For those who excel at training Pokémon, but lack the artistic aptitude required to draw them in real life, Pokémon Art Academy occupies a comfortable middle ground between strictly educational art-focused recreation and breezy, pick-up-and-play Pocket Monsters diversion. A fan-service-heavy spinoff of Art Academy and its sequel, the game casts players in the role of a fledgling painter newly enrolled at the titular vocational school, eager to be the latest star in the field of designing artwork featured in the popular Pokémon trading-card franchise. Pupils expecting the patented brand of ever-enticing, can’t-stop-until-all-are-caught addictiveness of the mainline series should be warned, as this is a game targeted primarily at two specific kinds of people: the hardest of the hardcore Pokéfans, and niche-centric 3DS owners with a penchant for simplistic, stylus-based gameplay.
The goal-oriented, progressive nature of Pokémon Art Academy is its most valuable aspect; lessons consistently spotlight a primary composition format and stick to it, never leaving students feeling lost or unable to complete a session without the proper amounts of patience and practice. While the degree of hand-holding is slightly above average, undergrads who get into the groove of things with quickness shouldn’t feel bogged down with remedial courses; they can easily speed through the tutorial stages and expand their creative horizons at a considerable pace if so desired. Beginning with head-on portraits and basic implements like the mighty pen, more advanced tests of skill and tools of the trade are unlocked as objectives are met. While proceeding from Novice to Apprentice, and then on to Graduate status, the trusty paintbrush and pastel options become available, which are used in later classes involving techniques such as hatching, opacity, and shading. There’s a minor learning curve regarding the rather boilerplate interface when it comes to adjusting zoom angels and rapidly switching between utensils, but akin to all Pokémon-related endeavors, once nagging routines quickly become second nature.
Unfortunately, other than the fleeting moments of marveling at your finished renderings of numerous Ken Sugimori-designed creatures, Pokémon Art Academy offers little long-term rewards for your time invested in its whimsical workshops. Earning essentially inconsequential medals (gold, silver, or bronze) as compensation for completed pieces feels tacked-on and nondescript. The inclusion of a Free Paint Mode (where players can illustrate, sans guidelines, to their heart’s content) and the barebones Quick Sketch Mode, an exercise in what can only be described as Poké minimalism, will likely fail to hold the attention of academy alumni. Miiverse functionality and downloadable content (special templates, etc.) are pleasant-enough add-ons, but once graduation day has come and gone, the mortarboard-tossing few will presumably have moved on to thoughts of Game Freak’s bevy of Mega Evolutions arriving shortly in the Generation III remakes, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.