Once upon a time, two young artists started a colony, a place where fellow artists could come, train, and release their creative potential. It was all going well until one day a lovely lady sculptor showed up, capturing the hearts of both friends. One won her hand in marriage, but the other could not forget. Eventually this love triangle resulted in a rift between the two friends and the colony burning to the ground. Thus begins the backstory to Artist Colony, the new casual simulation and time management game designed by Nikitova.
Gameplay will be familiar to those who have played other casual sims such as Virtual Villagers or My Tribe. Just drag your characters to the spots where they need to work and they do all the heavy lifting themselves. After clearing a bit of rubble from the entrance, characters can then enter studios to train in their field of art. Each person has a primary and a secondary art talent, both of which are trainable. Once they reach a certain level they can begin to create masterpieces, which will be needed tomake money to upgrade studios and other structures in the colony.
But artists cannot just train and create, they have to eat and sleep, too! Drag hungry or tired people to the correct buildings to keep them healthy. You also must perform maintenance around the colony, pulling weeds or shoveling snow as the seasons change. On top of all that, artists also need inspiration, a feat accomplished by beautifying the grounds with fountains, murals, and other inspirational flourishes. One fun dynamic is when an artist begins to "think" of someone. Place them near that someone and they will either fall in love (inspiring them to create a work of art about love) or they will experience heartbreak (inspiring a work of art dedicated to the downside of love). This will not, however, result in children. Instead, to swell your population you must beautify and upgrade the colony to attract more artists.
At first when one of your little artists creates a masterpiece it will sit at the creation point, awaiting a buyer to wander in and see if they like it. Later you can rebuild the gallery to hold up to 40 masterpieces at once, allowing more money to pour in. In the beginning, each studio can only train one artist up to a certain level, so the money is desperately needed for upgrades to accommodate more students and higher levels, especially when other artists arrive to swell the colony population. Certain restoration projects and upgrades also require not only money but artists of a certain level, so don't neglect the training.
A menu on the left allows you to keep track of all of your residents, with buttons that can show who is hungry, who is tired, who is inspired, and who is in love. Click on one of your little characters and you will get a menu showing their primary and secondary talents, how many levels they have achieved, who they are thinking of, and their inspiration and energy levels. There's a handy "events" menu at the top, notifying you if something is taking place. Click on the envelope and the game will whisk you to the location to see what is going on. There's also a nice overview map to see the colony in its entirety, allowing you to jump from place to place without all the scrolling.
Analysis: At first glance, Artist Colony resembles one of the giants of the casual sim field, Virtual Villagers. As you dig deeper into the experience, you will find the game goes its own way and creates a lovely, fun virtual world of art and performance. One charming aspect is the gallery where you can check out all the fabulous photographs, paintings and sculptures created by your little people, or simply watch them on the restored stage as they perform musical numbers or interpretive dance in the dance studio.
The artwork in Artist Colony is a delight. Your little folks are very unique in appearance, and not just in clothing. Hair color, facial adornment, and even posture help you distinguish one from another. The backgrounds of the colony are stunning, especially when you open up new parts of the map to show the mountain mural or the peaceful fishing pier. Drop an artist on a building and you get a lovely cut-away view of the inside as they go about their business. Each studio looks better and better after upgrades, adding to the delight of the gameplay. There's also some lovely, sprightly music to enjoy as you play. When one of your musicians gets on stage to perform, the music changes and you will actually hear their new composition.
The best part of the game is the ever-developing story, both in the present and the past, as new pieces of the colony are unearthed or upgraded. After certain benchmarks are met you will be entertained with more details about the disaster of the past, or the angst of the present. Eventually you will learn the whole story of the love triangle but you can continue playing as long as you wish, trying to reach certain benchmarks or just enjoying the lives and creations of your little artists.
There are a few downsides. The biggest one is that you can only play one game at a time. Thus, if you want to start a new game, you will be forced to discard the old one. This can be annoying to those who might wish to run simultaneous games. Also, the pacing is a bit slow, especially at the beginning. Fortunately, there is a "fast forward" button that can make things move at double speed if you don't want to sit around waiting for something to happen. The game does not run while it is turned off, so be prepared to spend some time in your (hopefully) thriving colony.
Despite a few minor annoyances, Artist Colony is fascinating, absorbing casual gameplay. For those who love casual sims this is the game for you. Just be warned, it is very addictive. You can while away hours as you manipulate your little people to and fro, searching for hidden pieces of the past or creating masterpieces for the present. It's time to dress in all black, slap on a beret, and get ready to create some art!