The 3DS has continued to thrive as a result of its varied and expansive software catalogue, providing a one-stop-shop for RPG, platforming, and even action fans to find some really solid titles. It's not only that though, as the eShop has opened the door for smaller developers to release more subdued or technical affairs, be it music creation or an artistic outlet. While Painting Workshop may not exactly tread new ground on Nintendo's handheld, is it still worth a look as an inexpensive alternative?
From Collavier Corporation, the creator of sister-title Comic Workshop earlier this year, this is a more open-ended approach to art on the 3DS, offering you the means to create without any specific focus. Upon starting the app, you can choose your dominant hand and then either jump right into working on a blank canvas or taking the time to go through a range of tutorials; your nameless, faceless mentor will explain all of the tools at your disposal, but there aren't any actual art lessons here to speak of. You'll never get any direct feedback on your work, so all 24 of these tutorials are there simply to get new players accustomed to the software itself. These can be played in any order, repeated as often as you like or skipped entirely, and do a decent job at explaining the key features and limitations of the workshop. They're clear, concise (bordering on unnecessary at times), and the only really unfortunate aspect is the total lack of player input for 90% of the lesson. Many of these can be breezed through in under a minute however, so they should really be considered as an alternative to experimentation on your own terms.
A majority of the tools are fairly self-explanatory, with the ability to customize your range of colours, create set lines and shapes, and paint in solid blocks. More unique options allow you to 'fill' selected areas with a picture you can choose to import from the console's SD card, or even paint with this chosen picture, as if scratching away at the surface of the canvas to reveal what's underneath. It's a clear distinction between this and similar titles, which usually attempt to simulate a realistic art studio. Painting Workshop is more like 'Adobe Photoshop Jr.', providing the means to manipulate your work outside the boundaries of a traditional canvas. There are multiple layers available to switch between, sections of your art an be cut, duplicated, moved or resized, and the player can even create their own roller stamps and stickers for a real photo studio feel.
Everything has to be done manually, and this can be both a welcome source of control and a little overly sterile. Sweeps from your stylus are translated as pixellated lines, which are all uniform until you decide to fiddle about with the menu and make them otherwise. The 'pencil' is your main tool, so it should be mentioned that anyone looking for a range of different brushes will likely be disappointed here. Adjusting the opacity and thickness of your lines can help simulate strokes of paint or crayon, but it's inorganic to say the least. Adding to this, there's no audio feedback as you draw, and zooming in will inevitably showcase some jagged, blocky edges along what you thought was a nice, smooth circle. It may be an unfair comparison given the difference in price, but the Art Academy games allowed the player to control lines through the actual pressure put on the stylus, and it made for a much more involving experience. Embrace what Painting Workshop can do however, and you'll quickly see the appeal.
It's very easy to switch between tools on the fly thanks to a simple hotkey system, allowing you to assign your favourites to the X and Y buttons whenever you like. Everything is obviously done through the bottom screen, so it's possible to clear the canvas of any obstruction by pushing your palette of tools to the top, which also displays an overall view that can be referred back to when you're zoomed in below. The undo and redo buttons can be a little slow to respond sometimes, but are a great asset and well-suited to the experimentation that the app encourages. The themed background to the canvas and the music that plays can be changed as you see fit, and nothing is intrusive to the clear interface.
As was the problem with Comic Workshop, Miiverse integration is at a bare minimum here. You have the option of saving a picture of your work, but actual screenshots can't be posted onto the game page at all. It's telling that the majority of posts there feature drawings done directly through the message itself, and it's a real shame to cripple the community before it gets a chance to even start. Sharing your work can thankfully still be done online through a shared gallery that caters to both Painting and Comic Workshop. It's a wholly necessary resource for displaying your work, and serves as a fine example of what the software can really do. It's a shame we don't see more apps like this on Wii U, as it would be fantastic to work on something at home and then adjust it on the go. Perhaps Collavier Corporation might turn its very competent skills towards a home console release in the future, but until then this is a great option.
Though we've referred to Painting Workshop as a Junior version of Adobe Photoshop, this doesn't mean it's strictly a childish affair. On the contrary; a wide range of digital tools and a solid interface make this a powerful little piece of software in the right hands. There are just enough tutorials to get anyone up and running, and creative types will reap hours of fun even with the slight limitations in place. It may not emulate the realistic artistic method as well as other titles do, but for pure content creation it's got enough here to satisfy, and more than justifies its low price.