Switch Roundup: Art Sqool, Picklock & Brawl Chess

We enjoy highlighting the little games that come out during this busy season just as much as we do the big games. The Switch is a platform that received indie titles in abundance, so here are three of them that recently came out.

Art Sqool

With a title like Art Sqool, you know you’re going to be playing something that taps into creativity somehow. And yes, the game doesn’t waste a lot of time in introducing you to protagonist Froshmin and his desire to study art. You take assignments from an AI professor, and walking across campus you’ll assemble a range of brushes, paints and other tools to help you create art.

Art Sqool walks a thin line between a game and an interactive art experience, as most of your assignments are simply to draw something – often something that’s described in vague terms or open to a lot of subjective interpretation. You get graded for your work at the end, but the scoring dynamics are pretty far from transparent and almost feel random, which is a shame because ultimately it leaves you feeling unsatisfied when you have the sense it doesn’t really matter how much effort you put in.

art sqool

If you take Art Sqool as a game where drawing is the main mechanic, you’re going to walk away frustrated. This isn’t Scribblenauts, where your creativity has a clear purpose and the outcome always feels more or less “fair”. Art Sqool is more about exploration and experimentation, and as you walk around the game map and find more tools to work with your options to explore your artistic side also increase. The experimentation doesn’t stop there though – the actual gameplay outside of the drawing aspect feels quite experimental as well. Expect the unexpected, play around with different perspectives by changing the camera angle and position – basically get creative outside of your art as well.

This is a game that made me miss the old Nintendo (3)DS stylus though – the Switch never came with one and creating art with the tiny joysticks on the Switch just isn’t perfect, even cumbersome at times. But while Art Sqool disappoints as a traditional gameplay experience, I did find it fascinating enough to order myself a stylus and give it another go soon.

Picklock

When I first saw artwork for Picklock, I thought it was another Minecraft-like indie title – but I never had that sense while playing it. Sure, there’s that voxel art style that initially tricked me, but both the gameplay and the visual perspective make this entirely its own thing, something that’s best described as a burglar simulator – in that sense, it has much more in common with last year’s PC game HEIST.

picklock2

Your protagonist is a former criminal who’s in dire straits and resorts to his old habits, as you receive new objectives from the pawn shop where you sell the fruits of your labor in between missions. Evolving the gameplay, you also regularly acquire new tools of the trade, allowing you to (for example) disable the alarm after you trip it.

The actual gameplay has as many puzzle elements as it does stealth elements, and a handy drone perspective shows you objects of interest and information about guards. As robberies get more and more complex, planning ahead becomes a factor as well. It’s never as exciting as (for example) Desperados, in part because the guards aren’t the brightest and only react based on line of sight. This makes up for the fact that the controls on the Switch are overly sensitive though, and I’m thinking that Picklock is probably easier to play with mouse and keyboard controls on a PC.

picklock

It’s a fun little game that blends puzzle and stealth elements though, with a distinct visual style a decent length for the main campaign, which runs for about four to five hours. At its price point, that’s good value for money. There’s no real narrative, but you can upgrade your home and spend money to reflect how well you’re doing in your criminal endeavors.

Brawl Chess

Playing Brawl Chess quickly evoked memories of a classic title by Brian Fargo I played back in the 1980s: Battle Chess where chess pieces came alive to battle with each other through (for the time) gorgeous animations. Obviously Fargo went on to produce games like this year’s marvelous Wasteland 3, so I was curious what Brawl Chess was going to bring to the table.

brawl chess

As was the case with Battle Chess, Brawl Chess is ultimately nothing more than a way to play chess on a computer against a CPU or human opponent. This particular take features cartoon-like visuals to make it appealing to a younger audience as well, although you still have the option to revert to traditional chess pieces if you prefer that.

There are five difficulty levels to choose from so there’s a bit of a learning curve there, but unfortunately there are no tutorials to teach newcomers the game of chess and there are no chess-based puzzles to casually ease you in either. This is a shame, because we’ve seen it done very well over the years and the kid-friendly art style would have been a great fit in terms of an introduction to the game of chess.

brawl chess2

Visually, you’re represented by a fantasy character on the side of the chess board, giving the game an aesthetic that reminded me a bit of Peggle. But as with the number of game modes, the fighting animations on the board itself are very bare bones as well. Rather than seeing the pieces duke it out, a dust cloud appears and the winner emerges victorious.

As such, Brawl Chess is a perfectly functional way to play chess on the Switch, but feels like unfulfilled potential in terms of what it could have been with a bit more love and attention. The visuals are lovely, so it’s a shame they didn’t build from there to produce a fully-featured and family friendly intro to the world of chess, especially given the current popularity of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit which has thrown chess into the mainstream spotlight.

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