Review: Art Academy: SketchPad (Wii U eShop)

A masterpiece or sketchy at best?

One of the most fascinating things about Miiverse is how Nintendo is paying such close attention to it. Not just in the sense that it is regularly updating it, but rather the company is actually listening to what its consumers are saying on the platform. It's remarkably unusual for a company that until now had been quite behind with its online services.

Nevertheless, Nintendo's attentiveness has done it a world of good, even if it still hasn't managed to achieve mass success with the Wii U. For years, Nintendo fans begged for a digital release of EarthBound, and only once a chorus of requests for the cult classic emerged on Miiverse did the Big N finally deliver. Now, after having seen the staggering amount of high-quality artwork that has been uploaded to its online network, Nintendo has responded and released Art Academy: SketchPad on the Wii U eShop, an app which allows users to create detailed and colourful drawings that simply can't be done with Miiverse's basic drawing tool.

In this regard, this is essentially Nintendo's way of adding extra functionality to its Miiverse service. It's not as extensive as previous Art Academy titles, and rather this app features elements of what will eventually become a full title. However, Art Academy: SketchPad still has a lot to offer, and it's the ability to share your creations online that makes it such a compelling piece of software. Not only that, but it's still pretty in-depth, featuring an impressive number of tools and colours with which you can create some pretty stunning artwork — provided you're talented enough, of course.

This is the most crucial factor when determining whether Art Academy: SketchPad is for you; it's an advanced piece of software that successfully emulates real-life drawing, and unless you're naturally gifted or instructed in the ways of art you may struggle to find much enjoyment. The app does contain a menu item for the popular lessons mode found in previous instalments — in which you are given guidance every step of the way — but much to our frustration it isn't included yet. If you're a something of a novice, you may want to hold off until it's available before picking this up.

Regardless of your skill level, Art Academy: SketchPad has a good number of tools available for you to create some impressive artwork. With the mixture of pastels and pencils on offer, it's possible to incorporate advanced effects and a number of styles into your work. Fans of creating 8- or 16-bit art will be pleased to know that you can place a grid overlay over your canvas, making it much easier to colour in equal-sized pixels. Unfortunately, the grid only comes in one size, so trying to reproduce especially detailed characters or large areas is trickier. On the plus side, however, you do have the ability to zoom in, thus allowing you to go into much finer detail than was previously possible in the Miiverse post-creation screen. Unfortunately, you are restricted to only pencils and pastels as your primary tools — for the moment at least — and we hope that paint options are added at a later stage.

As with previous Art Academy games, the tools you use all function in a realistic way; for example, when you draw a line over your canvas with a thick pastel, it won't turn that part of the page completely opaque — you'll need to draw over it multiple times in order to achieve that. It's this level of finesse that really allows you to create something that you would with an actual art kit. The benefit here is that Art Academy: SketchPad is very affordable in comparison, and the ability to share your artwork with a wider audience is seamless, albeit restricted to only Miiverse.

Conclusion

Art Academy: SketchPad is one of those small titles that truly emphasises the Wii U's unique abilities. Being able to create detailed artwork using the system's bespoke hardware and easily share it with its wider, online community adds a great deal of depth and purpose to the Miiverse service; you only have to view the Art Academy: SketchPad community to see the sort of impact this title is already having. While it's not yet a complete title that is on par with previous Art Academy releases, it's still relatively comprehensive and well-produced for its small asking price. Beginners may find the current lack of in-game lessons disappointing, but if you're already a budding artist — or just love to create colourful pictures — then there's little reason not to give Art Academy: SketchPad a try.