Reviews
The Unfinished Swan

By Jorge Figueiredo - November 13th, 2012

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The Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade are awesome places to find some really great downloadable games. From time to time, absolute gems pop up that are too good to miss! Giant Sparrow’s The Unfinished Swan on the PSN is a prime example of how big things can come in small downloadable packages.

The Unfinished Swan is a beautiful title about a young boy named Munroe, whose parents passed away. His mother was an artist, who put paint to many a canvas – but never completed any painting that she started. Munroe was sent to an orphanage, and was allowed to take only one painting with him from his mother’s collection. So he chose the unfinished painting of a swan. At this point, the lines between reality and imagination are blurred as Monroe wakes up to find that the swan has escaped through a door that he did not notice before. This gateway leads to a world very different from our own. Armed with the means to paint, Munroe sets out to find the swan.

I first saw the game at the Sony Playstation Holiday Preview event; and it was an interesting introduction. I didn’t get to play it then; but I got to watch a few people sit there, staring at a white screen (with a small targeting reticle in the center). Unless they knew what was going on (or they were adventurous), nothing would really happen until they pushed the Move button on the Playstation Move wand. This action would lob forth a blob of paint; it would sail in a gentle arc and splat against whatever it would come in contact with, coating surfaces within the “blast radius”. And then, like the character in the game, the player’s eyes and mind set out on a journey of discovery.

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That’s some Koi pond.

To say that the game is all about exploration is a huge understatement; being in an unknown space is one thing – but having to paint your way across it to “see” is another. I suspect that players will also be exploring parts of their own minds as they adjust their playing style. I found myself painting in a minimalist fashion at the beginning – revealing just enough to get by. However, once I started seeing how detailed the world was, I wanted to see more of it; so I let fly with the paint – and then I discovered that too much paint would obscure what I was looking at. There are also surfaces to which the paint does not stick – it simply bounces off and splatters elsewhere. Also, there are story pages scattered throughout the game; each of these is hidden with the exception of a single golden letter that, once splattered with paint, will reveal a whole page. The narrator reads each page upon the reveal, leading you further into the world and the story.

The initial levels that are mostly white come to live with every glob of paint that you throw. Splatter effects are done well; the paint adheres to almost every surface and the models are quite detailed. Later on, the world has some definition and colour, but the lines are simple and elegant. Animation is smooth and realistic – both for the paint and for what can be painted (sometimes you will surprise yourself by revealing a living creature that reacts to being painted). Everything is gorgeous – it’s as if someone brought a child’s fairy tale book to life.

The sound is almost more important at the beginning than in any other part of the game. The orchestral score is dreamlike; ethereal melodies paint the aural sound-scape as you paint the physical with your magic brush. The sound design is well-implemented, making really great use of surround sound. You can navigate by sound in some cases (and at times this can be very helpful). Both sound effects and music go hand in hand to create a fantastic experience.

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Green thumb? Try a green freakin’ arm!

I used the Playstation Move Wand and Navigation controller to move about the game. It doesn’t take long to get used to, and is a much better choice (in my opinion) than using the standard DualShock 3. I think having the wand in my hand like a paintbrush really helped to sell the concept of the game. While the DualShock might be easier to use at the beginning, the Wand and Navigator really go a long way to immerse you in the game.

In terms of difficulty, The Unfinished Swan is not going to cause you to throw your controller at the screen. Any puzzle-like game-play moments are not hard, making this a great game for older children and team-ups of younger children and adults. Balloons are hidden about (and sometimes are in plain view) and can be collected by hitting them with a blob of paint. Balloons can be exchanged for extra goodies in the toy shop (main menu) such as a balloon radar, or the ability to unlock all of the story levels right away. There are a few other surprises, too. Really, collecting all of the balloons is probably the most difficult aspect to the game.

The Unfinished Swan is something that must be played by anyone that owns a PS3. The experience felt a lot like playing Flower or Journey – and I will definitely be going back for more. Really, this game is not expensive at all (~$15), making it more than worth the price. How often can you play a simply beautiful game that is accessible enough for kids to enjoy yet deep enough in story complexity to appeal to adults?

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