To DSi owners, Art Academy will be a familiar sight. Last year we saw Art Academy: First Semester and Second Semester, a set of artistic tools by Nintendo. While First Semester received positive reviews, Second Semester was criticized for being “less of the same”, resembling an overpriced expansion pack rather than a second release. Now Nintendo has compiled both games together into one retail release and it feels like an improvement for it.
There are five different sections here: Lesson, Free Paint, Demo, Gallery and Camera. Art Academy is not a simple drawing tool for the DS: it aims to educate you all about painting and a variety of drawing techniques, ranging from the basics such as brush strokes, creating the illusion of depth and shading to more advanced skills such as multiple layers and aerial perspective. For anyone looking into developing their artistic skills, this is great as the techniques taught to you in the game can also be applied in real life. It won't make you a pro but will give you some good experience.
In each lesson, you will always be drawing a specific piece of art, a wise move on Nintendo's part as otherwise they could soon become quite boring if you're not creating anything. Lessons are placed into several stages, each one requiring you to draw a different part of the painting, gradually building up to the finished piece. Structurally, this is pretty good as it takes a slow but steady approach that can have the lessons lasting quite a long time. While they feel clear and rather fun at times, they can drag on sometimes, which may bore some who want to press ahead.
Throughout the stages, you are guided by an in-game teacher called Vince. A very talkative teacher, you'll often see him go into a lot of detail about each step alongside occasionally providing famous examples of art as a frame of reference and also do his own version of the picture you are drawing throughout each stage which can be used as reference, all of which can be very helpful to users.
However, there are a couple of issues with Vince's teaching. One of these is that Vince will almost always show you what tools you need: this is normally fine, but when you equip these tools yourself they're plainly highlighted in yellow, making his demonstration seem rather pointless. Another problem is that once you get into the drawing itself, Vince provides little help outside a few pointers in the menu, leaving interaction throughout these parts rather minimal, which can be annoying.
There are also mini lessons throughout the game, which begin to accompany the main lessons from lesson four. These lessons will require you to use similar techniques in your drawing to the lesson they accompany, but in these you aren't given any guidance by Vince. Some may see this as an opportunity to apply their new skills to a new piece, but others may see them as rather pointless as you could simply do the same thing in Free Paint Mode, only for a whole range of images and not just one or two set choices.
New to the retail release is the demo lesson, which can also be downloaded from the Wii's Nintendo Channel as well as be sent to a friend's via DS Download Play. Rather than offer the first lesson of the game like other companies often do with their game demo's, this instead is a completely original creation. The lesson will go through the basics of Art Academy with you, showing off the various tools available and teaching you about drawing an apple. There isn't much here that experienced Art Academy users will find interesting, but it's still a nice little inclusion.
Once the lessons are done though, they hold little replay value and you're probably unlikely to want to replay them. After completing the lessons you'll probably find yourself spending most of your time in Free Paint Mode, which is where the game holds most of its replay value. This mode allows you to freely draw whatever you wish with the complete set of art tools available to you, a nice change from lessons. The drawing, naturally, is fun and can keep your creative side occupied for long periods of time, with a large range of reference photos available to base your drawing on. DSi users are also given the ability to take photos from the camera and use them in Art Academy as reference photos when drawing.
The art tools you'll use throughout the game are surprisingly impressive, as they feel quite accurate and responsive, making great use of the DS touchscreen. They feel more like real art tools than many other art programmes, and don't simply offer you shortcuts such as adding shapes from a toolbar: all work done in the pictures is your own, right to the last detail.
There's a nice variety of tools available to you, such as the different style pencils and brushes, the ability to mix paints, a zoom feature for closer detail, the ability to just use water in order to blend colours and so on. While you unfortunately can't trace pictures, there is an option for using a grid to draw a picture more accurately based on a reference image, which will be displayed on the top screen.
Once a picture has been finished, you can then save it into the Gallery, from which it can be accessed at any time and even put into a slideshow. Unfortunately, Nintendo has not included any abilities to share your pictures outside the game, be it by allowing users to share their creations through an online gallery, or by allowing DSi users to transfer them to an SD card, which is quite disappointing.
For those of you who purchased both of the original DSiWare titles, Art Academy does not offer enough new content to justify a third purchase. However, the retail release fixes several issues that Second Semester suffers from by combining both lessons, offering an improved product overall. Those with only a casual interest in art might not find much appeal to the lessons, but for those who are looking for something a bit more than a new drawing tool with the DS, Art Academy is top of the class.