Art Academy is one of those franchises that started off as something small and has grown to become something bigger than even its developers surely anticipated. It started life on the DSi Shop as a simple downloadable title. After receiving rave reviews, Nintendo gave it a retail launch so that DS owners could also get in on the action. Clearly that strategy worked, as it garnered enough of a following to validate a sequel.
New Art Academy brings everything from the original back and adds to it in every single way. Vince and Bacon both make a return, as your art teacher and his now fully grown dog, and they bring with them a slew of new lessons to help make you a better artist.
First things first, if you’re not interested in art, drawing, or the ability to paint, then there’s no reason to even ponder whether or not this title is for you. It’s not a game, you won’t be ranked for what you do, and there are no scores or time limits involved. New Art Academy is essentially an art class that fits in your pocket.
The lessons in New Art Academy are broken into introductory and advanced. Each lesson will give you step by step instructions on how to complete a specific picture, as well as small lessons on art history or colour study to go alongside it. After completing a lesson you have the option to jump into either the next newly unlocked lesson, or follow up on what you just learnt with a less step by step mini-lesson.
It’s quite easy to start a lesson feeling out of your depth -- hey I got this far, but this one is clearly where I stop -- but Vince has your back. He’ll let you know what needs to be done and how to do it, and an hour later you’ll be looking at a piece of art that you created with your own hands.
That’s the best thing about New Art Academy: the feeling that you can accomplish something you may have previously thought impossible. After a few lessons you’ll notice your linework improving, your confidence with the “brush” looking a little more refined, and - before you finish the introductory lessons - you’ll be mixing up your own colours like a pro. Whether you’re about to embark on a picture using paints, pencils (coloured or graphite) or even a set of pastels, the software isn’t there to challenge you, it’s there to teach you and help you through.
The software isn’t there to challenge you, it’s there to teach you and help you through.
The presentation in New Art Academy is, for the most part, fantastic. Instead of the still images you might remember from the original, you now have small looping ambient videos to use as reference. While some of the reference shots are still just images, some of them enable you to change the lighting or get a slightly different angle with a press of the directional pad.
The only downfall of the presentation is that the loading of assets seems a little broken. Instead of loading the assets behind a loading screen and making them visible at the same time, quite often you’ll see Vince pop up in the middle of a black screen, teleport to the top left corner and then have the background slowly fade in. It’s something that mars what is otherwise a fantastic product.
Sadly, that’s not the only fault with New Art Academy. Whether it’s a fault of the hardware or the software, there’s an aspect to the Art Academy experience that should’ve been product tested a little more.
The bottom screen of your 3DS is your canvas, and it stretches to each edge of the screen, as you would expect. What cannot be excused is the fact that, when your stylus gets within 5mm of an edge (on the 3DS XL), it starts drifting towards the nearest edge. What this means is that a curve that moves NEAR the edge ultimately ends up smearing out to the edge itself.
While this can almost be fixed by using the zoom function, it’s something that shouldn’t even exist in the product. If this is a fault of the hardware, then the canvas shouldn’t go to the edges of the screens. This will frustrate you when it happens, and it will happen.
A nice addition to the series is the ability to walk through a virtual gallery that you can set up with the art you’ve created. Select a frame, place it within one of the many rooms, and slowly build up your very own art gallery. It’s a nice addition that allows you to show off all your work to others if you happen to have your 3DS on you. While you can also export the final art pieces to your SD card, it seems strange that there are no “export to social media” options here, like there were in the original downloadable versions.
So what do you do when you finish both the introductory and advanced lessons? Nintendo have you sorted there too. Just like the original Art Academy, this version also supports the ability to use your own images stored on the SD Card as reference for use in Free Paint mode.
Unlike the original, however, there just isn’t the same range of reference available. This is more than likely due to the fact that you can just go online and save images to the SD card, but sometimes having a large library at your disposal is that much more convenient.
Should you not have an eye for composition when taking photos, you could always wait for Nintendo to send custom lessons your way. Nintendo have already released their first free custom lesson: a Goomba in pastels; with this they’re also promoting another aspect of New Art Academy that will surely be used by the more creative/advanced users.
Create a lesson mode is exactly what it sounds like. Choose a subject, draw/paint until you get the final result, and insert stages and annotation to the process as you go along. Once you’re done you can publish your work and allow others to draw along to your instructions. It's a fantastic addition to the title that will surely enable people to teach their friends how to draw like them or try out new styles.
Nintendo also have add-on lessons selectable in the menu system, despite none being available right now; it’s just nice to know that, should you feel the need for more lessons in the future, they’ll be available - even if it is at a price.
With a huge selection of lessons and tools included, and what is essentially an infinite amount of reference available in the world around you, there’s no reason that New Art Academy won’t stay in your 3DS for as long as you have the console.