A weird sense of accomplishment thrives in this special Art Academy spin-off.
Art Academy and Pokémon are both series very close to my heart. I understood that drawing something decent was only a few steps away with Art Academy, while Pokémon was and is one of my favorite Nintendo experiences and I always look forward to the next spin-off with unsettling glee. However the combination of both seemed weird to me and I thought that the whole idea was a bit gimmicky. What could actually be fun about drawing these Pocket Monsters? It turns out that I was wrong, dead wrong. While it sticks to one subject matter, Pokémon Art Academy does it with a charm not shown before in this series.
The game opens in a lovely fashion as we meet our art professor Andy, who is a brother of Vince from the previous Art Academy entries. Andy is a famed Pokémon card illustrator and will guide you through this crash course of everything drawing. Pokémon Art Academy does not hold back in that regard, because the title features 40 big lessons with various sub-lessons sprinkled in between. The lessons start on a great note as you first learn to draw faces of these critters with nice step-by-step instructions. Andy will start with the basics and takes his time to explain every aspect thoroughly. This will be irritating for art enthusiasts, but the hand-holding was appreciated personally.
What makes the interaction with Andy better is that he is more interesting than Vince to listen to. With all respect to Vince, he was pretty much the tutorial and did not pack much of a punch otherwise. The good professor on the other hand tells you a bit about the Pokémon, the tools we will be using and the steps we will be taking, all while continuing to be charming during the process and putting his right foot forward at every step of the way. Each lesson gives you the sense that you learned something new and the game grows more complex at a steady, friendly pace. Before you know it, you will be learning about The Eight Rules and these are guidelines to some fine Pokémon art. Andy's end goal is to teach you how to make feel Pokémon alive on the screen and that is humbling thing. That said, if you are not interested in that subject matter, why exactly are you here?
Where the game shines is how well it all comes together on a technical level. The menus are colorful, bold and right in your face. You know what is expected from you and the game does a great job of letting you know all the bits. Within these menus, you will also have quick access to all of your tools, so that no time is wasted before you can play. Of course, that in itself is not very new, because Art Academy did already do a good job at this. What does make a difference though, is how all the elements are represented. You can find improvements in the details, which make huge changes in the way you approach your art. There is a new outline pen with which you can draw lines that can't be painted over. This will help you set certain boundaries and it is one of the first things you will learn to use. Removing your wrong doings is easier than ever, as a simple click on the L-button removes the last bit of your process. If you go a bit too far, there is an R-button too to redo things.
Next to the broad selection of lessons, you can also go wild in Free Paint. You can use a Pokémon picture for inspiration or just go wild with graffiti, paint, pastels, pencils, markers and everything else you might need. There is a good set of tools here to make some decent stuff and it seems, in places, larger than New Art Academy. That being said, that game took a more serious approach, while here it is about being accessible for all. You can even add playful background images, flat colors or import a photo from your SD card to make the creation more you. Finally, there is Quick Sketch and this is where you learn to draw a Pokémon at a slightly more rapid pace. In these exercises, you are allowed to do things more your way. That may go against what you have learned, but it is fun to paint free hand once in a while. An interesting note is that the lessons and Quick Sketch have optional music to enjoy while you draw. This option is oddly missing from Free Paint, which would have been a nice thing to have. But it is not a dealbreaker mind you.
Once you have finished drawing a Pokémon, your art will be put on a card to celebrate your accomplishments. While you can't export this card itself, you can export your artwork to the SD Card and it comes out actually quite sizeable. This is not new, just like the options to exchange data over a local wireless connection. You can't, however, sent your art to the people on your friendslist though and that is a shame. It was a big thing in New Art Academy, though luckily a new element has taken its place. For the first time ever, a Nintendo 3DS title has native Miiverse support and this allows you to upload to the dedicated communities and competitions. It will take a little while to load, but before you know it, you will be sharing your paintings with friends and other Miiverse users alike. Nintendo has plans to make new Free Paint images available as free SpotPass downloads, though the distribution timing for these is not known at the moment.
Pokémon Art Academy takes both franchises in a weird direction, but the true miracle is that it makes a more entertaining experience. Both of the subject matters must strike a chord with you, though too experienced players will also sigh a bit at the opening moments. The overall experience is worthwhile with many tools, lessons and charming moments at your fingertips. Pokémon Art Academy is more playful than the previous entries ever have been, with Professor Andy as your trusty guide through this madness. It is maybe not as deep as New Art Academy, but neither does it want to be. The small tweaks make this Art Academy your best starting point.