Back To The Drawing Board

HIGH Getting my first A.

LOW Getting my first F.

WTF Please play with a stylus. Trust me.

When I was in elementary school, I developed a love for cartooning. Born out of an obsession for Simpsons reruns and old Garfield paperbacks, I vividly remember the desire to make my own comic strips.

That desire crashed and burned as kids made fun of me and a middle school art teacher sent me to the counselor’s office for drawing a Bob-Omb from Super Mario Bros. (True story!) I’ve since put down the pencil and opted to go into writing, but I still wonder what my life would have been like if I kept drawing.

Art Sqool, a new project by artist Julian Glander, allowed me to find out.

Taking place in a mysterious world broken up into different regions, players control Froshmin — a freshman attending the titular Art Sqool and an aspiring artist. The sqool is run by an AI administrative head who gives players assignments and grades their work.

Visually, Art Sqool looks like it’s made of clay and built around simple shapes and patterns. There’s a charm to this lo-fi look, and it almost feels like it was built using assets from other games. The sound design is also unique, thanks to the cutscenes being sung through weird voice filters.

Each assignment tasks Froshman to draw something based on a random theme. These range from something specific, like being told to draw “fan art” while others are hilariously vague, like being told to draw “your favorite.”

Drawing feels good with a stylus on the Switch touchscreen. Using the triggers and control sticks to draw never felt right, and not being able to remap these is a bummer. Regardless, I eagerly awaited every assignment. Sure, my drawings were never the best, but I loved the challenge of cracking the code on the meaning of certain prompts like drawing something that “makes you happy” or “drawing yourself from memory.”

In this sense, I love that Art Sqool made me look deep within myself to create something meaningful. Sure, knowing that the grades given on each drawing were generated by AI and probably random sucked a bit of that joy out, but I was still eager to do the best I could.

When not drawing, the ‘campus’ of Art Sqool can be explored on foot or by flying around the map. Intended as inspiration for the player in their quest to create, it also has its gameplay purpose. Scattered throughout the world are different art supplies — things like color swatches and brushes. These add technique options to how paintings can look, and I enjoyed experimenting with them.

In the end, Art Sqool feels more like an art project itself, rather than a full-blown game. It’s a rather short experience and it might not be for everyone, but there is genuinely nothing else like it. I may never be an artist, but for the hours that I attended Art Sqool, I truly felt like I was creating something special.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is published by RedDeerGames and developed by Julian Glander. It is available on Switch and PC. This copy was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on Switch.  Approximately 2 hours were spent and the game was completed. There is no multiplayer.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E. There is nothing objectionable here since it’s mostly drawing. Some of the flashing lights and noises can be scary for young kids, but it’s nothing horrible.

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are not present in the options menu.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled, though text cannot be resized. Everything is also clearly labeled. No audio is needed for play. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the controls are not remappable. The sticks draw and the buttons apply various effects, but the game is best played with a stylus (obtained independently.) The Y-axis cannot be changed.

Cj Salcedo
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