Have you ever wanted to quit your day job and risk financial security for your dream job? Most games try to show you how great it can be; how some dedication and time can make you a pro chef, a business tycoon, a rich farmer, or even a giant in the game development world. Passpartout: The Starving Artist does quite the opposite, showing a much more balanced art world, ranging from throwing thousands of euros at you for your work or openly mocking your art. Sure you can get sales, and maybe you can even hit it big, but will you still even want to paint after months of artwork, burning through every bit of inspiration you can find? Will you keep your integrity and be a true artist, or will you be a sell-out that turns paintings into cold hard cash?
Title: Passpartout: The Starving Artist
Developer: Flamebait Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by developer.
Interface: Handheld Switch console, both touchscreen and with attached joycons.
Available on Nintendo Switch, Steam (Windows, Mac, and Linux) and iOS.
Even you can become a great artist! Wrestle subjectivity as you attempt to sell your art to rude customers in order to progress in this confusing art scene. The only thing threatening you is your expensive wine and baguette addiction! Will your art end up in the Louvre or on your parents’ fridge?
Have you ever heard someone jokingly say they can’t even make toast? That just about covers my cooking skills, but it’s also true with art. Making a solid stick figure seems out of my skill range, and my go-to drawings are a simple sword or shield. Despite that, I absolutely love drawing in games. I’m up for some Pictionary any day, and when it comes to party games on gaming consoles, Tee K.O. (from The Jackbox Party Pack 3) is one of my absolute favorites. But there really aren’t solo drawing games, and I’ve certainly never seen one on Switch where I can paint right on the screen with my finger, then display my masterpiece, name it, and sell it! There’s no filter on your art or your titles, so if you wanna fill each title name with profanity and draw the crudest things you can think of, then you go for it! You be you!
Passpartout: The Starving Artist presents you with a shabby little space and limitless paint and canvasses. Your goal is to sell enough art to not only survive, but thrive. You have weekly expenses to contend with, but unless you’re spending loads of time on your artwork it’s easy to keep up with them. You’ll get a few people coming to check out your paintings, each with slightly different (but secret) tastes. If someone likes your artwork they’ll offer you some money for it, which is awesome! You can accept their price, refuse to sell it to them, or risk the price rising or dropping by asking for another offer from them. Time doesn’t pause while you’re painting, so you’ll get offers and time will pass toward the next week no matter what you’re doing. This means that whether you just write a message of hatred toward a potential buyer who said your art is trash or you put half an hour into a painting, you’ll also be dealing with bills and (hopefully) offers on your displayed art.
When it comes down to it, Passpartout: The Starving Artist is a really simple game. As far as gameplay goes, all you do is paint, choose a place to display it, and then choose how to deal with offers made on your artwork. The painting is simple too: you can only paint using circular shapes, but you can make the circular shape bigger or smaller, change colors, and set your canvas in either a landscape or portrait layout. There’s no undo button, but you can paint over paint as many times as you want. On Switch, you can paint by touching the screen or using a controller, and both methods are useful for different situations. Aside from painting, you can also move around the area or look at your cash register to see your cash flow. But the game boils down to painting, selling, and sometimes throwing your work in the trash when no one wants to buy it because they just can’t understand the majesty of your work!
As you sell your work, you’ll eventually get a visit from a critic. This critic will come by and look at a piece, then walk away… but you’ll soon get a terrific article in the newspaper detailing your work (see below)! Following this, you’ll get yourself a nifty new location to sell from and some new customers. The game is set up like an upside-down pyramid: you start off in the same place each time, and depending on which type of customer you sell to the most, you’ll go to one of two locations. Each of these two locations has another split, leading to a total of four final locations you can sell from, each with their own customers and a different ending to the game. I only played through the game once, but I also watched the most amazing playthrough of the game to see how the game reacts when a real artist plays it (note: there’s some foul language in the videos, it would probably be rated PG-13). It’s easily one of the best things I’ve ever watched on YouTube, and since the game doesn’t really have much to spoil, you can still enjoy the game even after watching the videos. The developers must’ve loved the videos too because Jazza is actually in the game himself as a playable character, and he did a second playthrough video series as himself!
The game also has an Endless Mode that allows you to play in any of the areas you’ve unlocked for as long as you want without worrying about paying bills. This means you can spend an hour on a masterpiece without worrying about your baguette and wine funds. This is also where you’re likely to spend all your time after completing four full playthroughs and unlocking all of the areas.
Passpartout: The Starving Artist isn’t a game to buy because you’re interested in the story or because you want to beat it. If you go into it wanting to churn out art as fast as you can to beat the game, you’ll almost definitely be very disappointed. But if you buy it for the experience or because you love to have an excuse to be artistic, you’re in for a treat! Passpartout: The Starving Artist is as much of a metaphor and learning experience as it is a game. As you play, you’ll deal with a lack of inspiration on a regular basis. No matter how many great ideas you think you have going into the game, you’ll eventually run out. If you’re like me, that’ll happen sooner than later. You’ll also deal with the temptation to draw super crude stuff or simply write a message about the guy who came by and said you clearly have no talent (go ahead, do it, someone might even buy it!). Each potential buyer who comes by comments on at least one piece if they can, and sometimes that results in a bunch of people telling you over and over and over and over and OVER again that your painting is awful. I actually ended up in a slump for a while where I only sold about 20% of my paintings for half an hour. To make things even worse, since I was only able to display five paintings at a time, I was in this vicious cycle of creating a painting, trashing an older painting, then replacing it with the new one, all while trying to figure out what to paint next and seeing everyone badmouth my work. It’s brutal!
While the lows can be really low, highs are just as high. The best moments of all are the random little interactions that happen and end up creating amazing little stories. The painting above is the piece I spent the most time on: a terrible rendition of the Indie Hangover logo. I just made it screwing around and assumed it wouldn’t be well received by the visitors, and at first, I was right. But then someone came by and bought it. They didn’t just buy it, they spent a RIDICULOUS amount of money on it! Weekly expenses were only 70€ at the time, and it sold for 3,256€ while most of my paintings sold for less than 200€!!! Then there are the times when I’d paint the entire background black and write something like “SCREW YOU GEORGE” when he repeatedly hated my work. Most of the time, visitors would merely tell me they hated them, but sometimes someone would declare their love of it and throw down some serious money to buy it!
Passpartout: The Starving Artist isn’t a game of the year contender, but it perfectly encapsulates what indie games are all about to me. It’s an experience, it’s full of heart, and it’s something anyone can pick up and try out. It’s a perfect metaphor for artists, but it’s just as successful for content creators trying to make a living in general. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some room for improvement. While it may not be realistic, I would have absolutely loved an undo button. Also, while the game does kind of present you with some potential inspiration via faux news events every so often, I would’ve loved a button to get more inspiration; maybe the player could pick up a newspaper and look at more fake stories, or the game would allow you to talk to the visitors to hear them say something ridiculous-yet-inspiring. Finally, the critic’s articles are AWESOME, but it takes a long time to get each one and you can’t select which piece of artwork they’ll check out. I would’ve loved an option to have this done on demand, perhaps by selecting a painting and sending it off to be appraised.