Developer: Julian Glander
Release: Out now
There’s something ironic about reviewing Julian Glander’s Art Sqool. You almost feel like you’ve fallen into his trap. The New York City-based artist has waded into the world of video games with his latest endeavour, preceded by galleries worth of shiny blobs and silky textures, glossy internet-age art that has made Glander a viral hit, landing him illustration gigs at The New York Times and Adult Swim.
Art Sqool slides you into the chunky shoes of Froshmin, a new student on this delightful pastel campus that is brimming with muses, from wireframe frogs to wingding billboards. Your eyes will flicker constantly between the imposing form of these creations and the lilac static of the sky.
Glander’s creations, combined with the surreal score, curate an arresting atmosphere that is difficult to ignore. Art Sqool’s soundtrack feels hybridised from the work of artists like Iglooghost, George Clanton and Angelo Badalamenti; it’s moody and ethereal but constantly transforming, with a variety of instruments being thrown into the mix when you least expect it.
This is important, as it never feels like it’s repeating when you’re wandering around campus.
Your goal is to follow assignments given to you by your AI mentor that range from absurd to verbose, from a meticulous recreation of an air conditioner patent drawing to something that simply makes you smile. Thanks to the ambience, the latter assignment becomes an oddly introspective task.
The shining achievement of Art Sqool is how it makes you feel comfortable with just creating something. Every creative spirit knows the pain of staring at a blank canvas and self-flagellating over where to begin. In Art Sqool, it’s hard not to want to capture something that reflects the rubberised forests and chewy chess boards in front of you.
Better still, you can keep your creations once you wrap up your studies, as each assignment is saved in a little portfolio folder on your computer, ready to be shared on social media.
Yet, Art Sqool unfortunately falls apart when it ventures into the tricky world of game design. Despite Glander’s artistic talent and good intentions, Art Sqool is not intuitive to control. The camera’s locked to your movement, which makes appreciating some of the best exhibits on campus more difficult than it should be. The canvas and art tools, meanwhile, take up far too much of the screen.
The only way to navigate to higher planes is by jumping, which looks awkward and feels like a sloppy compromise. On top of this, the AI adjudicator has a real sense of judgement, meaning you can just fire in scribbles and pass the 50 assignments with disappointing ease.
Maybe the missing features are intentional, and Glander is just repackaging the veracious message that art is never finished, just abandoned. Unfortunately, beyond being a delightfully silly jaunt into the left side of your brain, Art Sqool fails to fully find its feet as a compelling video game.
Art Sqool automatically saves your assignments to a portfolio folder on your computer, meaning you can keep your most absurd creations forever. Perhaps Glander’s next game will provide a similarly surreal gallery of these drawings.
Art Sqool’s bonkers world demands attention, but it lacks basic features that would make it worthwhile.