Those who can draw possess a great skill that is quite easy to envy if your greatest masterpiece involves stick figures with hats. I, myself, fall into the latter category, and was always impressed (and a bit jealous) of how well my cousins could draw while we were growing up. Of course, now that I’m older, and an adult colouring book champion, that doesn’t bother me as much. However, I’m sometimes reminded of just how bad my drawing skills are.
Disney has attempted to come to the rescue of people like me — at least, those who are children at heart — with its latest 3DS title, Disney Art Academy. Developed in partnership with Nintendo, it’s a kid-focused game about learning how to draw. Or, in this case, finding out how to draw both classic and modern Disney/Pixar characters on a touchscreen while using a stylus pen.
There is a basic storyline to be found in Disney Art Academy, but even the word basic feels like too strong of a descriptor. It’s the usual, “You’re the new kid, who’s here to save the day” type of fare, as you’re welcomed into a tropical art school and asked to prove its worth. Really, it’s just a bunch of tutorials that culminate into projects, with some very forgettable dialogue in-between, as the male and female teachers and the two other children discuss art and those they’re drawing. At the very least, though, there is a bit of interesting content about the history of some of the Disney/Pixar characters, and why they were drawn the way they were.
The ‘campaign’ — and I use that term very loosely here — is, as mentioned, comprised of a bunch of tutorials. These ask you to draw, colour or simply fill in different characters. You can choose to work on expressions or portraits and then work your way up to colour theory and villain design. Things begin in the beginner section then become slightly more challenging as you go forth.
All of the ‘cutscenes’ and introductions are handled through very standard comics, which the characters move in and out of. There’s little to it, and the game’s original soundtrack is also quite basic in and of itself. Things change, though, when you’re hovering over the icon of a specific character and their iconic music starts to play.
Overall, the set-up is a lot like a basic and more streamlined version of Photoshop, which is tailored to children. There are layers, different tools like pens, markers, paint brushes, spray cans and glitter wands, as well as an eraser and a simple button press that eliminates the last thing you did. In fact, pressing that particular shoulder button multiple times will continue to erase your progress in order, though if you’re looking to get rid of everything it’s much easier to just press start and clear the canvas.
For the most part, the above works pretty well. The touchscreen controls are pretty spot on in terms of their accuracy, and there’s a decent amount of tools to play with. Being able to toggle different aids (like grid view, a basic silhouette of the character you’re to draw, or a fully finished image) can also help quite a bit. The game doesn’t expect perfection, though, and isn’t one to really grade you. It simply says good job, before moving on and showing your classmates’ work.
Where things become more difficult is in free draw, where you’re given an example and get to do your best to draw the character of choice. It’s daunting, and much more difficult than the tutorials, but it’s the reason this game exists. After all, Disney Art Academy is a tool to use to learn how to draw, and it wants you to be able to complete these characters once you’re done its tutorials. Personally, I think it’s asking a bit much, because it’s not a cure all that will fix your inability to draw if you’re like me. The tutorials are easy and straight forward, but having to draw on a blank canvas is a much more difficult ask.
To be honest, the amount of tutorials in the main mode also overwhelmed me at first. With each one being involved, and requiring you to wait for both dialogue scenes and loading screens to finish, it can become a slog to get through them. And, when you see how many there are at first glance, it can become worrying. Thankfully, you only need to complete a certain amount of the tutorial sets in each tier in order to progress. So, if you choose to go with expressions in Beginner, you don’t need to worry about doing portraits. That said, those who want to get their money’s worth and really try to learn how to draw in this game will want to do it all.
It would be better if the tutorials weren’t so slow. I get that it takes time and effort to learn to draw, so I don’t have a lot of suggestions, but the regular breaks in-between drawing got to me. The teacher will jump in quite often to explain what you need to do next, show which tools you have to switch to (and make you do it manually), and then play a video of he or she doing the next step. It takes time, and slows things down quite a bit, making me wonder if this game’s slow pace will really appeal to its target audience. Children will likely want to play something more fast-paced, while the more studious and invested ones will likely be okay with the amount of time this thing takes. Or, they’ll just jump into the free draw mode.
You are able to skip all of the above, but it requires many presses of the 3DS’ A button, which becomes tedious.
What’s nice about this game, though, is how it allows you to store what you’ve completed in a gallery. Finished drawings can also be used as your profile picture, on your artist’s card. Going further, it’s possible to share your art with friends, as well as those online, via Miiverse and social media.
In conclusion, Disney Art Academy is a game of pros and cons. It does a lot of things well, but ends up being more of a slog than one would hope. I also wonder if children will really prefer drawing on their 3DS’ touchscreens over using regular paper or trying their hand at a computer program, but it’s possible that some will. Regardless, at the end of the day, this certainly isn’t a bad game – it’s just a middling affair that has a rather focused appeal.
This review is based on the 3DS exclusive, which we were provided with.
Disney Art Academy has a rather involved and in-depth toolset, but its slow pace may bore people who give it a chance. Kids who love to draw and would relish the opportunity to learn how to sketch Disney/Pixar characters while on the go, will surely find it of interest, though.