Starving artists—and satiated artists, for that matter—usually shell out what little money they may have on expensive supplies. Fortunately, Nintendo's styled a portable, virtual art studio that budding Gauguins and Renoirs can utilize on the DS, freeing up funds usually spent on pencils and paints.
Art Academy uses the DS stylus and touch screen to present several drawing and painting tutorials. If it sounds like a glorified Microsoft Paint, you'd be mistaken, because the game also teaches fundamental elements of 2D art: shading, color theory, perspective, how to use light, etc. There are 10 lessons available with on-screen instructions and several different stages. For example, in the "tree" lesson, the first stage involves using one of three types of drawing pencils to sketch an outline. You can also choose which effect the pencil will have—that is, drawing with the lead's point, or on the tip's side for a shading effect. Next, you'll switch to one of six paintbrushes to colorize your creation.
I'll be up-front: If you're thinking of getting this game as a stocking stuffer for your cousin with an MFA in studio art, you'd be wasting your time. Not that they wouldn't enjoy it, but the lessons are designed for people who are newbies to the art world. The lessons do get gradually more elaborate though. The techniques also get more involved. Eventually, you'll have the freedom to mix and create your own colors with aid of the on-screen color wheel, or add different amounts of water for watercolor effects.
Plodding through the lessons can be a bit tiresome, especially when you consider the fact that you must progress through them in order before new ones are unlocked. But the game also offers a sort of freeform mode, in which all the art techniques are instantly available, and you can draw or paint whatever your little heart desires. Bad thing is, there's no way to share what you've made with anyone outside of the game. There's no net capability, and DSi users won't be able to save their galleries onto an SD card.
Art Academy is a short, simplistic game, but a pretty polished one nonetheless. It's fun and informative, and won't leave artists forced to choose between buying food or their acrylics.