Platform: Playstation 3
Developer: Giant Sparrow
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
It’s part of the reason why I took an almost instant liking to the aesthetic of Giant Sparrow’s charming art house title The Unfinished Swan. The game’s stark, simple art design reminded me a lot of A Picture For Harold’s Room and the central conceit of a child learning a morality tale by losing himself in a world of his illustrations is certainly a familiar one.
In The Unfinished Swan, we follow the journey of Munroe, a newly orphaned boy who must choose one of his late mother’s pieces of artwork to take with him to his new home. Munroe decides on an unfinished illustration of a swan and this eponymous creature leads him through the fairytale story of an obsessive King who becomes continuously frustrated with the subjects in his kingdom when they fail to maintain his obsessive standards of tidiness and order.
The game takes roughly two hours to complete and is a patchwork of different art styles and game mechanics. The most widely seen mechanic where Monroe throws black paint against a white canvas to uncover the world is actually jettisoned before the end of the first chapter. This is with good reason. It is a gorgeous visual effect and the designers are able to create some sumptuous visual effects by incorporating ponds and wildlife in this chapter. However, it is certainly not an elegant way to explore an environment and Giant Sparrow are wise to restrict its use before it outstays its welcome. This is a game where the style is as important as the substance.
The other play mechanics in the game include a chapter where you must water fast-growing vines to traverse an abandoned city and a chapter that is set in the dark and requires Munroe to dodge spiders by finding new sources of light. Probably my favourite chapter of the four was the blue print themed level where Munroe gains the ability to create shapes to help navigate his environment. Its the concept with the most scope for creativity compared to the other chapters which are pretty linear in execution.
The game doesn’t really have an sense of cohesion in tying these concepts together. In fact, even within the game’s relatively small scope there are concepts that are introduced that don’t seem to go anywhere. We see a giant sea monster that doesn’t really end up amounting to anything and at one stage it appears that we are going to have a world made to look like the pencil sketch art style from the Take On Me music video but that gets ditched pretty quickly too.
Upon reflection, I didn’t mind any of this so much. I think for the purpose of creating an interactive picture book, it suits the pacing of The Unfinished Swan to have simple puzzles and not dwell too long in any one area. The fact that it lurches about from one idea to another isn’t so bad either. We are seeing the visual representation of a young boy’s hyperactive imagination after all.
The Unfinished Swan is a game that can rightfully sit alongside Sony’s other well regarded art house titles such as Flower and Journey. It doesn’t quite have the narrative cohesion that I would have liked but it has incredible flair in its art style and the presentation quality, bolstered by some voiceover work from Terry Gilliam, absolutely nails the storybook concept. It’s one of the most creative, inventive and enjoyable games yet on the Playstation Network.