The Unfinished Swan presents a wonderful and imaginative world familiar to anyone who has read a children’s book. It also manages to seamlessly blend a unique gameplay mechanic with the story. If not for the lack of narrative content, this would be a great game. But in the end, its sense of discovery and exploration still shines through. It is an experience that is lacking at times, but overall I enjoyed my time.

The premise for The Unfinished Swan is a somber one, centered on recently orphaned child Monroe. Monroe is allowed to keep just one of his mother’s paintings, and he chooses the Unfinished Swan. His mother had a habit of not finishing anything, and Monroe feels this extends to him as well. He’s not sure who he is. When the swan from the painting escapes, Monroe goes after it and finds himself in a strange, original world based on paint.

The story is good, but there just isn’t enough of it – and that is my biggest issue with The Unfinished Swan. The narration and book pages are extremely well done; seeing and hearing them evokes memories of having books read to me when I was young, but they are absent for far too much of the game.

A good portion of the way in, it is much more interesting. Discovering the strange history of the even stranger world is the main motivation for continuation. The Unfinished Swan uses drop cap letters, which appear all around the world, to tell the story. Hitting one with paint causes it to expand into a full page with words, pictures and narration.

The world in The Unfinished Swan starts completely blank and relies on throwing paint to reveal it. This was more inventive and fun than I thought it would be. Revealing the world conjures a sense of discovery, which works because of how imaginative the world is. Nothing I found was dull since the world is split in a few distinct parts, all of which are quite different from each other, and require paint to be used in a new way.

Throwing paint never becomes stale because of its various uses. Sometimes the world is blank like the introduction, but other times paint is used to highlight and define an area instead. The paint color is not static, and neither is the effect it has, but the reason of using it to progress is always there.

As refreshing as the gameplay is, it is way too easy. I was always two steps ahead of myself due to the ease of the puzzles. There’s no real conflict in the progression. Throwing paint and exploring is a blast, but I wasn’t able to do it at the pace I wanted to. Monroe’s slow walking speed and even slower reticle made it a slog. Even with the camera speed increased to the max, it still doesn’t fix the problem.

The music, unlike traveling, never got tiresome, and for that I am thankful. The only thing keeping me company while moving between story pages was the harmonious soundtrack. It’s simple and soft with a blend of electronic harpsichord and other classical instruments. It sets the perfect whimsical tone that lends itself to the storybook feel.

The Unfinished Swan is a risky step for video games since its gameplay and means of storytelling are largely untested. Improvements can and certainly will be made in the next round of games inspired by this one. But as a first attempt, The Unfinished Swan managed to present a fantastic world supported with gameplay that while slow at times, is remarkably enjoyable.

 

 

 

The Unfinished Swan: Review
Pros:
  • Intuitive paint mechanic
  • The bit of story we do have is great
Cons:
  • Needs more plot to be effective
  • Movement is tedious
  • Lacks challenge
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