Art Academy Reader Review
I'm no artist. Throughout my life, acres of page margins have been sacrificed in the name of doodling, but my artistic abilities never went far above the classic 'man getting shot by a robot while on fire'. For me, the idea of learning some of the basics of creating finer pieces of artwork through a DS was an interesting prospect.
'Art academy' on the DS was originally released as 2 DSiWare titles ('Art Academy: first semester' and 'Art Academy: second semester'). The physical version of the game contains the content of both releases, combined into a single cart, providing a set of tutorials and tools which promises to teach you drawing and painting techniques. Due to the lack of Team Deathmatch and Horde modes; the Lessons, Free paint and gallery modes are the main sections of the game that you'll be using.
Art Academy feels closer to a simulation of a canvas and paint rather than a 'tool' for creating images. If you're used to Photoshop or any other desktop program, you might find the application quite lacking in some respects, there are no selectable layers, lens flares or copy and pasting to be found, you make a mistake and you have to have to paint over it (or load a save). It makes up for this by achieving a great tactile feel; paint streaks as it's spread, pencils hiss as you sketch and colours smudge as you dab. You can select various brushes, apply varying amounts of paint, add water for a wash, hold a pencil so you can do shading and mix colours on a palette, it all leads to the game teaching you some of the ways you can do these effects in reality, rather than making them abstract.
The lessons are presented by a bearded chap called Vince, who a fondness for limes and pet dog named 'Bacon', he takes you through each step of your art course, explaining and demonstrating the techniques and tools you will use to craft your mini masterpieces, He's no Bob Ross, but he add a little bit of flavour to the game and keeps things interesting, often showing you examples of famous artwork, or describing painters or art history.
The Lessons themselves start off as basic as you can imagine (a step above 'how not to drink paint'), with a circle drawn with pencil, from there the lessons build in complexity to more elaborate paintings and sketches. Even though the game is holding you by the hand, you can't help but feel some accomplishment when you finish painting a slightly lumpy looking bit of fruit. The lessons do a decent job of teaching you about art, explaining in detail concepts such as light, blending, shading and highlighting, and as a result, it's not long before you want to dive into the 'free paint' mode to start creating something yourself.
To help get you started with your own picture, the game has a image library, sorted into various categories which you can use as reference material, unfortunately there aren't that many images to choose from (and penguins are not in the 'birds' section for some reason). You can overlay the drawing area and reference image with a grid, which makes sketching it easier, and you can apply various filters over it to highlight various aspects of it, such as the colours, shading or outline which help in isolating the elements that you want to focus on.
As mentioned before, I don't have much art experience, but creating images bit by bit through the free paint mode using what I had learned through the lessons was a lot of fun and quite relaxing. There are a few minor interface issues, such as a poke of the stylus not opening the menu and daubing a blob of paint by accident as a result, or not being able to use the d-pad to select paints or brushes, but you do get used to these.
The main problem with the game for me occurs when you finally finished your creation, you sign it, frame it and put it in your virtual gallery, but that's as far as it can go. Unlike the DSiWare version which apparently saved the images to the DSi image library and so could be copied to an SD card, the pictures stay on the cart in this version. This makes printing out your images to stick on the fridge or using them to annoy your friends on facebook or twitter a bit tricky. You can display your creations in a nifty slideshow on your DS, but criminally, 'Left bank two' isn't included amongst the music choices.
For the price, 'Art Academy' is a great package for the ink-curious, it may leave you with the desire to pick up a real brush and 'try it yourself!', but the act of creating images using the tools provided is fun enough to spend time with without having to worry about getting paint all over the sofa. If you have a DSi, I would probably recommend getting the 2 DsiWare games instead simply for the ability to easily export images (and freeing up a cart port in the process).
I'm no artist, but I know what I like.