Anyone can be an artist with some practice and guidance, although most have not had the opportunity to do so. Pokémon Art Academy wholeheartedly believes in this philosophy and provides players with the necessary tools, examples, and guidelines to help people who have probably never picked up a paintbrush before to start drawing Pokémon on their 3DS.
Like its sister game, Art Academy, Pokémon Art Academy starts with the very basics. At first, only one tool is available and only the face of the Pokémon is drawn. There are no worries about outlines, and yet simple concepts such as what to color first and basic shapes are covered.
The game then moves on to simple faces, but with outlines, like for Oshawott or Squirtle, whose faces are essentially circles. This raises the number of tools used to two. Then, angled faces, such as Fennekin’s (who has a snout) or Torchic (who has a beak and the head frills) are covered. The game progresses in similarly small steps until you finish the Novice level.
At Apprentice level, simple art techniques such as shading, cross-hatching, and using paints for effect are covered. Then at Graduate level, new tools, pastels and smudging are finally are introduced, along with using markers for coloring. Also covered is my personal bane, special effects shading, which covers highlights and shadows during Pokémon attacks, such as Flamethrower or Psychic. This is essentially where the game “ends,” though it provides three more Bonus Lessons on how to draw Mega Pokémon that utilize all the skills previously discussed.
Between each level, there are also Finale events that are essentially tests of your skill. Don’t worry about studying, though. The guide is still around to help lead you through the steps, but these pictures are harder because they aren’t focused on a single technique.
I really enjoyed this sort of format, especially since the guide and the dialogue in the game are extremely well-written and very friendly and encouraging. Pokémon Art Academy is also fashioned after a school, so moving on from one level to the next is called “graduating,” and it does give you a sense of achievement. This is especially true when you realize that, in the beginning, you started out with a flat drawing with simple outlines and coloring, and by the end, you are composing a dynamic drawing of a Pokémon leaping across the screen, lightning effects and all. I also love lighthearted feel of the game, with its soothing yet upbeat music and cute portraits. The little tidbits about the Pokémon being dropped are also a nice touch, such as how Tepig roasts its berries before eating them or how the color of a Charizard’s tail can turn blue when it’s angry.
However, unlike Art Academy, Pokémon Art Academy is very focused. This may not come as a surprise (“Pokémon” is in the title, after all) but this trait extends beyond the subject matter. For example, outlines and simple shading are highly emphasized, as is form, using basic shapes from the outset, and color blocking. Finishing some of the lessons unlocks “guidelines” to follow when designing cards. For example, a Pokémon should be the focus of the drawing. Remain true to its original form. Give a drawing a story. These are just a few that are more or less tailored towards designing cards rather than pieces of art in general (though some are certainly applicable).
Drawing non-Pokémon figures or objects is entirely ignored, and so is drawing scenery, landscapes, or backgrounds for special effects. In fact, the game circumvents this by providing you with background templates that are unlocked as you complete the lessons. On the other hand, the unlockable content adds a lot to the experience. Background templates come with each completed lesson, but each lesson also leads to at least two (usually three) mini-lessons that let you practice the skills from that lesson without so close a guidance. Completing any of these also unlocks templates—basically the Pokémon drawing you just drew—for later use in Free Paint.
Free Paint mode is just what it sounds like. You can use any unlocked templates to draw the Pokémon to your own style and without intervention from the guide. The mode starts off with a suggestion on how you should proceed and what colors you should use, but no longer are you restricted to a certain palette or a set of tools. The game defaults to a marker-outline “cartoony” style, but you are free to play around with brushes and pastels if you wish. There is a fair selection of approximately 90 templates with more available through DLC. Strangely enough, though, no background music plays during Free Paint mode.
In addition, there is also a Quick Sketch mode that restricts you to a single tool as you, like the title suggests, churn out a single sketch within a minute or two. I never really understood the purpose of this mode, though it does give practice for outlining and such.
On top of making it easy to learn, Pokémon Art Academy also focuses on having streamlined gameplay. Undo and Redo are set to the trigger buttons, and the D-pad can be used to swap between a tool and its corresponding eraser as well as to zoom in and out. Another button can swap the top screen. Depending on the mode you use, you may have the original art on the top, or perhaps you’d rather have the finished look for the step you’re working on. You can also choose to overlay a guide on the bottom screen, showing either the construction shape minimalization of the original portrait, or a grid to help with sketching, in some modes. Finally, you can swap between right- and left-handedness.
The game does make a few stumbles along the way, though. For example, because there are no layers in this game, you have to be extremely careful with coloring inside the lines. The Undo and Redo triggers help with this issue, but only some. Also, because of the structure of the 3DS, this game is probably much better to play on a 3DS XL. On the 3DS, I had to keep my hand off the console in an awkward position to avoid the buttons. (Having a larger screen is also a nice perk.) To be fair, while your stylus is on the screen, the A button is disabled, but there were many times when I accidentally hit the A button and had the pop-up appear asking if I’d like to move to the next step. Exporting to the SD card is also a slow and arduous process, though it appears you can share with other players nearby and via Miiverse, too.
Overall, though, Pokémon Art Academy is extremely satisfying to play, and I learned a lot while playing it, too. Not only do I feel proud about my final products, it never failed to amaze me how all these “simple” steps given to me could come together to produce pieces of art similar to ones I always admired from other artists online.