Developer: Giant Sparrow, Sony Santa Monica, Armature Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Format: PS3, PS4 (Reviewed), PS Vita
Released: October 23, 2012 (PS3) October 28, 2014 (PS4/PS Vita)
Copy obtained via PlayStation Plus
The greatest way to describe The Unfinished Swan would be to compare it to a storybook. It tells the tale of a young boy named Monroe who finds himself lost in a mysterious world of paint. In search of a large swan, Monroe’s adventures will take him to a variety of different lands, sights, and perils to overcome.
The game opens with a soft voice narrating the events that lead up to Monroe entering this strange world. Who is Monroe? What led him to this world? What is his purpose within it? These are the questions you’ll spend the game looking for the answers too. Occasionally, the narrator will have more to say, shining light on the situation and expanding the lore of this strange world. However, these narrative pieces aren’t doled out automatically, and require you to find hidden storybook pages on the walls of the environment. Most of these are directly in your path, making them very hard to miss, but a few of them require deeper exploration of whichever area you’re in. The art adorning the narrative pages is charming, calling to mind the classic storybooks you may remember from childhood. The little cartoon characters on the pages pop with personality, and the narration is engaging and occasionally humorous.
However, gameplay is king, and what’s on display here is extremely unique and awe-inspiring. Although the mechanics change over the course of the game, the beginning stages are the most clever. The game is played in the first-person perspective, and when you first start the game all you can see is white. You can try to navigate purely by sound if you really desire (there’s actually a trophy for completing the first level this way), or you can play the game the way it’s designed and throw balls of paint to color the environment, illuminating the path through the level. As you throw paint around the world, it colors the objects around you, revealing obstacles, staircases, paths on the ground, and more. Watching the black paint uncover the world on the white canvas is mesmerizing, and there’s no other video game I can think of that looks anything like it.
As you progress (and for reasons the narrative will explain), the levels start including shadows and color, making it easier to find your way through each stage of the game. This more or less eliminates the need to paint the world around you, which is a shame since that’s the most appealing aspect of the game. Each subsequent level also introduces a new mechanic, and while these are all fun in their own regards, none of them quite measure up to the genius of the earlier stages. Whether it’s throwing water balls to spread the growth of vines, or using blueprint boxes to materialize stairs and ledges, there’s plenty of things to do in this game. Unfortunately, as interesting as these mechanics may be, they’re just not as innovative, or iconic, as using paint to reveal the world.
The game also utilizes collectibles in a fun a way.
Hidden throughout the game are multiple balloons attached to strings, and hitting one with a paint ball will detach it from the string and send it floating into the sky. For every balloon you hit, you get a point which can be used to unlock tools to augment the game. These tools include the ability to freeze paint balls in the air, use a sniper rifle to shoot paint balls over longer distances, and even unlock a radar that will help you detect where the remaining balloons are. There’s a few more to unlock as well, buy why waste the surprise here?
The Unfinished Swan is a very unique game.
Its storybook world, engaging narrative, and fun gameplay make it an experience that’s fun for all ages. While the first little chunk of the game easily stands out as the best, the rest of The Unfinished Swan is still a delightful and short romp. I think everyone who enjoys video games owes it to themselves to check it out, but this may pose a problem for those without a PlayStation system. Regardless, if you can set aside the roughly two hours it takes to clear the game, I guarantee you’re in for a special little treat.
– Zack Burrows