Review: The Unfinished Swan (PSN)
Title: The Unfinished Swan
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1.5 GB)
Release Date: October 16, 2012 (PlayStation Plus) / October 23, 2012
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Giant Sparrow
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: E10+
The Unfinished Swan is a PlayStation Network exclusive.
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 290 of the podcast.
By now you’ve probably seen the reveal for this game. A blank white screen, black paint starts to fly and reveal the environment. It was a unique mechanic that generated a lot of excitement. But how could that hold up over the course of an entire game, and how short would a game like that have to be before the player got bored of it? Well fortunately for all of us, Giant Sparrow is more clever than that.
The Unfinished Swan is about a young boy named Monroe, living in an orphanage since his mother died. He’s allowed to keep only one of his mother’s many unfinished paintings, the swan obviously, and one night he wakes up and finds the swan gone from the painting. Following yellow footprints on the floor to a door he never noticed before, Monroe ends up in that blank white space.
As a puzzle-exploration game that unfolds with a touching story, minimal to no instruction and clever game mechanics, the influence of Journey is strongly felt here which is definitely a good thing. The game plays out as chapters of a book. In Journey, we learned that the experience was much deeper and more poignant than a lone traveler in a desert. The Unfinished Swan is much the same as you learn the basics of the game. You can move, jump and throw some sort of fluid into the environment and it’s up to you to figure out where to go and what to do. The game rewards exploration as there are a few clever Easter Eggs hidden among the levels.
You’ll almost definitely want to play through it several times, if only to find the balloons hidden on each level. These are used to unlock thins like concept art, a balloon detector which will light up when you get near one, rapid fire mode and more. Though the game can be completed within a few hours, much like Journey, it’s a rewarding and magical experience unlike anything you’ve ever played which makes it well worth the price of admission.
This is actually one of the high points of the game. You wouldn’t expect that from a game that starts you in a white room and has you throwing black paint around to reveal the environment around you. There’s much more to the game than just that setting though as you’ll explore a number of different, whimsical and unexpected environments across several chapters, each one nicely designed to fit the storybook aesthetic of the game.
I won’t spoil what’s waiting to be found and explored but if you’ve played Journey, think of this along similar lines. There’s more to the game than you’d expect and the environments, challenges and puzzles are much more varied. Lighting also plays an important part later in the game and it’s used to great effect.
A narrator tells the slowly unfolding story as you play through the levels, but her voice and that of the King (voiced by Terry Gilliam) are the only two that have any lines beyond a word here and there. Monroe speaks rarely, one word at a time and at key moments much like the titular character in Ico and it all works to perfection.
Sounds are critical to finding your way, especially in later levels or even if you’re going for the “Minimalist” trophy in the first level. That one requires you to get through it with three throws of paint or less, which may sound crazy, but it’s definitely possible, I did it in two. The orchestral accompaniment also fits the mood of the game beautifully.
This game is single player only.
A fantastic debut effort which bodes well for the future of Giant Sparrow, The Unfinished Swan is well worth your time and money. Don’t be fooled by what you’ve seen, there’s so much more to this game than splattering paint around a white environment. You’ll feel a real sense of accomplishment when you reach the end and you’ll likely want to dive right back in.