Art Academy: Lessons for Everyone! Review
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
A flawed masterpiece
New Art Academy’s arrival on 3DS comes as no surprise, as the original DSiWare titles and the retail compilation on DS further boosted the handheld’s appeal, particularly to those who wanted more from a gaming machine. As part of a group of ‘bridge’ titles from Nintendo, designed to attract new audiences, it served its purpose well. The latest title carries that legacy forward and is masterfully constructed, albeit with a few final touches left off the canvas.
Anyone who has experienced any of the DS iterations of Art Academy will be right at home from the first moment of loading the 3DS cart. With an immediate burst of well produced, soothing music and an attractive 3D video of a waterfall to greet you on the first screen, a tone of quality workmanship is set. That standard is maintained, thankfully, as you start to work through the options on offer and find the tools to suit your abilities, with features likely to appease talented artists and complete beginners alike.
For those that want to use this title as a learning tool, Lessons are the first port of call; depending on your level of artistry there’s an Introductory Course or Advanced Course. Both feature eight full lessons each – the Introductory section also has one additional starter lesson — which will often take an hour or more to complete, depending on your level of ability. These aren’t all accessible right off the bat, with lessons unlocked one at a time, while Mini Lessons are also made available – seven in the introductory section and eight in the advanced course.
Full lessons are structured to teach you, step-by-step, every stage of producing an impressive piece of art. You’re guided by the supportive, bearded artist Vince — along with his dog, Bacon — who explains each step, points you to the correct tools for the job and demonstrates what you should be doing. It’s very methodical and slow paced, which is the best way to learn, and only budding artists willing to invest time will get the most out of it. Vince’s lessons are, above all things, thorough, not only showing you how to work but explaining technical terms and providing historical examples. We felt, as artists of dubious quality, that we were learning and developing skills as well as we would in a classroom.
Mini Lessons are unlocked after completing the main task; these follow-up and expand upon, in an entirely unthreatening way, what you’ve already learnt. In these cases Vince demonstrates the whole process before you even start, reminding you of steps and producing the more simplified work before your eyes, before letting you try it yourself. At any stage you can replay the introduction, and you can also set Vince’s drawing as a reference on the top screen and use the D-Pad to cycle through stages, which provides an invaluable guide.
The biggest positive, no matter what level of course you decide to try, is that the interface and tools on offer are well constructed and cut out for the job. Accessing menus, adding a grid overlay to help with sketching outlines and shapes, changing paintbrushes, pencils or pastels, and generally interacting with the software is simple and intuitive. The act of actually painting and drawing also works as well as expected, with the tools complementing solid touch screen controls. Reviewing this title on an original 3DS model, we occasionally had to make generous use of the zoom tool, as well as training ourselves to use the point of the stylus, rather than lazily holding it at too much of an angle. We can imagine that the XL model, released on the same day as this title, will be even more suitable.
DLC will feature in this title, it’s worth noting, with extra lessons on the way: at the time of writing there were none available, so we’re unable to comment on their pricing or quality. The final but most impressive part of the lesson section, meanwhile, is Custom Lessons. This option is powerful enough that — with enough expertise, time and planning – you can produce your own lessons that follow the same structure as those in the game itself. You’re responsible for choosing a source image if desired, naming the course, and producing a number of well organised stages with full annotations. When completed properly these lessons open the door for experienced artists to produce extra content, for free, that matches up to the standard of the built-in lessons.
The main option for those that aren’t interested in lessons is the standard Free Paint option. As you’d expect, this gives you freedom over which of the many canvas type to use, which set of drawing tools, as well as setting photos or other pieces of saved artwork as the ‘source’ material. The strength of the toolset comes to the fore, as you can easily spend a lot of time trying different brushes and pencil types, or even mixing paints within an impressive range. Just like in the lessons, you can save your session at any point, which is necessary if starting a tough section or experiment. In an effort to strive for authenticity, this title only lets you erase material that you could in real life, such as pencil markings, so applying checkpoints to your progress is good practice. On a similar theme of realism, note that images produced are on a 2D single layer, unlike the multi-layered 3D images from Colors! 3D on the eShop.
So while the tools and structure of New Art Academy are excellent, there are some areas that let it down, particularly against competition such as Colors! 3D. For one thing, if you want to save your masterpiece to the SD card and camera app on the system, for distribution to others through Nintendo Letter Box, for example, do so while it’s still in your save files or when you have just completed the work. The save menu allows you to save to portfolio too – which allows you to display images in a pleasant 3D Gallery – but if you overwrite the save and then attempt to save the portfolio image to the SD card, no such luck. That’s a quirk, but the limited sharing options beyond that are a disappointment: it’s possible to send custom lessons and artwork to others through SpotPass or local wireless, but they’ll need a copy of the title. While this is passable, the online galleries and sharing options of Colors! 3D offer much, much more.
New Art Academy carries on the legacy of the DS titles and presents a polished, in-depth and high quality drawing tool. The lessons are particularly strong, structured to give rookies and talented artists alike plenty to work with, improving the artist’s skills and understanding. The toolset on offer for those that want to create art from scratch, and the substantial custom lesson component are also undoubtedly impressive, so it’s a pity that options to share artwork are so bare-boned and restrictive. If you remember to save to SD card at the right moment, however, that becomes a reasonably minor issue, and the charm and skilful execution of the title can make an artist of anyone.