There's a question that has plagued the minds of artists, philosophers, professors, and the general creatives alike: what is art? How can one categorize something so incorporeal, so limitless, so surreal? While the question remains unanswered, we grow a little closer to knowing the truth, thanks to ART SQOOL.
Yes, that is the correct spelling and capitalization. In ART SQOOL a game by GlanderCo, the player operates the Froshmin as he enrolls in an art school. Every day, you are given an art prompt, where you will be graded on by the professor, who happens to be a neural network materialized in the form of the letter Q.
It's also the rawest amalgamation of the creative mind of Julian Glander. The artist is known for his "pastel meets vaporwave" color schemes and 3D modeling that can only be described as hauntingly glumpy. His past work commonly runs down the road of unexpectation or obscurity.
At first, ART SQOOL was equal parts overwhelming and exciting. It was fascinating being thrown into this bizarre world, but when combined with the lack of direction, confusion had bubbled up. Fortunately, it didn't take long to take in my surroundings and realize that I only had one goal: make ART.
The first and most obvious aspect of the game was undoubtedly the art direction. Glander's unique style of visuals, color, and music are unlike anything I had really experienced before. Despite the abnormality, it didn't clash. All of the colors in the world and on my palette worked well together, and all of that with the strange yet simple shapes. And all of THAT fit to the music. It was strange to see something so whack fit so rightly together. ART SQOOL will be a memorable game, if for this reason alone.
But why attend ART SQOOL if not to make art? The one and only task in the game, I was a touch surprised with how it's gradually introduced to the player. In the beginning, the player only has a couple of brushes and colors to choose from. As they explore the world, they will gradually discover more colors and brushes to use. This let me take time with each "new " brush, getting an understanding of it before finding and investing time in another. If I was just given every brush from the beginning, I'd have easily disregarded quite a few. It kept things fresh, if fresh is even a concept in the strange reality I was playing in.
The last lovely aspect of note are the prompts themselves. ART SQOOL has 50 prompts for the Froshmin to go through and be graded on. The prompts vary from vague ideas to something as specific as " the upside down building on campus." They were enough to guide my creative side, while still offering me enough freedom to be creative.
Much like art, how does one define perfection? You could argue that nothing can truly be perfect. Alas, this bears true for ART SQOOL as well.
The most concrete flaw would be the controls, both player and camera. At best, they are "GoodBad." Moving the Froshmin doesn't feel smooth or easy. It uses the tank control scheme of rotating and moving forward. It was hard to navigate up stairs or along ledges. I couldn't look up or down, either. If there were additional controls, they were never made clear.
And yet, they were refined. Collisions with the world worked exactly as you would expect. I never was moving incorrectly due to bad physics. The camera will even automatically shift around to keep the Froshmin on screen, regardless of where you place your drawing window. It was strange to see a staple game aspect be both good and bad at the same time.
On the more conceptual side, ART SQOOL's not the easiest to understand. The game claims that a neural network assesses your art and grades it accordingly, but it doesn't take long to figure out how the statement is more for the aesthetic than anything. The grades seem randomly chosen along with the evaluation bars. I can recall a few times I begrudgingly argued at the Professor about my fish picture getting an A while my cool cliff picture, which was so much better, getting a C.
What Is ART SQOOL
ART SQOOL is an incredibly interesting game, but it's more art than a game in the grand scheme of things. That makes it the hardest game to "rate." So I won't. Instead, I'll say this.
I recommend ART SQOOL. It's super affordable ($12) and is an interesting artistic experience. I had fun making art and I'm happy to look back on the art I made in the process. I want to send my art to friends so they can comment on it. If you want to experience an artistic endeavor while being inspired or encouraged to make your own, then ART SQOOL is a fantastic choice. If you're wanting the structure and stimulation standard in most video games, then this might not be for you.
ART SQOOL is produced and published by GlanderCo. It is available on Steam and Itch.IO for $11.99. More information about the game can be found on the official website. A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of this review.