I shouldn’t have waited almost four years to play Giant Sparrow’s The Unfinished Swan. Nor should I have waited to play it since downloading it for “free” back in May 2015 as part of being a PlayStation Plus subscriber. I mean, it’s a short thing, an experience completely capable of devouring within a few hours, which I did recently on my day off thanks to all them presidents and whales.
For some reason, in my mind, I had paired this with Antichamber, which I’ve not played, but what seems like a lengthy and somewhat obtuse puzzle game. One I definitely want to try, but worry I don’t have the brain capacity to handle right now. Both also have amazing styles, where color is king, but thankfully the puzzles in The Unfinished Swan won’t melt your mind. Instead, you’ll find childlike glee and fascination in a straightforward, yet somewhat depressing story about magical and imaginary beings and lands.
The Unfinished Swan tells the touching tale of a young boy named Monroe, who travels through one of his deceased mother’s paintings to reach a mysterious fairytale-like realm, chasing after the titular farm animal. As Monroe makes his way forward, he’ll learn about the king of this world, who is no super saint and will leave you a bit conflicted by the time credits roll. Actually, credits don’t roll per se, but rather unfold as you play through them, and it’s fantastic, right up there with other playable credits, like in Vanquish.
The game is split into a few main chapters (and epilogue), each with its own look and mechanics. Clearly, the first chapter is The Unfinished Swan‘s most effective, opening to stark whiteness, with your only tool being tossing globs of black paint to reveal the world around you. You can use as little or as much paint as you want, and I found myself unable to not fill in the edges of the world to ensure I missed nothing. This is, in fact, only a slice of the game, with the other chapters relying on similar, but not identical mechanics revolving around tossing substances at things. Some work better than others; for instance, I disliked directing and climbing vines, and found getting stuck–and hurt–in the encroaching darkness to be strangely off-putting when compared to everything else up to that point, which never really threw danger in your face.
Naturally, color is used effectively from section to section. Golden crowns and orange footprints (gooseprints?) help direct you early on in The Unfinished Swan when you’re unsure where to go, and massive black-and-white city is fascinating to behold from afar. I constantly had the urge to jump into a spaceship and zip through it like in Race the Sun, but that’s probably just me. Later on, you’ll travel to another dimension where everything is blue, like unrolled blueprints, or desperately follow after a ball of light to not only survive the monsters stalking after you, but see where you need to go next.
Other than progressing forward linearly, there are balloons to collect, and these collectibles act as currency to buy power-ups, like being about to shoot paint in a hose-like fashion, and other goodies, like concept art. Do yourself a favor and buy the “balloon radar” toy as soon as possible, which will alert you as you get near a collectible. That said, I did not get all the balloons on my first playthrough, but similar to Rain, you can pop back into a chapter easily to find what you missed. Thankfully, not similar to Rain, these balloons are obtainable on your first go, so I only have a few left to snag. Mostly in the last main chapter, as there was a time pressure element at hand that caused me to ignore everything around me unless it served to get Monroe to safety.
So, I really liked The Unfinished Swan. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, based on only knowing how that first chapter played out from some Internet coverage, but that’s okay. In this day and age, it’s nice to not have everything about everything known to you beforehand. Also, more games need a button you can repeatedly press to have the main character call out for someone, anyone, à la Luigi’s Mansion. Despite nobody ever answering poor, lonely Monroe, I continued to push the button every few minutes, to ground myself and him in this world, to make noise.