Friday, May 05, 2017

Review: Tearaway Unfolded (PS4)

I had already played Tearaway on the PS Vita ages ago, so despite the hugely positive reviews for the Playstation 4 version, I had no intention of paying for it or playing Tearaway Unfolded. To my surprised, it was picked as one of the games provided as part of the Playstation Plus subscription in March.

I've had people ask me questions like: "As a thoughtful parent, do you really let your child play video games?" These questions are usually asked by parents who have never actually sat down and played a video game themselves, so they have no idea how hard it actually is to find a video game that a 5 year old can play or would even want to play.

Well, Tearaway Unfolded is the exception. First of all, don't expect to drop a 5 year old in front of a Playstation and then go away. You can't. Tearaway Unfolded relies on screen captions for dialogue, as only about 20% of the game has voice acting. Even though Bowen's an advanced reader for his age, he still needed me to read many of the words for him. Think of this as extra reading time for your kid.

Secondly, don't estimate how hard a Dualshock 4 is to use for a kid. Heck, if you're an adult, you're going to have trouble if you're new to video games. You use the left stick to move, and the right stick the change views. That takes a while to get used to. But many parts of the game requires you to do so while holding (and releasing) up to 2-3 other buttons at the same time. This is challenging even for adults, and 5-year olds probably haven't a prayer of completing the game without adult help.

Tearaway Unfolded, as a Playstation exclusive, makes full use of the Dualshock 4. You use the touch pad to draw objects that then appear in the game. The drawing isn't as nice as what you can do with the PS Vita's touch screen, but it's still very attractive for young children. Bowen never lost a chance to draw something for the game. You use the front light to light your path in some situations. You can even record sound that gets integrated into the soundtrack of the game. If you have a Playstation Camera, the game uses it to display a picture of you or to use a picture as a texture in parts of the game. The game even gives you an in game camera with which you can take pictures of the surroundings (some of the collectibles and quests involve take snapshots) and selfies! Bowen loved this feature, and took many pictures throughout the game. One of the collectible items are papercraft instructions, where certain PDFs are unlocked on a website (at tearaway.me) which you can download and print and then make papercraft objects of the actual models used in the game!

After playing the game through with Bowen, I was granted insight as to why the game was a critical success but a commercial failure. I don't think most adults are into papercraft. By the time a kid's old enough to be able to finish this game by himself (probably around 9), he's probably done with the papercraft part of his career. As a result, there's a mis-match: no kid who's still interested in papercraft has the manual dexterity or reading skills necessary to complete the game. The in-game puzzles are actually fun and challenging for a 5-year old, but no contest for an adult. The only kids who're going to be interested in playing the game will need an adult to help them with it in order to complete it.

Having said that, however, playing Tearaway with Bowen was a lot of fun, and even after completing the game, he wants to go back and replay chapters. In fact, since we went on a trip, interrupting his Tearaway Unfolded game, we brought the Playstation Vita along, and he completed the older release of the game while on the flight.

And before you ask, no, at no point during the sailing/snorkeling trip did Bowen want to pull out the PS Vita in favor of jumping on the trampoline with his brother and his bunny or snorkeling, or going ashore for ice cream. He didn't even want to watch videos on the tablet. Given the choice between a stimulating outdoors environment and fun and a video game, there was no contest. Of course, on the flight itself, he would prefer the Vita to being bored or watching a movie, but there's no question in my mind that the problem solving on an interactive game is far more interesting than being a passive consumer of TV or movies.

Since completing the game, Bowen has gone on to play the game again (from the start), and this time he hasn't asked for help nearly as frequently. Some of the behavior from the game has also translated to the real world. For instance, since playing Tearaway, he's taken to grabbing his camera to take pictures outside (though he has yet to take a selfie, which I consider a good thing) to take pictures of interesting things.

In any case, if you have a 5 year old, this is one of the few games he can play, but not unassisted. It's interesting enough for adults, though not nearly as challenging --- just bite your tongue and let your child solve the puzzles himself. Recommended.
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