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Video Game / The Unfinished Swan

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The Unfinished Swan is a first person puzzle platformer created by Giant Sparrow, released on October 2012. Initially released exclusively for Play Station 3, Play Station 4 and Play Station Vita through the Play Station Network, it was eventually released onto PC via Steam and Epic Games Store in September 2020.

In it, you play as Monroe, a young boy whose mother has recently died, leaving behind hundreds of paintings she made but never finished. The orphanage allowed him to take one of these paintings; he chooses one of a swan missing part of its neck. One night, he finds the swan has gone missing, and chases it through a door he has never seen before and enter 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:

  • Alien Kudzu: The vines from the City segment of the game, although not from outer space, evidently behaved like this and helped render the city uninhabitable. Subverted for Monroe, who actually benefits from their rapid growth into climbable surface-coatings and bridges.
  • 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: Mess up and fall in a pit? No problem, you'll just respawn!
  • 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-abandoned 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.
  • 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.
  • Screw Yourself: Unfortunately, while the king was painting himself a wife, the text under it that says "He had created a female version of himself. The King was in love" seems to suggest this trope. Though technically, they both don't look too similar to one another. But what makes this all the more disturbing is later, you realize that the boy you play as... IS TECHNICALLY THEIR INBRED SON!
  • 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 (2012), another PSN indie darling.
  • Super Drowning Skills: Monroe 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.
  • Surprisingly Creepy Moment: 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.