It's deeply charming.
You might be walking down a path, but there's a tactile sense that the path is a cut piece of paper that's been laid on top of green grass surrounding it. It has a seam in its middle - a rising little peak, because someone folded the paper before it was placed down.
As your little player-character - a sentient envelope, who spends the entire game trying to get to you to deliver a message - walks across it, the raised edges of a path flatten to smooth with the ground under her tiny weight. That little peak in the path will depress as she scampers across it. (I say she because I chose to go with Atoi, the girl character. If Iota, the boy character, is half as adorable as my Atoi was, you'll spend the entire game wanting to hug him.)
When you splash through water - a sheet of blue paper that sits atop the green - expanding paper rings burst from your footsteps with each little 'sploosh."
It's lovely. Long grasses are strips of paper that flow with the wind (to a lovely rustling paper sound). Waves of paper water break against the paper path to a lighthouse. Paper rain falls, and when it hits the ground it shatters into beautiful little paper curls that leap into the air, roll themselves up, and are gone in an instant.
The world sways and breathes with the wind, and it's carried along by a fantastic folk-meets-electronic soundtrack.
Atoi and Iota, no mater how you dress them up with the game's construction paper kit,
are charming and expressive little folk. They utter tiny, high-pitched bursts of effort (uhn!) when they heave a squirrel into a basketball net, their mouths form little "ooohs" when they're amazed and their eyes go wide with fright as they're chased by rampaging windigos. Atoi, it should be known, loves a good, old fashion pig ride.
The game starts out simple, with not even a jump at Atoi's disposal (though you'll tap the rear touchpad to fling her from jump pads). When rampaging 'scraps' - little one-eyed newsprint cubes, and the game's enemies - show up, all she can do is run around looking terrified until they leap at her. If she successfully gets out of the way, the scrap will hit the ground and wang its head, stunned for a moment, at which point she can pick it up and (uhn!) toss it into other scraps or off cliffsides.
Atoi's skills are really only half of the equation, though, as the game treats the player themselves as a player-character. You'll stab your fingers up through the game's world from beneath, scattering scraps and pushing platforms around. You'll pull on the ribbons of countless presents to unseal the confetti within (used for buying camera upgrades, filters and pre-made fashion accessories like eyes for your messenger) and spin records to stop the world from turning.
About a sixth of the way into the game, Atoi earns her jump, but Tearaway keeps its mechanics lean and meaningful. It never introduces a button press that you won't be using constantly for the rest of the game, and it does such a fine job of keeping things fresh throughout you never find yourself pining for a deeper movelist.
You'll wander through orchards and design a crown for the squirrel king. You'll make a mean face for a pumpkin so he can scare crows away (once you toss his head up on his body), and those little blue snowflakes above are the little blue snowflakes I designed, when an elk asked me to.
Like all good adventurers, you travel the land setting things right enroute to your ultimate goal, taking pictures of your bathroom curtains to dress up colorless characters and snapping pictures of others, which automatically returns their color to them and unlocks a papercraft design for print-out later, if you're so inclined.
The game clips along, constantly delighting with creative new environments to explore and adventures to have, and - try as I might - there's nothing here to complain about, and nothing I can suggest needed a bit more attention. I never cursed a checkpoint location, was never disappointed by an odd-feeling difficulty spike, was never less than charmed for my entire time with the title.
As its presentation attests, this is a game assembled carefully, with an abundance of love on the part of its creators. It never frustrates, only delights.
Far from the meatiest of games, Tearaway more than makes up for its meager length by way of its constantly charming presentation and comfortable, involving gameplay. I didn't even realize how tightly the game had wound its way around my heart until its weirdly hallucinatory ending, and I found the screen was blurred through welling tears.
It's wonderful. Lovely. Delightful. Charming. Smartly-constructed and well-paced. It's not a game you'll play forever, but it feels like an instant classic, and something you'll be dying to share with any kid in your life.
Tearaway, it turns out, is more than just a cute face, with something beautiful and meaningful to say about games, gamers and what occurs between them.