I’ve developed a god complex. But really, how could I not? I’ve got these legions of little people and creatures in the palm of my hand, heralding my coming as the “You”. My face lords over them, from the sun in the sky. Even my enemies are papering the world with propaganda. Yes, Tearaway‘s citizens have all agreed that I am great, and who am I to question them?
Of course, Media Molecule’s latest adventure isn’t just about providing a substantial ego boost to anyone with a Vita. It’s a game about stories. The story of a lone messenger named Atoi or Iota traversing many worlds to deliver something important to a godly figure in another world. It’s the story of the people Atoi or Iota encounters or helps. Not only that, but it also manages to be a story about the nature of stories, and how archetypes can be shattered to create new and better tales.
Yet, I’ll always think of it as a story about trust. It’s about a growing friendship between two people from two very different worlds, working together to covercome obstacles and finally meet. There’s skepticism on both sides initially. Atoi didn’t entirely trust me to direct her movements and I was fairly blasé about her and her message, but we worked it out. As we went through the worlds, she trusted my judgement and would jump or roll when I told her two, and we became buds.
Naturally, a story about stories is going to have a strong foundation. Most characters don’t have names, but still their personalities come through and they become real to the player. Granted, there are very few I truly came to care about. Atoi was one, as was her little friend, her noble piggy stead, and the dueling narrators. I even had a soft spot for the scraps. Every character is just so personable in their own way, with a charm that compels players to root for them.
In fact, I have to share a moment with one of these characters. It really stuck with me. Through all the shifting and changing worlds and stories, the one of the waylaid messenger resonated with me. It wasn’t because I particularly fancied the gameplay mechanics introduced in this segment. It’s because of this unfortunate character’s haunting song. This abandoned, crumpled up messenger sang a melancholy tune as Atoi and I went through a location reminiscent of M. C. Escher’s House of Stairs. Sometimes I couldn’t see the other messenger, but I could hear him singing, and knew we were constantly connected as we went through this maze of a house together. There were no lyrics, but even now I can remember the melody and find it running through my head.
In terms of a creative experience, an exercise in everything the Vita is capable of achieving, Tearaway is a precious jewel. Every element is used. Enemies can be attacked or items moved by pressing on the back touch pad. Some enemies can be squished by touching the touchscreen. Platforms can be unfurled, presents opened, curtains closed, Atoi customized with the touchscreen. I needed to take pictures to put myself, patterns, and other items into the game. I could use the touchscreen and virtual paper to make new accessories and items. It even sampled my voice. Tearaway uses every feature and, to its credit, does so in the most natural way. It never felt like a gimmick. Instead, it was like I was actually interacting with a paper world and its inhabitants.
Yet, if you look at Tearaway as a platformer, frustration tarnishes its shine. There were times when I wanted nothing more than full control of the camera, so I could look around the world and examine every detail, yet I couldn’t have it. Sometimes, I’d be able to rotate and examine to my heart’s content. Others, I would be limited to a fixed view. The uncooperativeness led to many situations where I couldn’t accurately line up jumps because I couldn’t see properly and Atoi didn’t have a proper shadow. She died so many times, all because I couldn’t adequately gauge her surroundings.
That isn’t even counting all the times she died because of gyroscopic controls. They’re introduced late in the game, and a portion of one area involves having Atoi jump onto a platform, shifting the Vita to make it move, and having her jump again. Except, these platforms would move at the slightest provocation, and if I flinched or twitched when directing her to jump to the next one, the platforms would move and she’d descend into the abyss.
I also worry about Tearaway‘s value after the glitter fades. It is a poignant game, to be sure, but now that I’ve beaten it and received Atoi’s message, I have no desire to return. I customized her to my liking, took a number of photographs as I enjoyed the show, and earned an array of papercraft models. But, I don’t have a printer and doubt I’ll ever make any of them. I know how the tale goes and ends. The ending of Tearaway is so final, that I feel like everything has been said and done.
This hurts even more, considering what a brief adventure Tearaway is. I loved every moment of it, I assure you, but I completed it in about six hours. Maybe more, maybe less. I wasn’t really keeping track. All I know is I started playing it on a Monday night, and finished it on a Wednesday night.
Maybe these issues are sticking with me more because I’m a little heartbroken. I started to connect with Atoi, on our journey. Even though she was a silent protagonist, I had this feeling like I mattered to her. She was depending on me. Yet, she was a messenger. The whole point of her life was to reach me and deliver this note, at which point she would cease to exist. I was actively hoping for an option to not open her letter, when she arrived. To instead keep her as a little AR, virtual pet.
I guess what I’m saying is, when Tearaway ended, the message didn’t matter to me anymore. Atoi did. She was my little buddy, and we had gone through so much together. I didn’t want to see her go. I didn’t want to accept her note. I just wanted her to sit and chill with me in my world. Play some games. Take some photos.
Then, when I did read her message, it just made me sad. The ultimate closing note didn’t seem worth it. While I did enjoy reading it, and it brought up so many feelings of the experience, the final thoughts, which clearly were meant to be inspiring and motivating, felt hollow compared to the loss of a character I connected with. Tears were shed, but not because Media Molecule’s note made a difference in my life. It was because of Atoi. It didn’t feel like the loss of her as a character was worth it.
Which is, I suppose, a testament to Tearaway as a game. It made me care about a little, silent protagonist. One which gradually learned to trust me enough to control her actions, went through numerous worlds to reach me, and disappeared forever to give me the message.
Maybe that’s why I can’t go back and replay Tearaway. My Atoi is gone. Her tale is over. If I go back and reopen those bookmarks to past chapters and levels, it won’t be her again. We already made our memories together and shared a story, and even with the minor frustrations and overlooked secrets, I don’t want to change it.
In memorium of Puppy!Atoi.