Draw them like your French girls
Educational games that impart knowledge while remaining entertaining are certified rarities. Too often you're left with staggering amounts of informative material and meager side portions of "game" that contribute to a rather lopsided product.
Pokémon Art Academy is an interesting blend of both, with useful tips and tricks, drawing instruction, and helpful guidance for fledgling artists or those who simply want to learn how to draw their favorite Pocket Monsters. It's just like the learn-to-draw books you could pick up at the store, but with real-time feedback.
Pokémon Art Academy (3DS)
Developer: Headstrong Games
Released: October 24, 2014
You enter the titular Pokémon Art Academy as a brand new student who's in training to become an illustrator of Pokémon trading cards. You're not alone, however, as you find yourself learning alongside another artist who's just getting started -- and somehow is far worse off than you, no matter your skill level. You're ushered along through various stages of illustrating Pokémon after being given your very first task: drawing Pikachu's face.
In the beginning, your tools, techniques, and even your medium are severely limited. You're given free rein over markers and what look like oil pastels to create simple portraits while still learning the basics. In a matter of hours, you'll learn to sketch, flesh out, shade, and highlight intricate images of Pokémon from Eevee to Oshawott.
The fact that most players will progress in such a manner is a testament to how fluid and responsive the 3DS is when it comes to sketching and painting. The touch screen works beautifully as an input tool, with spot-on responses to each brush stroke or pencil sketch. You truly feel as though you're using a miniaturized version of a professional tablet, and with the staggering amount of techniques at your disposal, the possibilities are nearly endless.
You're given a one-button "undo" to erase mistakes, layers a la Photoshop that allow you to work comfortably with linework and adding colors that pop, and plenty of reasons to revisit old pieces of art to rework them. What's more, there's no hurry. You simply create each work of art in as much time as you need, lending a relaxing lilt to the game. This allows for an environment that promotes learning and patience rather than the gamification of picking up a new skill.
Once you've risen through the ranks, you can check out Free Paint mode to improve upon that photo of Meowth that you wish the whiskers were longer on, or Quick Sketches, which offer plenty of opportunities to practice your speed drawing. The main "campaign" mode is basically a set of tutorials meant to help improve your artistic skills, so approaching the entire product as if it were a course you'd take in the real world is the best attitude to take. You won't "complete" it, because you can always improve your art.
Unfortunately, that's one pitfall Pokémon Art Academy does fall into: There's a real lack of feedback when it comes to your artwork. The game doesn't grade you on how close you came to the example artwork, and instead simply praises you for doing your best, like you might treat a child. I understand the importance of positive reinforcement, but a grading scale or some sort of input on the game's part would have been appreciated.
There's a very specific sort of audience that will gleefully devour Pokémon Art Academy, however, and I surmise that these players will only be interested in learning more about the craft, with elements that attract "regular" Pokémon fans acting as icing on the cake. Sharing your creations is a good time, and watching yourself improve just plain makes you feel good. And when a videogame can easily accomplish that, I think we can pronounce it a success. Now excuse me while I attempt to improve on this rough sketch of Pansear.
Pokémon Art Academy reviewed by Brittany Vincent
A solid game that definitely has an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
How we score: The Destructoid Reviews Guide