B+, see me after class.

Platform: PC (Windows and Mac)
Developer: Julian Glander
Publisher: Glanderco
Price: Â£9.30/$12
Release date: Out now
TL;DR: Cute, quirky, but would definitely work better for people with actual artistic talent.
Family Focus? Click here for more information

I have the artistic talent of a duck. I can’t draw. At all. I do like to try, though, and while my experience is limited to painting crappy birthday cards, I did want to give ART SQOOL a go. Touted as a game where you help a virtual student get through art school, the premise is really simple. Draw 50 prompts with nothing but your mouse, explore the campus so you’ll find various swatches and art supplies, and graduate. It’s a very cute game that definitely has some room for improvement, but overall, it’s fun, relaxing, and a great way to kill a few hours.

You are the tiny blue FROSHMIN, and you have to turn in your assignment to your professor, who is inexplicably a floating Q shape as inexplicably as you are blue. He (they? it?) gives you a random prompt, fifty times over, and you’re encouraged to explore the campus for inspiration. It’s your typical WASD controls, which is somewhat tricky when your campus is a series of surreal floating islands, all brightly painted with pastel colours. So to get from place to place, you need to spam the spacebar to jump into the air… and keep going? All the way up into that purple, static-filled sky. Along with that, you can only move if you’re looking that way, and no separate camera control doesn’t make for a fun time.

This, I think, is one of the real detriments of the game – the exploration is an absolute chore. Spamming the spacebar over and over to try and get to one of the other islands gets painful after a while, and you can barely see where you’re going. You can’t even argue that controller support would solve the issue, since you draw with the touchpad/mouse, so I’d offer this simple fix – have stairs or bridges connecting the islands to keep the annoyance factor down.

The drawing itself is pretty simple – collecting various swatches and drawing equipment from around the world (though when and where they actually spawn is a whole other issue, because I’m pretty sure it’s random), and click and hold to draw on the little pad. You’re free to interpret the prompts however you wish, and there’s no time limit, so you can draw away to your heart’s content, and then potter along to the nearest building to turn in your assignment. That’s one of the smartest thing this game does – there’s a building on practically every island for you to access, rather than making you slog away to a specific point each time.

The various tools you get are nicely varied, from spray cans to grease pencils, though annoyingly your palette is limited to six colours. While these do get switched up every once in a while, they’re still confined to pastel shades, and at one point I would have given my left arm for some red. I feel this game is best played in short bursts, to let your creativity recharge, because while you’re forced to do the best with what you have, the game doesn’t give you any hints or urge you to keep going. You’re stuck with the same palette and tools until seemingly random intervals, and changing them every ten prompts or so would really help keep the game fresh. I played this for an hour or so over the course of three evenings and didn’t find boredom setting in, but I can definitely see how long slogs would become a chore.

The big draw of the game, though, was that the Steam page claimed that “Ur assignments are generated & graded by an A.I. Can a video game make you more creative? Can a video game make you a better artist?” Now, this is a fine premise for a game, but I’m not so sure it’s actually delivering on that idea. You’re assessed and given a grade based on four categories, as seen in the screenshot above, but the game doesn’t offer any critique or advice, and I was never really sure what was raising or lowering my scores. Was it trigger words? Colours matching to the prompts? Some of the art pieces I scrawled out in a few seconds got good grades, and ones I put actual effort into got failing ones.

Ultimately, ART SQOOL is a lot of fun. It’s simple and cute, with a quirky art style and weird computery voices for the characters, and all it asks is for you to create something. There’s no sense of any rushed objectives, and I loved it for that – it wants you to relax. I’m reluctant to call its issues ones to do with pacing, because I finished this game in slightly under three hours, but something to reward the player as they progress through the ranks, or even the introduction of other characters would have done well to break it up a bit, and some streamlining of the controls and spawning of new supplies would have been welcome. Nonetheless, if you’re got even a speck of creativity in you, I’d definitely recommend you give it a try.

The Good

  • A simple premise that works well
  • Cute fun in pastel
  • It got me to draw something, even if it was a shitty MS Paint-style cat

The Bad

  • Controls are a real pain
  • I didn’t get all the art supplies because of this
  • Pacing issues

Family Focus

ART SQOOL is currently unrated by PEGI and ESRB. I’d call it utterly harmless fun for all ages, albeit in a slightly trippy, abstract landscape.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the developers for the purpose of this review.