Wednesday, May 22, 2013

If You Like That, You'll Love This: The Unfinished Begins Where the Sidewalk Ends

Although this is the first poem in Shel Silverstein’s classic, Where the Sidewalk Ends, it could just as easily be an invitation to The Unfinished Swan (TUS). Available for download via the PSNetwork for Playstation 3 (sorry, all you Xbox folk), TUS is distributed by Santa Monica Studiosbetter known for their God of War series. And while you might not be tearing the heads off medusas or driving your sword down a minotaur’s gullet, TUS provides a gaming experience that’s so unique and gorgeous that you’ll forget all about that testosterone-charged Kratos.

TUS follows the story of Milo, a boy who has never known his real father and has recently lost his mother, a woman that painted often but never finished a single work. Forced to live in an orphanage, Milo only has room for one of his mother’s paintings and her special paintbrush. He takes her painting of a swan, which is—of course—unfinished. 
From The Unfinished Swan
From Where the Sidewalk Ends
On his first night away from home, the painting comes to life, the swan flying off the canvas and leading him to a faraway land, where we learn of The King, who built this world as he saw fit. You, as Milo, must navigate the bizarre landscapes, armed only with paintballs or water drops, splashing the pristine world so that this

becomes this.

As Milo navigates the world, we learn more and more about The King, his story, and how it relates to Milo’s. The story, however, is told in verse, with wonderful line drawings that make the whole game feel like an interactive storybook—a fact that the developer, Giant Sparrow, exploits even further by making the game menu look like a book, too.

Within minutes of playing the game and watching the first storybook scene, it’s easy to see similarities between TUS and the works of Shel Silverstein. From the story told in verse, to the—mostly—black and white drawings to the overall tone of the game, it feels like something Mr. Silverstein might’ve written—or, at the very least, played and enjoyed.

From Where the Sidewalk Ends
From TUS

Throughout the game, the story and narration feel playful and light, the verse adding to the levity. However, there is that darker undercurrent that’s found in much of children’s literature, particularly Silverstein’s. There’s that feeling of dread and darkness that lurks just below the surface, since as all children know—and adults seem to forget—the world can be full of beauty and also freak you the fuck out within the span of a few moments.

In essence, TUS feels like reading one of Silverstein’s verses, like “Lester,” where a boy spends his life wishing for wishes but never living, or “For Sale,” where a brother tries to sell his crying sister—or even an interactive version of The Giving Tree. These poems and stories are funny and poignant and heartbreaking all at once. The same can be said for TUS, as Milo’s story is a fantastic one of beautiful lands and an incredible journey, but one that’s tinged with sadness and darkness as well. Like the best and favorites of our childhoods, this game will linger longer after the final credits roll.

So, as most of this series of posts will go, the recommendations go both ways. If you grew up with and love Silverstein’s works, you will love the tribute that TUS creates (as long as you can handle the First-Person aspect of the game). And if you played through and enjoyed TUS, sit down and spend some time with Silverstein’s works; you won’t regret it.
From TUS

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