A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Unfinished Swan is a first-person adventure without any combat, though players may occasionally be attacked by monsters in the dark that leave claw marks on the screen. Its story is about a boy coming to grips with the death of his mother by exploring one of her paintings. At first blush, this theme may seem dark; but the joy of discovery and exploration combined with an optimistic and satisfying ending make it much more light-hearted than one might expect given the serious subject matter.
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What's it about?
THE UNFINISHED SWAN begins with a boy who has lost his mother and is given one of her paintings -- that of an unfinished swan -- to remember her by. He soon finds himself inside the painting in a completely white space representing the canvas. The only way he can find his way around is to toss dabs of paint that splatter against surfaces, revealing their outlines and allowing him to get his bearings. As he works his way through this strange world -- which later gains a bit more natural color and definition -- he begins discovering storybook-like passages of text that tell the tale of an hubristic king. Through this king's story he eventually comes to understand more about his mother and learns an important lesson about how to live a life of both moderation and fulfillment.
Is it any good?
This indie game has a few rough edges, but its message about the dangers of hubris and life lived in discontent -- cleverly delivered via a dreaming boy coming to grips with his mother's death -- leaves an impression that lasts long after the closing credits. Discussing the game's final levels here would ruin the sense of discovery and satisfaction that comes with it, but suffice to say that it is at once revelatory, smart, and uplifting.
The only problem is you'll have to put up with a few hitches to get there. Splattering paint to find your way through a white space is fun and interesting, but splash too much and you'll find yourself in a mostly black world that's just as difficult to navigate. And later, when you switch paint for water to grow vines along walls, you'll likely find that climbing these vines and going around corners and over ledges can be a bit frustrating. Still, these are mild disappointments in what is otherwise a thoughtful and satisfying interactive experience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about art appreciation. What kind of art appeals to you? Do you think a piece of art can ever be absolutely perfect, or appeal to everyone? Or is art more subjective than that?
Families can also discuss the notion of hubris, or excessive pride. What dangers lie in thinking too much of yourself and being overly confident? How can you tell when you step over the line from deserved pride into off-putting cockiness?
Families can discuss the indie game market and why creative games like this one get released as a download.
- Platforms: PlayStation 3
- Subjects: Language & Reading: reading
- Skills: Emotional Development: empathy, persevering
Creativity: developing novel solutions
Thinking & Reasoning: deduction, solving puzzles
- Price: $15
- Available online? Not available online
- Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Release date: October 17, 2012
- Genre: Puzzle
- Topics: Fairy Tales
- ESRB rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence
- Last updated: November 11, 2020
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