The Unfinished Swan ReviewMarch 4, 2013
If you have the time, and are inspired by art and imagination, you definitely need to give The Unfinished Swan a look.
The Unfinished Swan. Wow. All I can really say is…wow! I have never, in my life, played something so imaginative and wondrous as this game. Simply amazing. I found it, like many games, by accident. I’d never heard of it, had no idea what it was about. The Unfinished Swan was something I just happened to stumble upon in the PlayStation Store. I saw the free demo, found the name intriguing, and decided to give it a try.
The Unfinished Swan is an exploration game developed by Giant Sparrow and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. It was released for the Playstation Network on October 23rd, 2012. Playstation Plus owners had access to the game on October 16th, 1012.
The beginning of The Unfinished Swan was simple enough. It follows the story of a boy, named Monroe, who loses his mother. She was a painter who never finished any of her work. They were always left half done. And when he is taken to the orphanage, the boy is only allowed to bring one image. He decides to take his mother’s unfinished swan.
The introduction is told with a sequence of narrated pictures- nothing too fancy. Artwork is appropriately childish, the voice of the narrator is soothing, and the tale is drawn to life before your eyes as the lines swoop and cascade to create the various artworks.
A swan escapes from the boys painting, and after a loading screen, I ended up in a white room. Okay? I stood for a moment, pressing X, and square, and triangle, with nothing happening. At first, I thought that I wasn’t able to do anything because I didn’t have a Playstation Move camera (which it asked for in the beginning). About to get utterly disappointed, I hit the right trigger…and a black glob jumped out, and hit empty space. The glob splattered against something flat. It almost looked like a wall? I started hitting everything around me, and slowly began to reveal edges of a small room. It was fascinating! But what really blew my mind is when I noticed that there was a hallway.
The controls are all pretty straight forward. Gameplay revolves around revealing the world around you, using your mother’s paint brush to uncover the way. You move with the analog stick, jump, and throw paint/ink/water/goop with the shoulder buttons. That’s it. There’s no mana bar, no health meter, no lives, no annoying timer, ammo of any kind, or enemies to shoot. I also ran into very few NPCs, and none that I could interact with. It’s just you, the world, and mystery. The game literally throws you into a void, and expects you to figure it out. There wasn’t even a tutorial stage. As you progress through the game, you get new colors and abilities to reveal more and more of the castle that you’re exploring.
So there I was in white nothingness, and my ink splatter missed the edge of a wall, and instead dropped to the floor of another passageway. I was revealing the world around me by tossing blobs of black ink. As I threw more and more paint, I watched the corridors turn into other halls. That was cool. Then, one splatter happened to hit something that looked like a box. Next, some bamboo, a fence, and eventually a pond with a frog jumping from it, and flipping fish, all brought to life as my splatter exploded to reveal more of my surroundings.
The fascinating thing is that there were no shadows. No detailed structures, or high resolution textures. The world was brought to life through ink splats. It was simple, imaginative, and absolutely beautiful. And amidst all the black and white were a set of yellow footprints. I followed them to the edge of a log, where I could see another set of prints that I couldn’t get to. I took an alternate direction, followed a path through the area, and ended up taking a detour to a side of the pond. With a drop of ink I revealed a stone, then another, and another, until I was able to make it to the next set of prints.
I was eventually led to a corridor, which looked like the balcony of a castle. I meandered through the stairs, and halls, until I saw a golden “T”. I struck it with my ink, and a story page was revealed! The narrator told the story of a king that could not decide on a color, so he just left his kingdom white. Wow! This felt like a new, interactive way to tell a story, with exploration, and curiosity driving you forward. What would my ink reveal next?
By the time I got to Part 3: The First Castle, The Unfinished Swan’s world opened up and I could finally see my surroundings without the aid of ink! That was cool, and unexpected. I have to admit, I was starting to get tired of walking blindly, and when I was finally ready to go crazy, the world was realized, and I could explore with a bit more clarity. Every chapter introduced a new way to interact with the world, and it never got dull or boring.
There is a chapter where you have to grow vines, however. In order to reach different areas of the castle, you need to drop water on vines, that stretch and grow every time you spray them. They loop, and round edges beautifully, scattering like small insects in random directions. Now, while it was awesome to watch, the vines grow too slowly, and you had to pull the trigger every time you wanted them to grow. This was easily remedied with the Toy menu.
During The Unfinished Swan, you gather hidden balloons, that act as currency. Eventually, once you find enough of them, you can access the Toy menu, and buy different upgrades. One such upgrade is the hose, which basically machine guns the ink! It comes in really handy.
I’ve never played or had an experience that can match the wonder of playing The Unfinished Swan. I was mesmerized by the genius of the storytelling, how the world was revealed through playing with ink, and how the tale pulled you into the world without bosses, shooting, melee, or anything else. The game is so artistic, and despite lacking the graphical fidelity of modern titles, it still manages to create a world full of imagination with simple models and colors. Perhaps it’s because I went into the game knowing nothing about it, at all. I’d never heard of it, never seen it, and that’s what made it all the more enchanting.
This has to be one of the most amazing games I’ve ever played, in my life. I have never played a game like it. The Unfinished Swan is only a few chapters long. It’s short. You can finish the game in one sitting, or one lazy afternoon. But if you have the time, and are inspired by art and imagination, you definitely need to give the Unfinished Swan a look. It’s only $14.99.