Developer: Media Molecule
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
Before I write anything else about Tearaway, I'll say this: if you own a PS Vita, buy it now. If you don't have a Vita, go buy one, and pick up Tearaway while you're at it. Basically, the core message of this review is everyone should buy Tearaway ASAP. Buy it early, buy it often, buy it for yourself, buy it for friends and family, buy it for random strangers on the street.
I say that up front because Tearaway is one of those rare games that's so wonderful, I don't feel I can fully convey the extent of its wonderfulness. Every moment of the game fills me with joy, and I've generally found that any time a work of art — be it music, movie, game or whatever — makes me feel that way, it's almost impossible to write about in any kind of coherent, rational fashion. Anything that makes me this happy also makes me ramble, and I'd hate for my basic point about Tearaway (which, again, is that you should buy it post-haste) to get lost.
It doesn't help that Tearaway fills me with more pure joy than most other games. In part, I imagine, this is because "joy" isn't usually the emotion games set out to inspire. Off the top of my head, its competition in this area would be…I don't know. Kirby's Epic Yarn? Little Big Planet? Parts of some Mario games? All great games, to be sure, but it's clear that it's not a particularly crowded field.
That said, from that list of comparable games, it's clear that even if the competition in the field of "joyful happy games" isn't exactly huge, it's still (ironically) pretty fierce. It's a mark of just how fantastic Tearaway is that it stands up to comparisons with all three. Bold claim? Perhaps. But the more I play Tearaway, the less bold it gets.
Actually, it's probably more an appropriate claim and set of comparisons than anything else. Like Kirby's Epic Yarn, Tearaway is forgiving of your mistakes; it doesn't quite rewind to the point just before death, but any time your character falls to his or her death, it's never a giant setback. Also like Kirby's Epic Yarn, the enemies in Tearaway are absolutely adorable. They may charge at you with (adorably) evil intent, but it's hard not to giggle when they land on their heads and start waving their little feet in the air.
On a related — but not totally similar — note, Tearaway shares with Kirby's Epic Yarn a commitment to making a world that looks like something more than just pixels on a screen. Where Kirby did it with yarn, however, Tearaway does it with paper. Scenery flutters in the wind; you poke holes in it through the back touchscreen to defeat enemies (thereby making this one of the rare times the Vita's back touchscreen functionality has been put to good use); you can draw on it, and cut things out, and redesign how characters look; basically, in a lot of ways, you can treat Tearaway like your literal drawing board.
And that's where the Little Big Planet comparison really comes alive. Obviously, some similarities were inevitable, since it's Media Molecule behind both. But in making Tearaway, MM clearly took LBP's play/create/share ethos to heart. As mentioned, you can control how characters look and dress. You can share those with an online community. And, taking things one step beyond LBP, you can download pictures you take in the game and turn them into real-life papercraft — which certainly adds to the game's sense of wonder and joy, because it gives you the satisfaction of creating something not just on a screen, but with your bare hands, too.
There's one key difference between Tearaway and Little Big Planet, however: the jumping. Yes, it seems that in creating Tearaway, Media Molecule took that one major LBP criticism to heart, and used it to make Tearaway a better game. Consequently, they created a platformer without the floatiness and guesswork that sometimes went into Little Big Planet, and there's no question that Tearaway is a better game for it.
In fact, not only is it a better game, I'd say it's one of the contributing factors towards Tearaway being one of the best games the Vita has to offer. It's gorgeous, it's fun to play, it's life-affirmingly happy to the point that just thinking about playing made me grin like an idiot. Like I said up top, if you own a Vita — or if you've thought about getting one, or even if you're vaguely aware that Sony has a handheld gaming system — you owe it to yourself to buy it as soon as humanly possible. It really is that amazingly great.