There’s an emotional and poignant throughline in Giant Sparrow’s The Unfinished Swan. Whether this is coping with the loss of a mother, reconnecting with one’s father or an artist’s inability to finish his work, however, is never clear. The first reaction may be to say all three, as was clearly the intention, but the theme and plot in The Unfinished Swan feel incomplete, as do the play mechanics of the game. Perhaps this is the problem with putting the word “unfinished” in a game title. The game doesn’t feel like a complete idea, but instead a combination of incomplete ideas that form an almost complete idea. The game is worth playing, but if you go into it expecting a challenging puzzle game, or even as a complete art game, you might be disappointed.
The Unfinished Swan is the story of a child who follows an animal into a door and enters a fantastical land (sound familiar?) and is given a magical paintbrush. The cut scenes of the game, done in a storybook style, give the impression that you are following the swan. This doesn’t come up much in the gameplay, however, as the swan seems to pop up just to remind you of its existence. You don’t need the swan as a guide, as the game is very linear, so it’s a rather strange curiosity in the game, as if the levels were all designed before they had a clear idea about what they wanted to do with the game.
The actual game is simple to play, you are a character in a 3D world, and you move around shooting balls of paint. Doing this has different effects throughout the game. At first it helps paint the world surrounding you, actually giving it definition and helping you to see. It can also help you move objects, grow vines and create objects. The idea, like all of the ideas presented in the game, is very interesting and deserves some deep investigation. Before you can sink your teeth into this mechanic, however, you’re onto a new one. Even smaller ideas pop up for a puzzle, but are then cast off and never revisited. As an effect, the puzzles never feel complex, and just when you think you could evolve to a more complicated version the idea, it is dropped completely.
This feels like a missed opportunity, as the narrative, world and mechanics that the game portrays are very interesting. If you’re into the sort of “art games,” like Journey and Noby Noby Boy, that have been coming out for the Playstation 3, then you should check this game out. If that’s not the sort of game that you are into, then this won’t be the one that changes your opinion of “Art” games. I may not recommend it over some of its contemporaries, but it’s still an interesting game nonetheless and is worth playing, so long as you don’t mind spending $15 on a game that may feel incomplete.