didn’t stop the first game becoming a classic, however, and, bearing in mind that Tearaway’s graphics were originally designed with the Vita’s limitations in mind, it’s hardly going to be a deal breaker either way.

More exciting than the possibility of improved visuals, is the extra processing power available for physics puzzles and the like. The constraints of a handheld system with limited internals in 2013 meant that the amount of items on screen were limited to a small handful. Now acorns and cauliflowers can fill the screen as they fly from one launchpad to another.

For some, the intriguing prospect of Tearaway’s home console reincarnation, is that “Unfolded” essentially translates as expanded, giving fans what seems to be a fair amount of fair content. Maypole fields, an early area of the game, has been enlarged by fifty percent, and, by the looks of it, it’s not just empty space. Every new area, or added alleyway seems to contain a new challenge or an additional piece of scenery to really fill out.

Personally, it’s a relief to know that Tearaway’s tone and atmosphere seem to have been left in tact, even if not all of the game’s features are entirely present and correct. The necassary changes to bring the miniature world to the slightly bigger screen are mostly well thought out and simply provide a new way to play a familiar story. All others aside, the answer to the most important question about Tearaway Unfolded is this: This is Tearaway… almost. And if you had the pleasure of playing the original game, that should be plenty to go on, for now.

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