In it, you play as Monroe, a young boy who has chased a swan missing part of its neck into a strange, surreal world with huge swaths of unfinished white space. Using globs of black paint to splatter and reveal your surroundings, you must make your way ever forward hunting the titular swan.
The gameplay is puzzle and exploration based, with throwing different forms of paint or water making up the core gameplay mechanic. Power-ups can be bought to give you a hose effect, a straight-line effect, and the ability to pause time for the balls in the air, allowing you to throw multiple balls at the same time.
This game provides examples of:
- Art Game
- Blackout Basement: The Forest.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: The King notes that his dreams have credits in them, as the in-game credits begin appearing during the final level. He also remarks how they have subtitles.
- Cel Shading: On what is shaded, anyway.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Items you should pay attention to are in color: swan footprints, balloons (can be used to buy Power Ups), markings on gates...
- Color Contrast: Black and white, naturally. Nearly everything starts as white, and you splatter it with black paint to reveal it. Rare important objects have color, including the swan footprints, which makes them stand out all the more.
- Color Motif: Swan footprints appear in orange, the color of warmth and vitality. Given the empty and sterile nature of the world, this is probably a deliberate contrast.
- Death Is a Slap on the Wrist
- Droste Image: In the third part of the first Chapter, you'll eventually enter a room where probably the King used to work on paintings and other projects. Right in front of the entrance you'll find a canvas depicting the King infinitely painting himself in a canvas.
- First-Person Ghost: You can't see anything of Monroe's body during gameplay. Near the end, a mirror reveals that Monroe is a 2D painted character rather than a 3D model.
- Foreshadowing: If you look through a certain telescope in the city, you can see the king resting in the same place where you meet him at the end of the game.
- Guide Dang It!: The Minimalist trophy, which requires you to get through the first part of the first level (which is almost entirely white by the way) using only 3 balls of black paint or less. Be prepared to either look up a step-by-step guide, or get ready to figure out where you are based solely on sound and memory until you come across some of the swan's footprints.
- Insufferable Genius/Small Name, Big Ego: The King. He's shown himself to be an impressive artist and architect, having built the two castle towns you explore. On the other hand, the main reason the game's first area (his garden) is completely white is because he believes there are no colors good enough for him to use in his projects; his subjects had to live with it for a while until their complaints became too loud to ignore. Another example of where his pride can take him: that 100-foot unfinished statue of him you eventually come across? That's the scale model.
- Lazy Bum: The giant has been stated to have been the "laziest giant ever lived". Because the people of the King's city left, they no longer badger him for help, which also makes him the "happiest" giant. When you first find him, he's sleeping within the now-abondoned kingdom. He does, however, wave at Monroe once he leaves.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: The King is Monroe's Father.
- Medium Blending: When you find a mirror near the end, Monroe is revealed to be a 2D painting instead of a 3D model. The same is true of the King during a brief sequence where you play as him.
- Mind Screw: In the second part of the first chapter, you'll come across a room whose doors to the sides and a pit under a bridge will lead to the same exact room. You need to exploit this to proceed.
- Motif: According to the lead developer and designer, the game has a children's storybook or fairytale motif.
- Nintendo Hard: According to Word of God, "It can be super hard, yeah".
- Parental Abandonment: The boy's mother dies in the backstory and his father is not mentioned, but is eventually revealed to be the King.
- Power-Up: Freeing balloons allows you to unlock toys that improve your paint splatter. You can pause time for your paint globs to throw several of them at once, or increase the rate you can throw them.
- Shout-Out: In one of the later levels, looking through a telescope and zooming all the way in reveals an Easter Egg nod to Journey, another PSN indie darling.
- Super Drowning Skills: Munroe has them. In most cases, simply touching the surface of water leads to a quick gaspy coughy revival wherever you were before you fell in.
- Surprise Creepy: The night level, where you're suddenly dropped into a pitch-black forest filled to the brim with spider-like creatures that want to eat you. And you can't see anything.
- Tragic Keepsake: The portrait "The Unfinished Swan" itself.
- White Void Room: The game starts you in a completely featureless white level which you navigate and gradually reveal by splattering with globs of black paint. When you get past the beginning the levels get more visible, but the game always likes messing with the player like this, and it's all part of the artist/gimmicky nature of the game.