Giant swans are creepy

I bought a game called The Unfinished Swan on PS4 a couple weeks ago when it was on sale for a toonie. This purchase was based on an article that I’d read about the game long ago, which I remember as being somewhat interesting. I don’t remember what the thrust of the article was, or where I even read it, but it left me with a good impression for some reason. So I gave up a coffee for a new video game.

After finishing the game, I consider it to have been a sound investment. The Unfinished Swan is a two-hour indie game with a cute little story about an orphan boy travelling through a fantasy world. It’s almost a walking simulator, but actually asks something from the player besides moving forward to the next plot point. What that task is changes throughout the course of the game, but is generally all about manipulating your environment in some fashion.

When you start off, you’re in complete white. Not a scuff or shade to show the way. Your only recourse is to bumble around in the perceived nothingness (and that actually ties into the game’s toughest trophy), or start chucking paint balls like a madman to slowly reveal your surroundings. It’s still kind of tough to make your way around, but as you go, the world starts to fill in. First with only shadows, but by the time you hit Chapter 2, there are outlines and coloured objects abound.

Said second chapter introduces the idea of flipping switches to make things move, and gimmicks that follow include following a ball of light through a pitch-dark forest and creating blocks out of thin air to build bridges across otherwise impassable pits. My favourite part, though, is when you get to command a vine that grows over every surface that you splat with a water balloon. It’s a lot of fun just to make the vine grow, and it’s compelling to find and create paths with the vine to climb along. Unfortunately, the game is tailored to be very straightforward, so there isn’t much room for creativity.

Along the way there are a couple distractions, like collectible balloons that you can use to unlock extra features. There are also little storybook panels that reveal bits and pieces of the world’s backstory. Whether this narrative is truth or just your character’s imagination is left up to interpretation, but it’s a cute and surprisingly sorrowful tale. I liked it, because it didn’t take itself too seriously and typically leaves you alone if you aren’t interested.

While there isn’t a whole lot of substance in The Unfinished Swan, it’s a charming little game that was a solid way to spend a Saturday afternoon. As I said before, it’s only a few hours from start to finish. If you really need to wring it dry, the trophies will likely double your playtime, but they’re mostly shallow busywork. I don’t know what the regular price is, and damned if I’m going to check, but it’s probably safe to say that I wouldn’t have regretted spending up to a tenner on this one. The fact that there was actual gameplay certainly helped it in that regard.

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