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Best of it's genre

Review: The Unfinished Swan

by March 7, 2013

There is a certain nostalgia associated with video games that many gamers find irresistible. They start up the latest Mario Brothers game or download an old Playstation One classic and it’s like a switch. The memories rush in and they are instantly transformed into the children they once were, exuberant and eager, thrilled with the thoughts of coin collecting and high scores. While the old classics prevail, there are always newer and “better” games releasing each year, and however much we enjoy them (and we do!), most fail to give us that feeling of being a child again.

It is truly like being a child once more

That is not the case in the Unfinished Swan. You literally play a child, a young boy pulled into a painting and following the footprints of an enigmatic and elusive swan.  With only a “paintbrush,” that resembles more of a paint launcher, you set out to the mysterious whereabouts of your mother’s unfinished painted swan. Through four levels you discover the history of an unfinished and abandoned kingdom in hope of discovering just what exactly is up with this world you’ve stumbled upon.

The sparse nature of the art direction lends to its beauty

The sparse nature of the art direction lends to its beauty

The developer’s Giant Sparrow have remarked that this is a game about exploring the unknown. They could not be more right. With paint launcher in hand, you are tasked with revealing the landscape around you. While the graphics take a more stylized and sparse approach, with black against a stark white backdrop, and later levels using lots of dark colors and shades of grey, this does not mean they are less than inviting. They appropriately match the imaginative story. As the black paint thrown begins to unveil the beautiful surrounding scenery, that familiar sense of wonderment and awe overtake the player. It is truly like being a child once more.

A first person perspective strengthens this illusion, while a storybook-like narration helps create an overall atmosphere of a nightly bedtime story told by a parent to his or her young’un. By discovering pages you reveal the history of the unfinished kingdom and its finicky king, who later turns out to be someone rather special to you. Pages are not the only thing to be found, as freeing balloons will act as currency allowing you to purchase bonuses from the menu, like a hose and a balloon radar.

In the second chapter, you must grow vines to transverse the city

In the second chapter, you must grow vines to transverse the city

The kid-friendly storyline equals the simplicity of its gameplay, which changes slightly with each new chapter, but preserves its overall dynamic. While initially it’s paint that is launched, later it becomes water to grow vines and evaporating ink to hit and light up lanterns. Fitting the gameplay, the controls are extremely easy, and match the relaxing nature of the game. Apart from the thumbsticks that obviously control the camera and movement, only two other buttons are employed to initiate paint throwing and jumping.

By far the most complex element of the game is the music. However, much like the stylish art direction and its light plot, it fits the game perfectly, with lilting tones evocative of that sense of exploration and wonder that the player experiences while slowly uncovering their surroundings. Later on, the music leans on the classical side, taking on an aristocratic flavor both light and breezy. Further chapter’s songs are equally as attractive, often soothing and evoking the perfect tone for the task at hand.

You have miles to go before you sleep

You have miles to go before you sleep

Overall, the game is a masterpiece of simplicity and minimalism. With a story right out of a children’s book (literally), it takes a fantastically stylistic approach to the adventure game genre. The game’s ability to duplicate a child-like sense of wonder and to induce a strong desire to discover should be applauded. The Unfinished Swan gives PS3 owners a chance to be young once more and relive that bygone feeling of what it was like to uncover the mysteries of the world around you, only this time you can color on the walls!

Why it may be helpful for people with anxiety:

  • Soothing music
  • Easy and intuitive controls
  • Relaxing gameplay, explore at your own pace

Ways it may not be helpful for people with anxiety:

  • None

Why you should play this:

The Unfinished Swan is an imaginative effort that excels at what it does, namely being an simple adventure game that succeeds in drawing the player into its storybook environment. The stylistic art direction is comparable to an illustrated children’s book, and is just as attractive. Players who prefer simpler mechanics and a leisurely pace will not be disappointed. This game is the perfect excuse to relax and explore your way through a game. Its kid-friendly approach means that people of all ages may enjoy the gameplay.

This review was based on the PS3 version that was provided by the reviewer.

Overview
Release Date

October 23, 2012

Digital or Retail

: Digital

Platform

PS3

Developer

Giant Sparrow

Publisher

Sony Computer Entertainment

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Positives

Creative premise, easy controls, relaxed gameplay

Negatives

None

Rating
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Graphics
9.0
Gameplay
9.0
Story
9.0
Sound
8.0
9.0
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