Review: The Unfinished Swan is more art than game, yet still deeply engaging and full of whimsy
Some people tend to scoff at the idea that games are art. However it's been proven time and time again, most of the time even on the PlayStation Network, that experimental games which borderline works of art, can be just as deeply engaging, moving and beautiful. The Unfinished Swan is exactly such a game. One that will have you admiring its stunning beauty, smirking at its delightful whimsy, and bring you to a point of elation, despite some of its more serious undertones.
The story revolves around Monroe, a young kid who lost his mother at an early age. Before she passed however, she was a painter, though she never seemed to complete any of her projects. Young Monroe, now left alone, unfinished, lives in an orphanage with only one of his mothers paintings he was allowed to take with him, the Unfinished Swan. Monroe awakens one night to find the painting gone, and a magical door in its place.
Through this door lies a Kingdom of pure fantasy, with a castle that towers above a perplexing maze, dark forests filled with evil spiders, but all of this prefaced by world of white. Upon your first steps through the magical door, you'll find yourself in a state of limbo. No matter where you seem to look, the screen won't change, and you'll be greeted with an unending and pure white. With the help of Monroe's magical brush, you'll soon through paint splotches all around you, revealing that there is indeed a world hidden beneath white exterior.
It's a hard feeling to describe, but the first time you throw a glob of paint into the unknown white world, and see that in front of you is a chair, and then a wall, and then a hallway that leads to the next area, you become enthralled in this colorless world. A feeling of adventure will sweep over you, and propel you to explore every nook and cranny, so you can get a good look at the world around you.
As you explore, you'll come across various story book pages that reveal the backstory of the Kingdom you're exploring, providing exposition and reason to the nature you find this Kingdom in. Every page is perfectly narrated, adding to the bed time story style the game is going for.
The game will take you through four separate chapters, each with their own theme. The first is the aformentioned Kingdom bathed in white, the second will have you traverse the top of the castle with a help of some friendly growing vines, the third will take you to a dark and terrifying forest, where any source of light will be your salvation, and the final chapter has you actually coming face to face with the King, and taking a stroll through his narrated dreams.
It's to The Unfinished Swan's credit that every chapter feels like a completely different experience, even though the core of the gameplay remains the same. Throughout your adventures you'll also come across various balloons that act as collectibles throughout your journey. The more you pick up, the more 'Toys' you can buy to play around with, such as your paint globs in mid air, a balloon radar to help find balloons easier, a hose to unleash a steady stream of paint. It's all novelty stuff, but does provide some incentive to go back and mess around with them, or to find every single balloon.
For those that own it, you can use the PS Move to fling your paint balls across each level, however, even after just a few minutes of playing with the Move, I quickly reverted back to the standard controller. It's not that the controls were terrible, it's just that you'll find your arm getting tired very quickly.
The game isn't long by any means, and can easily be completed in a single sitting, though don't take this statement as a negative. The length is absolutely perfect for the style of game that it is. Any longer, and the game could have been faced with too much repetition and monotony.
As for the literal meaning of the game? It just might be one of those instances where each person can indentify with it differently, and come up with their own meaning and reasoning behind the adventure. I looked at the experience as the acceptance of loss. Like I said though, it could be interpreted in many ways, but the beauty of it is, it doesn't have to be interpreted as anything literal. I didn't feel an incredible emotional connection to the game like I did with Journey, but it is after all much lighter in tone.
With that said, Monroe's constant reactions to things happening around him, will undoubtedly make you believe he's human, and that he is indeed, an inquisitive child.
The Unfinished Swan can easily be called PSN's masterpiece. It's length is just perfect, the price just right, if you fancy yourself a fan of very art oriented games that can still pose a challenge, you owe it to yourself to give the game a try.