Pokemon Art Academy Review: More Coloring Book Than Art Class

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Developer: Headstrong Games

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Release Date: October 24th (North America)

Pokemon is one of those franchises that has so many spinoffs and weird kinds of merchandise that I’m honestly not surprised by anything anymore. And with the largely positive feedback the Art Academy games have received thus far, the combination of the two made sense. Thus, we have Pokemon Art Academy coming out on October 24th. It promises to teach you how to draw Pokemon. No other gimmicks, mini games, or adventures: just you, your stylus, and a lot of Pokemon art. The following is my Pokemon Art Academy review!

Though I normally provide a spoiler warning on reviews, there’s literally nothing to spoil for this game. You just draw Pokemon!

A delightful coloring book

Pokemon Art Academy has a simple backdrop: You are a student at the Pokemon Art Academy. You attend lessons and do “homework” (free paint and quick sketch modes). You are taught by Professor Andy, who teaches you not only proper Pokemon-drawing techniques, but also provides interesting facts about each new Pokemon you draw. Finally, you have a rival, Lee, who draws Pokemon along with you. Lee….well, let’s just say if you ever felt like you were a bad artist, Lee is encouraging. Lee makes you feel like the best artist ever (that image is one of his best drawings, actually.)

As you progress through the lessons, you unlock new tools, models, and techniques. Lessons come in four difficulty levels, with multiple lessons at each level and an exam. You must complete all the lessons at a difficulty level and the exam to unlock the next difficulty, and each lesson teaches a new technique. You begin with the basics: drawing outlines, coloring in details, basic shapes…but slowly graduate to shading, hatching, and other more complex techniques. Each lesson builds upon the ones prior to it, and completing one lesson will also unlock Mini-Lessons that reinforce the techniques that were just taught.

Professor Andy holds your hand pretty firmly for the first part of the game–he teaches each Pokemon step by step, with detailed explanations and examples. If you’re a talented artist already, this will frustrate you, but as someone whose artistic talents are about one level above stick figures, I appreciated it.

Quick Sketch is similar to the Lessons in its step-by-step progression, but without fancy techniques. The goal is just to create a quick sketch of something, without worrying too much about outlines or shading or fancy poses, and focuses on very simple Pokemon such as Oddish and Ditto. Quick Sketch is carried out with chalks, and you don’t have the full box of tools you normally have in this mode, but it’s fun if you just want to draw something simple in a hurry.

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Free Paint allows you to choose from multiple Pokemon images to copy from, or to draw your own without a guide. New model images are unlocked as you progress through lessons, and the game states that more will be available for download in the future, too. All your tools are available to you, and there is no step-by-step guide in Free Paint, so it’s a perfect place to play with the techniques you’ve learned and create really unique images. In Free Paint, you can give Pokemon images backgrounds of your own design, or add the backgrounds you’ve unlocked progressing through the lessons.

All your art is saved to your album, and is shareable with others via Local connection or on the Internet through Miiverse. I wasn’t able to test this function, since the Art Academy Miiverse isn’t online yet, but my options included a simple share to the Miiverse, and a Share to Competition. None of my art will ever be contest-worthy, but I’m really excited to see what crazy-talented people end up coming up with.

The 3DS strikes again!

I gotta say, when Nintendo makes an awesome system, they really make an awesome system. I hadn’t played any of the Art Academy games before, so I don’t know if this is standard, but the controls really worked fabulously in Art Academy. It’s still a stylus and touch screen, so there’s never going to be the amount of perfect precision you’d get from a pen and paper, but as long as you’ve got your touch screen properly configured, this is as close as it needs to be to make some really nice art. You get four different pen sizes, and plenty of zooming in capability, so you can get as broad strokes or as minutely detailed as you want.

Everything about the control scheme is geared toward an easy-to-use experience. The top screen is dedicated to the picture you’re following, moving step by step along with you as you progress through the lesson. The bottom screen is where you draw. Up and down on the D-pad zoom in and out, L and R are Undo and Redo, respectively, and a tiny icon in the corner gives you access to your toolbox, to which tools are added as you progress through the Lessons. It includes markers, chalk, pencils, outline pens, and more. During the lessons they offer you the necessary color palettes for whichever Pokemon you’re drawing, but in Free Paint you can alter the colors however you want, just like in any Paint program.

A Construction Shapes button introduced early on allows you to make the process as easy or difficult as you want it to be–you can either turn on a full outline of the Pokemon you’re drawing to trace, a set of basic “construction shapes” that help you correctly assess the shapes your Pokemon is made up of and draw from there, or you can turn them off completely and begin with a blank canvas.

…I do feel my ability to freehand Pokemon has been improved somewhat, but I’m not going to be creating fabulous artistic miracles for friends at parties, and some of the lessons don’t translate well to actual pen and paper.

The problems with the control scheme and setup were few, but worth mentioning. The construction shapes tool was nice, but unlike even the most basic paint programs, the game didn’t have a “shape” function that let you create perfect circles, squares, or straight lines. Everything had to be done freehand, which was frustrating when most Pokemon have at least a few perfect circles in their design somewhere (eyes, etc) that could get a little lopsided even with lines to trace. The outline function claimed to have a “smoothing” feature that smoothed lines for you, and I did see it in action, but it was inefficient for most of my wobbles.

I played the game on a 3DS XL. The large canvas size provided by the system was perfect for this game, but I could see Pokemon Art Academy being really difficult to play on a regular 3DS, just due to the difficulty of seeing everything you need to draw clearly. The top screen doesn’t have the same zoom function the bottom does, so at times it was difficult to make the small details I was being told to draw, even with the large screen. I can only imagine it would be harder on the smaller 3DS.