The Unfinished Swan: The Kotaku Review

In the first chapter of The Unfinished Swan, you will paint a wall.

In the second, you will water plants.

The third lets you walk next to a river and then build a staircase.

In the fourth you will feel tall.

You don’t want me to tell you much more.

All that I’ve mentioned will occur in an adventure that feels like a storybook and concludes with sweet sadness. All of this is, technically, a first person shooter with bullets replaced by blobs of paint or drops of water.

You play as a boy. The narrator might be your mother. And the king? You figure it out.

In the future, perhaps over a glass of wine, you might discuss with a friend which of the three-hour moments of your life were more beautiful: the one you spent playing April 2012 downloadable PlayStation 3 game Journey or the one during which you played through the October 2012 downloadable PlayStation 3 game The Unfinished Swan.

Your friend may mention August 2012 PlayStation 3 game Papo & Yo to draw the parallel between it and The Unfinished Swan, both games about being a parent and being a child. It will be like your friend is preparing a Master’s Thesis or something.

WHY: It is as short as it is beautiful, about the length of a feature film, told in the style of a children’s storybook but filled with delightful interactions in a dreamlike kingdom that could only be possible in a video game.

The Unfinished Swan

Developer: Giant Sparrow

Platforms: PS3

Released: October 23 (October 16 for PlayStation Plus subscribers)

Type of game: First-person-painter/splasher/[spoiler]

What I played: The whole game. In about three hours. No complaints.

My Two favourite Things

  • Splashing black paint into what appears to be a white void so that the splashed paint reveals the real contours of a room or a swamp.
  • The sound of the balloons.

My Two Least-Favorite Things

  • The Move controls, which are fine but improve nothing.
  • The old oh-my-goodness-$15-for-three-hours-of-gameplay-is-so-terrible complaints that appear to have come bundled with this game.


  • “The gentlest first-person-shooter since… the first part of Portal — Stephen Totilo,
  • “Best painting game since Mario Paint and that’s including paintball mode in GoldenEye.” — Stephen Totilo,

The Unfinished Swan, you might interject, is also about being a creator. It’s about ambition and about the things we dream of doing but maybe never do. Or at least never do the right, full way.

The friend might nod and reminisce about how much they liked the part of the game with the house.

The house part was good, you’ll agree (how could you not?) But to puncture the seriousness you might then make a joke about the motion controls, about how you tried using the PlayStation Move to point and shoot the paint or water. You ultimately preferred the controller since so much of the game was about walking around using the left analogue stick.

Then you — if you are like me — will pause to remember your favourite sound from the game. It’s the sound that sums up what makes this game different and special. It’s the sound you heard every time you shot one of the hidden balloons in the game. In any other game the balloon would *pop*. That’s how it always has been in games. Blast something and it bursts.

In The Unfinished Swan, however, the sound of a struck balloon is different. It’s sort of a soft *thoonk*. It’s the sound of a balloon that is simply bumped, not burst. It’s the sound of a plop of paint or drop of water fired at a balloon with just enough force to dislodge it but not enough to pierce it. It might remind you of the sound a balloon made when you flicked a young finger at it.

Other video games, I will remark, are for people who would stamp on a balloon and pop it. This one is for the person who might give a balloon a little tap, then let it go and watch it ascend softly into the sky. There’s fleeting beauty in that. There is here, too.

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