The Unfinished Swan review
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The Unfinished Swan review

Our Review by Campbell Bird on September 18th, 2020
Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: BUMBLING BIRD
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This acclaimed first-person puzzler has a few rough edges in its mobile form, but is still perfectly enjoyable.

Developer: Giant Sparrow

Price: $4.99
Version: 1.0.0
App Reviewed on: iPad Pro

Graphics/Sound Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar
User Interface Rating: starstarstarblankstarblankstar
Gameplay Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar
Replay Value Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar

Overall Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar

The Unfinished Swan is a strange game of contrasts in more ways than one. Beyond the stark, visual way you give shape to the world by tossing black ink around plain white rooms, the game also constantly vacillates between an ethos of experimental boundary-pushing and fairy tale familiarity. It makes for an intriguing experience that you don't want to put down, even when playing a somewhat flawed mobile port.

Paint for perspective

In The Unfinished Swan, you play as a boy named Monroe who is on a surreal quest to catch a swan that escaped from a painting that his late mother started but never completed. On this chase, Monroe finds himself in a magical land that was created by a king with the power to paint things into existence, and Monroe must use the power of paint himself to solve a variety of puzzles and catch up with the swan.

The structure of The Unfinished Swan is very conventional. The game is divided into sections of levels dedicated to specific first-person puzzle types and gimmicks that slowly ask you to master each one before moving on. What sets this game apart though is the sheer creativity of the puzzle design. The most striking of these comes at the game's outset where you have to use paint to create definition and contrast to what is otherwise a plain, unshaded, and invisible white garden to find your way forward in this magical land.

Pocket-sized pacing

The Unfinished Swan throws a lot of creative and disorienting puzzles at you (and some work better than others), but the game never lingers too long on any one idea and wraps itself up within a few hours of play. This makes it well suited to mobile play, with the only minor caveat that the game's checkpointing system is completely invisible. In instances like that, I'd presume the game saves progress constantly, but I definitely found times when returning to The Unfinished Swan where I had to replay sections of the game I had already completed.

As a first-person game, The Unfinished Swan controls about as well as you'd expect using a touch screen. Luckily, the game rarely ever demands you to be quick or precise and you always have the option to play using a controller, which works pretty much flawlessly.

Could use a little finish

The only places where the mobile version of The Unfinished Swan stumbles is the few times when it demands some finely tuned control input. I completed the game using touch only, but found probably 3-4 instances where I either felt like the game was interpreting my inputs incorrectly or I couldn't do what it was asking me to do without significantly changing my grip on my device.

In particular, there were instances where I fell off of things my character was gripping, even though I didn't do anything to indicate I wanted to do that. There were also times where I got stuck trying to climb objects in a level that I was actually just wanted to move past. Toward the end of the game, I found workarounds for these problems but ran into minor trouble with certain precision drawing puzzles that would get messed up whenever I lifted my finger off of the screen. I was able to solve this by changing my grip to have an extra free finger so I never had to lift the others off the screen. Obviously, I would have wanted to play The Unfinished Swan without having to worry about control issues like these, but even with them I found myself enjoying the journey.

The bottom line

It wasn't exactly easy to get through the mobile version of The Unfinished Swan, but ultimately I'm glad I did. It's a weird little game with a ton of heart and personality, both in terms of its narrative and overall design. The mobile version is not the ideal way to play, but it’s serviceable enough and I certainly recommend that folks find a way to play this game if they haven't yet.

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