There’s arguably a difference between what you do in Art Sqool, and what Art Sqool is. And I think what you get out of it will depend to an unusual degree on what you put into it.
Let’s get the facts out of the way: you play as Froshmin, who has just started at Art Sqool, and have to complete 50 art assignments for your AI professor, Qwertz. You build up your colour palette and brushes set by exploring the campus, a series of fairly simple but not-unattractive islands that you infinite jump between. At any point you can bring up the canvas, doodle away, and go through any door for Qwertz to grade you. Pass, and you get the next assignment.
Exploring the campus is enjoyable while it lasts, helped by an appropriately wonky soundtrack, but hindered by an utterly awful camera. The game relies heavily on the player’s curiosity: there’s no particular need to find all the colours and brushes, and little else to tangibly reward exploration.
It’s a similar story for the assignments. They range from the specific – one of the buildings on campus, for example – to the conceptual – draw something to explain sadness to the AI. Now and then an assignment hits a sweet spot of surprising and thought-provoking, but after the first dozen or so it gets very repetitive. It’s not helped by the AI grading being demonstrably arbitrary; it’s equally unsatisfying to pass with a lazy squiggle, or fail after making genuine effort.
So apart from a few endearing musical cut scenes, it’s left to the player to find motivation through the sheer enjoyment of drawing with the tools provided. I found little such motivation, but I have the artistic ability of the average magpie. Thankfully the touchscreen is broadly up to the task, but don’t try using a controller to draw – the controls are a mess.
Though I found getting through the 50 assignments a bit of a grind, Art Sqool has been in my thoughts more than I expected. There are things that I didn’t enjoy, but were they intentionally broken? The arbitrary grading is definitely intentional. But what about the awkward, wayward camera? I was tempted to give it the benefit of the doubt, until the game crashed at the start of the final cut scene, finally convincing me that the game is just plain buggy. But is it intentionally buggy, as a comment on I don’t know, something?
Step back from the meta abyss and no, it’s not intentionally buggy. It’s an odd little game that I didn’t enjoy as much as I’d have liked to.
Art Sqool is out now for PC, Mac and Nintendo Switch (played).