I can’t imagine how difficult it is as a developer to create a game that pushes boundaries, goes outside the box and gives gamers new experiences. We as consumers are a demanding lot, and pretty critical, but merit is also given when it is deserved. The Unfinished Swan is a game from little known developers Giant Sparrow who have created something truly unique, an interactive fairytale whose simplicity and charm will capture imaginations across a myriad of ages.
Initially when you start playing you wonder how this game is receiving such critical acclaim. The only thing you can do is look with the analogue stick, jump, and shoot a blob of paint. It made me feel like I was playing something from the early eighties, and yet within these simple controls lay a deceptively clever premise for gameplay.
You start as a small boy in a white room and have no sense of up, down, left or right until you start firing blobs of black paint. As you shoot, the paint hits seemingly invisible objects giving them dimension and creating the world around you as you go. Walls, trees, steps, animals – the whole kit-and-caboodle doesn’t exist until you fire upon it and create some contrast.
While I admit this might not sound particularly special, when you experience it for yourself, it really is. As a gamer, to create the world around you as the story is told brings a level of interactivity that I think are seldom seen. This theme continues throughout the game but with each chapter a slight twist is added to your ability, giving the level a different flavour. My personal favourite was a level in castle grounds where you shoot puddles of water to which vines grew. Need to traverse a wall? Find some vines, shoot water up the wall, and away you go. The platforming and puzzle solving gets slightly harder as you progress but it is never hard or tedious. It exists to add dimension to the story, rather than be a challenge.
You have little idea of the point of the story initially, other than you are chasing a swan that annoyingly flies away every time you get close to it. The story is quaint and quirky and I have to admit I got sucked in and wanted to know how it ended.
But end it does, and that is unfortunately one of the games weaknesses. Once it ends and you have been through the journey, there is little incentive to go back. There are balloons to collect throughout the levels which unlock some items, but you can collect most of them without too much effort the first time through. Another thing is the utterly linear nature of the game – you have little chance to explore or figure puzzles out in a variety of ways which also hurts the replay value.
It doesn’t get much simpler than a white background and black splotches of paint! Colour and lines do get added throughout the levels but the graphics don’t try and be something more than they are, i.e. a canvas for the experience. The art style suits the game perfectly. It just looks like a children’s book on your screen. The clever use of lighting to create shadow and contrast in certain levels is done amazingly well in some levels too.
The background music creates an emotional backdrop to the game that blends seamlessly with the gameplay. It’s a constantly changing orchestra that reflects not only your environment but your actions as well. The narration is performed like a parent reading to their child with an exaggerated way of speaking that adds to the charm.
This is a tough call. Whether you think this game is good value or not will depend on what you want to get out of it. If it’s longevity or replayability to unlock goodies or a tougher challenge, then look elsewhere because you won’t get value here. The experience is over in just a few short hours and I don’t know how many people will go back. If you want something different, a gaming experience left of the middle, creative and accessible for different ages, then it will be money well spent.
The Unfinished Swan is a storybook come to life – a very simple gameplay idea, excellently executed and swapping over-the-top production values for something very left-of-the-middle but engaging. The game isn’t long and some may find it a bit expensive given the lack of specific replay value other than for the experience itself, but within that lies the key. This game gives an experience that few others can achieve with such simplicity.
AAG SCORE: 8.5/10
+ Simple But Charming and Engaging Gameplay
+ Smart Interactivity with Environment
+ Music Blends Into Gameplay
– Short Game Length
– Limited Replayability