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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review: Disney Art Academy (Nintendo 3DS)

Review by Matt S.

I am a big fan of anything that encourages people to respect for – and learn – creative skills. RPG Maker is an easy way for anyone, regardless of skill level, to start to learn about game development. Minecraft teaches people about certain logical thinking processes and is effectively the LEGO of the new generation. Heck, one of the things I like so much about Hatsune Miku is that the software gives anyone with $200 or so can start to build their own pop music.

Related reading: Matt reviews one of the Art Academy games on the Nintendo Wii U.

I like Art Academy for this same reason; in a very entertaining and casual way, Art Academy gives people a basic understanding of art theory, and an appreciation for the artistic process. It’s not serious art software and you won’t be using it to create masterpieces that you can sell at galleries, but as a first step into the world of art, it’s a low risk and low commitment place to start.

After the first couple of Art Academy games were of a more classical focus on art, Nintendo has started to branch out with licensed titles that have a more specific focus. A previous Art Academy game focused on learning how to draw Pokemon. This new one is all about Disney characters, and it’s actually a whole lot of fun to play around with.

The basic format is much the same as we see in all Art Academy games; you’ll run through an exhaustive series of “lessons” that will begin with not much more than colouring in pre-drawn shapes, but will slowly ramp up to teach you how to use a wide range of different drawing tools, and how to properly visualise and draw characters from scratch. Each new lesson will get you to draw a different Disney character, and as you complete them, you’ll unlock more sample images in a “free draw” mode that you can practice your skills on to your heart’s content.

Because each lesson and character in Disney Art Academy is based on Disney properties, you’ll be getting a specific education with this one, distinct from the previous Art Academy software. Where those taught you how to draw and paint more traditional works, Disney characters are cartoons, which means you’ll be going more heavily on the markers and thick lines than learning delicate brush work on canvas. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s worth noting that art is a broad canvas (pardon the pun), and you’ll come out of this one with a better understanding on how to kickstart a career in comics than become the next Picasso.

The presentation of the game is very pleasant. You’ll be working to a background music soundtrack that is strongly Disney in tone, and between lessons there’s some banter between a couple of characters that is utterly meaningless, but pleasant. The software is pitched at a younger audience than the “main” Art Academy, but that’s to be expected, and if you’re a Disney fan, like I am, but hopeless enough at art that you can’t just grab a bit of paper and draw your favourites (like I am), then you’ll probably appreciate the lower expectations that the game will have of your artistic abilities at first.

After completing a work, you’ve got some basic framing options, and then you can set it up in a virtual gallery, which is a more pleasant way to archive art without buying it in abstract and uninteresting menus. There’s the ability to share the art over social networks, too, but the resolution that these art works are stored in is far too low to do much in terms of printing them and displaying them in the real world. The idea being, of course, that after completing the game’s lessons, you pick yourself up a WACOM tablet and set it up to further develop and refine your art in a more serious context.

Despite the limitations of the 3DS screen size and the simplicity of the software package, the actual experience of drawing in Art Academy is absolutely spot on. The different implements, from pencils to markers, all behave very differently, and the technology accurately recreates the different sensations of light touches of pencil to canvas, when compared to a more heavy press. The ability to save mid-work and come back later on is appreciated as well.

Of course, Disney Art Academy is not an adequate substitution for actual art courses, and the software is not an adequate alternative to graphics tablets and professional art solutions on PCs or Macs. But what it’s remarkably good at doing is making you feel good about your artistic talents, no matter how limited those might be, and then encouraging you to continue learning a hobby that you may just discover that you enjoy without ever considering it previously. The ability to learn how to draw Donald Duck of Princess Jasmine easily makes this the most nostalgic and entertaining Art Academy product that Nintendo has produced to date.

Related reading: Matt reviews the "full" Art Academy on the Nintendo 3DS.

Now Nintendo just needs to partner up with Crypton to produce a Hatsune Miku Art Academy. That really would be the zeitgeist, as far as I’m concerned.

- Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld

Review: Disney Art Academy (Nintendo 3DS)
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