Stylus in hand, Art Academy: Atelier – or Art Academy: Home Studio in North America – invites you to unleash your artistic flair by turning the Wii U GamePad into a blank canvas that is limited only by your imagination.
Headstrong Games have become a dab hand in partnering with Nintendo for the multi-million selling Art Academy series, which began life on Nintendo DS and has most recently been spun-off in Pokémon Art Academy. But here the London-based studio redouble their efforts on Wii U, building a more robust successor to 2013’s Art Academy: SketchPad. It’s a welcome return, especially after Lessons and Gallery content never found their way to Art Academy: SketchPad – each still being firmly slapped with a ‘Coming Soon!’ paw print sticker.
We can be thankful that, against a backdrop of serenely soothing melodies, Art Academy: Atelier paints a kaleidoscopic picture of possibilities. Friendly tutor Vince welcomes you to his quaint cottage in the English countryside, where, along with his faithful dog Bacon, he looks to inspire those less confident in their abilities.
That namely comes through Lessons that amount to the bulk of Art Academy: Atelier‘s more readily noticeable content, to be seen as an opportunity to learn realistic techniques that can then be transferred to any drawing or painting that you wish to create beyond their confines.
These are separated into Beginner, Advanced and Tools courses, nurturing newcomers by laying a solid grounding in more basic principles such as shading, colour and perspective. This moves on to deeper theories and more sophisticated techniques – negative space, reflections and atmospheric perspective – whereas the Tools Course details techniques and methods relating to whichever you want to primarily use. With pencils, pastels, coloured pencils, paints and, for the first time, charcoal, Art Academy: Atelier caters to all tastes, and continues to expand the boundaries in which it educates with sincerity. Each is particularly lifelike in their responsiveness, and aspiring artists will savour experimenting with them all.
It’s worth saying that, with educational benefit partly at the core of the experience, particular care has been taken with these lessons. Techniques are discussed very plainly, with Vince imparting his wisdom as to why they are being used at that specific point. And, with the player wandering the energetic artist’s humble abode, you’re encouraged into realising that even everyday objects can inspire you to sketch out your next creation.
As Vince’s eloquent, intricate guidance gradually wanes, you’re slowly eased into putting the techniques that you’ve studiously learned into practice. The resulting confidence that you will emanate when you tackle what you believed to be an insurmountable lesson only spurs you on to the next, with your newfound profession soon taking you from nervy days scribbling tomatoes right through to effortlessly conjuring picturesque seascapes and modest busts.
Those more assured in their abilities can sidestep Vince’s instruction, and instead spark their creativity in Free Paint. You can choose a subject image or landscape composition from those that Art Academy: Atelier includes, or import your own source of inspiration by using a SD Card – with only JPEG images of resolutions between 160×120 and 1024×768 being supported. Beyond this, you have coloured smooth, pastel, cartridge and canvas surfaces to choose between, with each being suited to be used with different tools.
Selection made, you then have the freedom to sketch and paint to your heart’s content. When working with a reference image, perfecting your interpretation is made easier by a grid and the option to zoom (1x, 2x, 4x) at any point. You can spend as much time as you wish to tweak and touch up your resplendent art, before sharing it with the world.
These will more immediately appear in your Portfolio, a place in which Art Academy: Atelier stores your saved artwork or any that are still in progress. Those on the same Wii U console can hang up their masterpieces in a digital Gallery, selecting between different frames to accentuate the colouring. This is explored in first-person, which is a nice change of perspective while also allowing you to see how uncluttered Vince’s cottage is downstairs!
I’ve spent countless hours admiring Miiverse users that have far greater artistic talent than my own, and a menu item dedicated to Nintendo’s social network will handily let you trawl through submitted artwork once Art Academy: Atelier‘s community is live. These will appear chronologically, and you can either support their creator with the usual celebratory “Yeah!” or save them to inspire you as future subject images.
But what excites me more is, in continuing a trend sparked by Mario Kart 8, Art Academy: Atelier lets you share time-lapse recordings that let you more openly share your creative process. These are uploaded directly YouTube and require that you have a Google account and at least 512MB of free space on your Wii U’s system memory.
Once you’re good to go, you can choose whether you want the playback length to be Quick (1 minute), Short (2 minutes) or Long (4 minutes) before selecting background music that is taken from Art Academy: Atelier‘s main menu and tutorials. The relative ease of the process and resulting video are really quite remarkable and extend ways in which you can learn from other aspiring artists.
With purposeful brushstrokes, Headstrong’s considered approach easily sees Art Academy: Atelier signify the very best that they have achieved in Nintendo’s Art Academy series. Rewarding in that it teaches you practical skills, it’s a distinct change of pace in an industry increasingly dominated by guns, explosions and cinematic appeal. And, for all intents and purposes, a console experience only possible on Wii U.