Review | Passpartout: The Starving Artist

Living the dream of being an artist on fast forward in Passpartout

It’s the 90’s, I am bored and up way too late at night watching public access television. When a white guy with a huge afro appears on my screen with a white canvas and the voice of an angel. The Joy of Painting was my first example that art can be done beautifully, compared to my own art adventures where it looked like I was electrocuted holding a marker. We have been there though, looked at art and gone, “I can do that!” then quickly realized these people were talented and had years of practice. Still, sometimes I see myself in a fancy beret, pencil mustache, and talking about how ephemeral things are. Then I realize that sounds awful, and stick to games.

When a game comes along and gives me the chance to live out that painter fantasy, it has my attention. Passpartout is our canvas today and the games’ features are its paints and brushes. The beautiful thing about art is that it’s completely subjective and Passpartout captures this extensively. If you are like me and can only manage terrible stick figures, you can still play this game. If you are really, really good at using Microsoft paint and can make the Mona Lisa you can still play this game.

Passpartout

Passpartout is game you only get as much out of as much as you put in. While that sounds obvious, it’s something I felt needed to be stated. This is solely about painting nothing more. If you are looking for something with a tycoon aspect like Painter’s guild, you’re not going to find it. I found that you do become intimately familiar with the different forms and styles of painting. Despite that, I admit I myself, wanted more but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the game.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Passpartout is a game about painting.

You might think there isn’t really much to talk about when it comes to how complex this game can be but you’re wrong. You start off with nothing but a canvas, one brush and your imagination. Go make some art. There is a way to lose the game in the form of bankruptcy. Every painting you make is sold for sweet cash. You use this cash for absolutely nothing beyond apparently baguettes and wine. I guess it’s hard to make good art without carbohydrates and being slightly tipsy. These fees come out every so often and if you don’t have the money in your register, game over. However, to really lose, you have to not try at all in the first level. In later levels, as long as you consistently produce the quality of art that got you there you will do fine.

PasspartoutThe game has three acts, the first act you can pretty much get away with painting anything. I did in my first run of the game. What the game doesn’t tell you is that there are multiple paths to take in each act depending on the style of art you make. While you are free to make whatever you want, to see every possible ending you are going to explore many types of art. I started with hillsides, mountains, cabins, Bob Ross rip-offs basically. This led me to becoming the Donald Trump of painters. Not my favorite ending.

When I started over I went off the rails and just started painting lines. This surprisingly worked very well. Expressionism and minimalism are just some of the forms art explored in this path. Painting itself is simple, perhaps too simple. You play this game with your mouse and nothing else. You left click to apply paint/choose colors and brushes and roll your mouse-wheel to adjust the size. Aside from the brush you have only two other tools, a spray can and ink-pen. Some will find that rather limiting, but that hasn’t really stopped anyone from making awesome art. Check out the Steam screenshot section to see what I’m talking about.

Passpartout
My gallery is Hughges!

When you are not making art, the rest of the game is simplistic. You can place where you sell your art, there are different galleries, aka levels. There are random news stories that occur throughout the game but this never felt like it affected the gameplay. Not in a way I noticed anyway. You can click and move around the levels and make certain things produce a sound for an achievement.

In all, the gameplay is pleasant. It’s painting, you can relax and take your time. The only gripe I had was with how things were judged. You could spend quite a while on one painting and making it just right and watch it sell quickly. Then you could screw around and draw a phallus and watch it sell faster for the same or higher amount of cash. I guess this represents how art in real life is very fickle and no one painting is better than another, subjectively. Lastly, there is a negotiating system for your paintings. While it’s implemented nicely the system feels slightly pointless as all you do with money is pay bills. So if you think you are being robbed you can try to get higher. Again this goes back to Passpartout not being a tycoon game despite there being hints of it at the surface.

When not painting you can enjoy the games graphics, which are quite charming.

PasspartoutThere is all sorts of fun in the design of the game. It’s like a Neo-Paris with exaggerated colors and all sorts of weirdos everywhere. So I guess, Paris? The character design for me took front and center. Like Passpartout with his watermelon head, or the punks with pink spikey hair, all of the characters felt unique, except for the businessmen. They all looked the same but I think that’s the point.. There are all sorts of people to sell art to and identifying who likes what is key to getting all the endings.

If you take the time to smell the roses, you will also notice some nicely detailed levels. The backgrounds show the Paris backdrop and later levels have some really nice artwork for internal detailing. Not you will notice all of it, as most of your attention is focused on your canvas. It is there though and I did appreciate it.

Another art form makes a small but impactful appearance in Passpartout, the music!

While the music is hardly the focus here it is rather well done. Each level has its own theme to it with some levels being pop and loud. Others being more traditional instrumental. For me this felt important to the game, the graphics and music are the only thing giving this any kind of body and personality. Thankfully it doesn’t grate on the ears while painting and if it did at any point, I was too obsessed with my Snorlax painting to notice. Only gripe I had was with the sound effects, not much is really there. Then again the game doesn’t really need it either.

Replay and Repainting go hand in hand.

Passpartout has a high amount of replay value, much to my delight. The focus is on getting all the endings and mastering all the art styles. Which isn’t easy to say the least. Figuring out who likes what and the style is going to be a bulk of the games length. You could finish your first three acts in about two to four hours. If you add up all four endings, that is quite a bit of game time. This is all depending on your style of painting and how much you put into each painting.

PasspartoutPasspartout does have some rather fun Steam achievements and Steam cards. I actually chased a few of the achievements because I thought they were funny. There is no controller support and I believe no sketchpad support either, at this moment. Think that would be awesome and would certainly enhance the gameplay of Passpartout for those that did own that equipment.

Personally, I enjoyed my playthrough of the game but not being really all that talented at art, I found my eye wandering to other games. I think if you enjoy sketching or have any flair for art then this is a game for you. Anyone can enjoy Passpartout, but its definitely a niche type of game.

Passpartout is certainly distinctive.

This is why I love Indie developers. I haven’t seen games like Passpartout and that is why I knew I had to review this game. It’s certainly simplistic but it accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. I can’t wait for somebody to combine this game with Painter’s guild and give us the full experience. (Hint hint developers) In the meantime, I am going to draw some pandas and happy clouds and I am perfectly okay with that.  If you never grew up and still to this day enjoy playing with crayons, water paints, and making a mess. This is a perfect game for you. You can pick up Passpartout: The Starving Artist for $9.99/£6.99.

To quote and finish this off. “Happy painting, and God bless my friend.” -Bob Ross

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