While I've never been particularly good at drawing I've always enjoyed it. Many hours were spent during my childhood making doodles, colouring outlines and praying for it to at least resemble what I was meaning to draw. If I had any particular strength it was knowing my limitations. Instead of trying to paint portraits and recreating landscapes I kept it plain and simple. Stick figures fighting and square rocket ships. That sort of thing.
Enter pokémon and new problems. The pocket monsters were undoubtedly the biggest hobby of mine growing up, and naturally they were an ideal subjects for drawing, but I fell short. While I was able to draw Voltorb and Electrode, and if pushed to my limits, Gastly or Pikachu, but that was pretty much it. Pokémon as a rule were to complex and required knowledge of techniques I had no clue about. It's time to make amends.
Pokémon Art Academy combines the drawing game of Art Academy with pokémon. The concept revolves around the player being invited into an academy for students looking to learn how to drawn pictures of pokémon. An academy that must be the most lenient institute for higher learning ever conceived as there is no negative feedback to be found, none whatsoever. The player is left to judge his own progress and skills, resulting in what more feels like a textbook than an actual game.
In the main mode of the game you progress through a series of lessons. Some are mandatory, while others are extracurricular for those who wish to further hone their skills. Each lesson sees you draw a new pokémon - and the mandatory lessons offers up new techniques. Little by little you learn to work with different layers, develop an eye for perspectives and sketch help lines. It's very much serious training. At least it appears as such to the completely unschooled artist.
After each completed lesson you get to witness the masterpiece you've created as a Pokémon card. In addition to this the friendly teacher will jump in with words of encouragement or fun facts about real Pokémon cards and the artists who made them. If you're struggling you may find comfort in a hopeless fellow student showing off some hideous work, perhaps in an effort to keep your spirits up.
Other than being great at promoting hard work and patience, there isn't much in the way of feedback from the game. There is nothing there to measure how accurately you draw lines or how well you colour your pieces. The game basically instructs you, but doesn't evaluate your work.
I could imagine a game that was able to analyse my work and provide me with hints and tips to aid my progress. It almost seems as if the developer, Headstrong Games, has taken the easy way out - and more could have been done to use the interactive nature of the medium.
Then again there is something that I value in a game that doesn't motivate the player by making him or her chase after achievements or scores. Had there been trophies, achievements, scores or perhaps even timed challenges - then perhaps it would have distracted from the main purpose of the game; teaching you how to draw better. If you absolutely can't live without praise, you can upload your drawings to Miiverse for friends and the rest of the world to behold your works of art. If your work is great, that is.
And perhaps it's just as well that our artistry isn't judged by the game as it could lead to more serious issues. If you recall the language learning game Talkman (on PSP) you may have an idea of what I mean. You might be immensely pleased with your work, but the computer may deem your work useless as you haven't followed the patterns it looks at in evaluating you. Artificial intelligence has some way to go in order to properly assess language and art.
Something that is a problem is the Nintendo 3DS in itself. The stylus just doesn't feel accurate enough for precision drawing and the screen feels too small for the purposes of this game. You're forced to zoom in and out a lot, and I end up having to erase more lines than I would have liked. I also felt that there wasn't enough friction as the stylus slides across the screen. While the larger-size 3DS XL may help out in this regard, you never achieve the kind of precision pen and paper affords you.
Most of us probably haven't made it our life's goal to become great at drawing on a tiny handheld gaming device. With that in mind, it's entirely possible to transfer any of the techniques over to another surface. But I would still have liked the game to be more geared towards graduating the player to drawing on paper or something else. Now it feels as if a lot of the lessons are specifically designed to improve your specific 3DS drawing skills.
Pokémon Art Academy is both a piece of drawing software and a textbook - a combination with tons of possibilities - but the game doesn't fully live up to all the potential. On the whole drawing with Pokémon Art Academy is great. The tools are many and relevant, and you're given great instructions on how to use them. At the same time the game is held back by the fact that you're forced to draw on a rather small screen - and that's something I had problems with.
It's natural then to use the game as a textbook and learning tool and draw your own work elsewhere. Unfortunately you're not given any directions in the game. Is there software with a similar set of tools? How do I transfer the digital tools onto real paper if I wish to draw old school? These questions are left unanswered by Pokémon Art Academy and I feel as though the game could have been more willing to assist in this regard.
All things considered this is a piece of software that oozes of learning and positive values. While not all that you learn can be transferred over to other arenas - there are lots of techniques that easily cross over. Add to this a lovely atmosphere in game and the kind of humour I think younger players will appreciate. As far as my own skills go I feel as though I've made some progress. When I was younger drawing was a nice way to pass the time, but never something I actively sought to improve. Picking up a textbook on the subject was never going to happen. Buying Pokémon games is another matter altogether. And Pokémon Art Academy may be the solution for anyone in a similar position to myself who is looking to improve their skills...