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Media Molecule's Tearaway is an adorable arts and crafts adventure

Xav de Matos, @Xav

Developer Media Molecule has standardized adorable in the high-def console generation, introducing gamers to Sackboy and friends with the creation-focused LittleBigPlanet. The UK-based studio's newest concoction follows a similar strand of cuteness, commanding "awwwwwws" throughout the demo of Tearaway – Media Molecule's first foray onto the PlayStation Vita.

Tearaway follows 'The Messenger' – played by the lovable and customizable male cutout, Iota, or his female paper counterpart, Atoi – on a quest to deliver a message to the player. As either of the two characters, you'll explore a wondrous world crafted from colorful paper and propped up with globs of glue, gusts of wind, and strategic folds.

At its heart, Tearaway is a 3D platformer. You won't be developing your own levels or actions in Tearaway, but navigate through the imagination of the small, roughly fifteen-person team handling the studio's handheld debut.

Gallery: Tearaway (01/30/2013) | 10 Photos

The second chapter of Tearaway sends players to Sogport, a city partially drowned in deep wells of deadly glue and smeared throughout with the adhesive substance. Stepping into pits of the bubbling paste will immediately send you back to a recent checkpoint, but the smeared glue can be used to run across and up walls to progress through the level or find collectibles.

The objectives in my demo were a fairly standard 'rush from Point A to Point B' affair, but the road was littered with loads of interesting critters and challenges. Wendigos, which are behemoth paper-crafted baddies with a playful appearance (seen in the image below), stalk sections of the chapter, rushing toward you in an attempt to tear your progress apart. You can roll into a ball to speed past foes, or play with the world to impede them. You can trick them into stepping on cage traps, which curl and bend shut over the monsters, by standing in their eye line or luring them to right spot with pearls (a monster delicacy). More simply, you can stand near a river of deadly glue and hop out of the way when the creatures rush toward you.

Levels are developed with what Tearaway's creative lead Rex Crowle called a "papercraft editor." The tools simulate paper.

"All the flexibility of it and all of the constraints of it. The constraints of it I find really interesting as well because it forces you to think a little bit differently. We're not 'whiteboxing' levels and then saying, 'Right. Now apply the paper filter! Now ship it.'"

Originally the art style was "too neat," Crowle said, and it became obvious the team had to treat the in-game material the same way it would in the real world. "It starts to rip, it starts to peel, it starts to bend. That's where it becomes more interesting to look at."

"It's really prevented us from falling into the traps of having spike pits and block platforms. I think the movement and transformation of paper is what's really driving the gameplay."

The developer plays with the Vita's features in a number of ways: jump pads appear throughout the world. They're skinned to look exactly like the handheld's rear touch panel, thus offering a neat visual cue as to how you activate them. Illuminated circles in the world pull the camera out and enter "God Mode," where the player is given the ability to move something in the world with the touch screen, such as uncurling a small tent and using it to create a bridge to a new area.

"I particularly wanted to make something that was really tactile," said Crowle. "Something that really felt like you were squeezing the world in your fingertips." The look of the world evolved over time as the small team, focused on Tearaway, began to compile their collective pitches for what the new IP could accomplish.

"We have a very 'Game Jam' culture at the office, where everyone at the team pitches in their ideas and prototypes stuff. Ideas [for Tearaway] just came from everywhere."

In one prototype level I saw, a large chasm stood between the player and an exit. With no way to jump across the deadly pit, gaze turns to the forest landscape behind the player. Pinching the image allows the world of the painting to come alive, allowing The Messenger to hop into the newly unfurled world. Inside this new room, you can pull the exit toward the painting, folding the world onto itself and closing the gap. Though specific level won't appear exactly this way later, the 'whitebox' environment was created by one of the game's leads to show the development team what creativity the world offered.

Media Molecule's Tearaway is an adorable arts and crafts adventure
Customization will be the only 'user-generated' experience available for players in Tearaway, and Media Molecule won't ship the game with a suite of level editing tools. Instead, Tearaway will enable you to customize your Messenger – whose head is shaped like an envelope – and "draw in" pieces of your live life. One example shown was the game activating the Vita's front-facing camera to place your face in the game behind a wall of torn paper.

"There's loads of opportunity throughout the journey to draw in more about the player's lives through cameras and microphones," said Crowle. "Any player will see little glimpses of their own lives turning up in the game world."

Tearaway also features a "paper-cutting customization engine," in which you can take a sheet of paper in the game, draw cuts and make shapes to stick to the messenger's face. You'll be able to take pictures of real-world textures to apply it to the character as well, Crowle said.

Some areas will be presented as a sandbox, allowing you to wander in any direction. Once you've collected more abilities, you can return to completed sections to explore areas once out of your reach. One such an ability comes in the form of an accordion music box, which you can push and pull to interact with the environment or enemies.

The word here is charming. Cutscenes in Tearaway, for example, were designed with the world's texture in mind. Scenes are presented like pages pulled from a pop-up book, with paper levers that animate pieces of the scene when you tug on them.

Media Molecule hasn't cornered the market on adorable design, but games like this are emblematic of "awww." Tearaway doesn't seem waste its warm and original visual style, wrapping every element of play in paper.

Tearaway is coming to the PlayStation Vita sometime this year.

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