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Art Academy - DS Review

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Art Academy

DS | Nintendo / Headstrong Games | 1 Player | Out Now
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4th January 2011; By KnucklesSonic8

Are you the type of person who feels unbelievably small whenever someone close to you shows off a beautiful piece of art? Would you like to improve your art skills but don't have enough time to pursue such an endeavour? Well with a positive attitude and the help of Nintendo, you can be well under way to achieving those goals! Developed by Headstrong Games, Art Academy is a super-handy DS title that teaches you the art techniques you only dreamed you could learn. Those who are familiar with the DSiWare service at large will already be aware of the two existing downloadable releases that serve as the basis for this retail package. But when Art Academy is basically a re-release of two already-released games, does it stand a chance of succeeding in the mass market? Well Nintendo certainly thinks so, and so do I. Read on to find out why.

    Art Academy presents aspiring artists with more than 10 different lessons, hosted and taught by Vince, a cartoon representation of classic painter Van Gogh. The setup is not unlike a virtual classroom where you are the student, and Vince is the instructor. As the student, you can work at your own pace as Vince gives you the step-by-step rundown on each individual lesson at a hand-holding pace. Players will start off with a pencil sketch of an apple, and work their way up to more elaborate and time-consuming jobs like trying to create a realistic wave. Beginners and experienced artists alike will appreciate starting from the bottom as you get used to the fundamentals before moving onto anything of a more advanced nature.

As each lesson progresses, Vince will allow you opportunities to get involved once he's done giving his lecture of sorts. During the first part of a lesson, this boils down to selecting which instruments to use, with a yellow glow indicating the most suitable option. Accessing the touch screen interface for the first time, you'll observe that everything is easy to follow in the way it's presented. The far left of the toolbar contains your basic tools. In the case of pencils, you can choose from different tip widths and lead types. Later on when you start working with colour, you can access flat- and wide-tip brushes and even adjust the water content that affects your utensil. Moving towards the right of the toolbar, the next option pertains to your colour sets. Here, you have access to a colour wheel on the top screen and a colour palette where you can tap on paint tubes to select highly-saturated or blended colour combinations. 

    Next up is the magnifying glass which refers to the Zoom function - a particularly handy feature when it comes to illustrating fine textures and details within your artwork. Directly to the right of that is the grid tool which creates a dotted outline on the canvas, dividing it into even 9 even squares as per 'The Rule of Thirds'. This helps give you some structure to work with when trying to replicate an image. On that note, selecting the DS icon allows you to choose what image is shown on the top screen. You can toggle between preset reference images, Vince's drawing, or you can opt to put your own drawing up. At any time you can access the Help function when you're stuck or bring up the Pause Menu when you wish to save your progress for next time. Of course, when you're busy working away at your pieces of art, you don't want this toolbar fumbling around. There is an auto-hide feature that minimizes everything to a mere arrow button and places it in the top left or right corner of the screen. As you approach it with a pencil or brush, it will automatically move over to the other side so it doesn't get in your way. You can also opt to hide it manually by pressing the X Button.

    Getting into the meat of each lesson, Vince will provide plenty of instruction on things that could very well be foreign to you. There are plenty of essential art concepts that you'll need to apply yourself to, including the idea of lights vs. darks, the presence of reflected light, form, colour theory and shading. Then you have some of the more advanced techniques, including blending, the idea of suggestion, the importance of underdrawings, cross-hatching (as introduced in Lesson 4), layering, and more. You'll eat it all up if you've always wanted to learn more about this field of study. What I found especially beneficial was the way the game also pointed back to some of the roots of the aforementioned principles. At one point, there was a brief history lesson, if you will, on French painters, and even early cave paintings. I thought that was a nice touch.

    This may all sound intimidating to you, but as I mentioned already, it's all presented in a very user-friendly fashion. Plus, they hold your hand most of the way, making the experience as low-stress as it possibly can be. As per this hand-holding pace, players have the opportunity to watch Vince as he tries to create parts of illustrations in real-time. If you watch closely, you can learn handy pointers including how to stroke your tools to create desired effects. Of course, you do have the option of skipping these segments, but humble students will really appreciate having this feature before they try things on their own.

    At the end of each step in the overall lesson, Vince will show you the different developments your piece has had from start to finish. As you're in the process of creating something you hope to be proud of, this sequence helps make the sense of progression more real, which is something you can take with you as you start on a new piece from scratch. 

As a whole, the lessons are really good, not just for the sake of giving players experience in the different techniques, but also for boosting a person's confidence levels. Especially with the Pear, Lime and Wave lessons (and beyond), you'll watch in amazement as you see just how much your dedication and willingness to learn has paid off. I say that because in all three cases, it's very easy for a piece of art to turn into something sloppy or disproportionate as you're building it up. But when you do get it right, it's incredibly satisfying. I remember how excited I was when I complete the Wave lesson, in particular. I was really proud of myself for what I accomplished since I often refer to myself as having little artistic skills. Completing these lessons served as a real boost to my self-esteem, especially when I did them repeatedly, seeing clear improvement.

    Aside from the standard lessons, there are also Mini-Lessons that can be unlocked, giving you another challenging set of circumstances where you can see just how much you know. During these times, you're expected to do nearly all of the work. Vince does provide some introductory information and perhaps a few guidelines, but other than that, you need to use what you've learned from the completed lessons to create something memorable. In my personal experience, I loved the Apple & Peach tonal value lesson. Seeing how my piece all came together with extremely pleasing results was amazing to see, not to mention recognizing how this knowledge would benefit me even outside the game. And this was a great feeling to have.

The entire ambience that comes through in Art Academy is that of pleasantry and an inviting nature. In the background, you'll be treated to some nice piano tunes. I think it would've been even better if the developers approached it in a similar fashion to what's seen in 100 Classic Books, where you could choose different types of environmental themes to set the mood. Or at least have some more variety in the music that plays, perhaps by incorporating jazz.

    Beyond just the classroom setup, Art Academy also includes a Free Paint mode where you can run wild with your imagination, a Gallery option where you can view your saved creations, a Camera function for DSi owners to capture reference images in addition to sending wireless demos to a Nintendo DS system. There's a moderate level of replay value to be had with this package. Many of the lessons are worth replaying for the sake of testing your abilities weeks later to notice improvement, or simply to affix specific concepts within your mind. All in all, it's good training. 

    When you look stack the retail package and the DSiWare releases on top of each other, it's easy to notice that those who take the retail approach will be at a disadvantage. Part of the creative process involves sharing your creations with others, and although the Gallery mode does allow you to store a large number of your artworks, the inability to export these accessibly brings things down. Then there's also the matter of price, with the DSiWare releases requiring only a few dollars less to purchase. With that said, I think DS Lite owners will appreciate having this release the most simply because they don't have access to the DSi Shop Channel. And as far as I'm concerned, they are the main audience Nintendo is trying to appeal to with this release.

    If you have a standard DSi or (better yet) a DSi XL, I strongly encourage you to concentrate your money towards purchasing Nintendo Points so you can own Art Academy: First Semester & Second Semester on DSiWare. It'll turn out to be a cheaper investment, plus you get to share your creations with close friends outside the game - something you can't do in the retail release. Parents, younger siblings and close relatives who may not be as adept with the online service that Nintendo provides will love having this, especially those who secretly wish they could be better artists. The amount of confidence and the level of progression Art Academy instills within a dedicated player is undeniably there. It really does make you a better artist even outside the game, and that's a big practical benefit that anyone would long to acquire. I highly recommend you spend the money and watch and see how beneficial and fun Art Academy can be.

25/30 - Very Good

Gameplay 9/10 - Does a great job at being producing realistic effects, lots of tools & options to choose from, classroom setup that caters well to beginners
Presentation 8/10 - User-friendly interface, with dedication you can create beautiful pieces of art, decent music but it could have had more variety
Enjoyment 4/5 - Very satisfying to see progress, great sense of accomplishment to be derived, excellent for those who want to develop their artistic side
Extra Content 4/5 - Mini-lessons allow increased opportunities to test your knowledge, inability to share creations is a big hit, better value in DSiWare titles

Equivalent to a score of 83% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8
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