Having missed out on The Unfinished Swan when the game made its debut on the PlayStation 3 in 2012, when Giant Sparrow announced that their paint-flinging, first-person adventure game was coming to PlayStation Vita it left me with no excuses not to give it a go.
At the start of the game you learn of a young boy named Monroe and his mother – who is a painter. Monroe’s mother starts many a painting, but is yet to finish one. Monroe is placed in an orphanage when his mother tragically dies with the orphanage only allowing him to take one of his mother’s many paintings with him.
Monroe decides upon his mother’s favourite painting ‘The Unfinished Swan‘ to keep him company in his new home. The boy awakes one night to find the painting empty, with a mysterious new door appearing in his room. Monroe enters this door with his mother’s paintbrush in hand and it is here that the game begins.
Starting off in an area that is completely white, you will need to fling balls of paint at this ‘blank canvas’ to help you figure out where you are and navigate the environment. You can do this by pressing either the Left or Right trigger on the PlayStation Vita whilst using the left and right analogue stick to traverse the environment in a control layout that would feel at home in any first person shooter.
Once you have thrown a few paint balls at your surroundings and got your bearings, you will notice that the world around you is extremely pretty. The more paint that you throw the more of the world that you will reveal, and although you may miss a lot of the items that fill the areas you traverse, those that you do see stand out due to the amount of detail that has been put into placing these into the game.
There are four chapters to play through in The Unfinished Swan, with each chapter having a handful of parts – effectively breaking up the adventure into small chunks for you to complete. Each of the game’s chapters differs ever so slightly, with the first chapter taking place in a white world where you will throw black paint around the level to distinguish what objects lie around for you to navigate the area looking for a way to go. This first chapter is a beautiful introduction to the game. Although simple in premise, the world and locations are beautiful to behold and makes The Unfinished Swan stand out as a great looking game.
The second chapter replaces your black coloured paint with water that you fire out in blue-coloured balls. I found the second stage to be the weakest of the four areas in the game, mostly due to the fact that for the latter half of the level you act as a gardener of sorts – firing water at never-ending vine that will grow and flourish creating a path for you to climb towards the end of this stage. I found that this constant flinging of water at the vine got a little repetitive and that the joy that I had in the first chapter (where I could spend minutes in one small room painting it to see what I could uncover) was taken away as the game revealed all my surroundings to me in order to allow me to grow this marauding vine.
Once you get past the vines, the rest of the game is brilliant – with areas that leave you alone in the dark, with only plants that you can illuminate with your paint available to guide you on your way. Stepping off the beaten track in these dark areas will result for the spiders whose red eyes you can see in the shadows to attack you, meaning that you can’t explore too far off the road the game wants you to go down.
There is also an ability that is gifted to the boy Monroe whereby he can use his balls of paint to draw blueprints on walls that are blue in colour. These blueprints allow for you to create real-world objects to help you climb to new areas or to cross wide gaps. This added an extra element of puzzle to a game that likes to challenge your mind, yet it never quite seems to push you with the task at hand as more often than not a few balls of paint thrown at anything remotely colourful will lead to you solving the mystery at hand.
Accompanying the game’s beautiful look is a soundtrack that fits the elegant nature of this game. With a mix of electronic sounds and a string orchestra, the music that you will hear whilst playing The Unfinished Swan could not be better suited to this game. As minimalist as the game is, the soundtrack does add to the atmosphere that this game portrays – the voice-over combining with the music to make the whole game feel like the fairy-tale it almost is.
Although there are a lot of things that The Unfinished Swan does well, there are some things that detract from the overall experience. The game is very short, and there’s no doubt you’ll be able to to see the end within a couple of hours of play. This short length really did get to me, as I enjoyed being in the world of The Unfinished Swan so much that when it did come to the end I was left wanting more. There is an element of replayability, with collectible balloons located throughout each level that you can collect and use to unlock extra items in the game’s start menu, but I did not have the urge to go back and locate all of these once I had beat the game.
The game’s story is also detailed via storybook-style pages that you will need to locate when you are exploring the world. These can be identified by a yellowy-gold capital letter that will be tucked away waiting to be uncovered. Once you do locate one of these letters, you can throw a paintball at it to reveal the next part of the tale. I felt that although this was a good and unique way to deliver the story, the fact that you can easily miss a lot of these means that you may not get to experience the full story behind The Unfinished Swan.
Aside from these gripes that I had with the game, The Unfinished Swan on the PlayStation Vita is a unique game that does a lot of things right. From the majestic and regal setting, to the beautiful audio and visual combination that appeases your senses whilst you play through the game’s chapters; The Unfinished Swan is a short-yet-sweet masterpiece of a game that – like Monroe’s mother’s incomplete paintings – feels like there could be a little more to it.