The latest in Nintendo’s hugely successful Touch Generation range of titles, Art Academy (or, to use its catchy full name – Art Academy: Learn painting And Drawing Techniques With Step-By-Step Training) aims to give budding artists the skills they need to bring their creations to life. Originally released in two ‘Semesters’ on DSiWare, this full price release contains both these downloads along with additional assets. As with many of the other Touch Generations titles, it would be wrong to call Art Academy a game – this is purely an educational and inspirational experience; while that obviously doesn’t automatically mean that it isn’t fun, the main question is whether or not it’s a genuinely useful tool, or is it more of a child’s potato-print than a Van Gogh?
As a Nintendo published title, Art Academy is as slickly presented as you would expect and developer Headstrong Games (whose previous title was, rather astonishingly, uber-violent swear-fest House of the Dead: Overkill) has done a great job bringing to life what could have been a very dry experience. Your host and tutor is the charismatic Vince, a chirpy, bearded, smock-wearing artist, who – as the title promises – walks you through various skills in easy to follow steps. His clear and concise instructions are supported by demonstrations of what you need to do, and also are sprinkled with useful pieces of art history and theory.
Sensibly, Art Academy eases you in to its teaching methods gradually, laying foundations by starting with the basics before moving on to more challenging tasks. Your initial lesson consists of drawing a circle in pencil that soon progresses into a basic rendering of an apple. Then it’s on to a rudimentary seascape and sunset. By the end of the main set of tutorials, you will have painted everything from trees to still-lifes, crashing waves and more. While the title does not assess your work in any way (remember: this is not a game), each step teaches you essential skills, and genuinely manages to instil a sense of achievement once completed before long. In actual fact, mastering the ability to sketch an apple or perfectly block out the background of your orchid painting can take on a challenge equivalent to those found in traditional games.
With any piece of creative software of this type, it is vital that the tools included feel accurate, easy to use and authentic, and in this regard Art Academy is a great success. The pencils and paints available are incredibly authentic, and generally indistinguishable from the real thing; the DS’s touch screens inability to measure varying degrees of pressure is a slight shortcoming, but on the whole this doesn’t pose too much of a problem. Paints can be blended and watered down to the desire consistency and an easy to use palette allows you mix your own colours. Obviously there is also the additional benefit that using Art Academy’s digital toolbox does not create the mess usually associated with slopping paints around.
So, we’ve established that Art Academy is a slickly produced, easy to use package with an authentic tool-set and as a slice of infotainment, you can’t really ask for much more. Unfortunately there is one major shortcoming – namely the complete inability to take any of your works of art off the DS cartridge; once a painting is complete, the only way to view it is through Art Academy itself. This is disappointing, especially if you’re playing on a DSi with its ability to upload pictures to Facebook and SD Card support. The fact that this latter feature was supported in the downloadable Art Academy: 1st and 2nd Semesters makes this omission doubly strange. Another missed opportunity is that you are unable to attach your name to completed paintings in the gallery; comparing your work to other artists in your household would have fitted beautifully with the Touch Generations ethos, and while still possible, you may find yourself scratching your head as to who crafted each piece of work when watching a slide show.
Despite the problems, we still find it very easy to recommend Art Academy. Whether you’ve always fancied having a go at painting but have never got around to it or you simply want something new (and different) for your DS, Art Academy is an incredibly well presented, relaxing, engaging and rewarding experience. Once you’ve finished the main series of tutorials, you can move on to tackle a number of sub-projects – in which you receive less tutorage from Vince – to test your abilities and grasp of the skills you have learnt and this adds a significant degree of ‘playability’ (for lack of a better word!). Add to this a free-paint mode, an option to take your own reference photographs (should you be using a DSi, that is) and considering the simple fact that all the skills learnt are transferable to real world painting and drawing, it is fair to say that Art Academy has the potential to fulfil your creative yearnings for quite some time.
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