Starting off, I want to make it clear that Colors! 3D is not a game: it is a painting app on the 3DS, and a fairly robust one at that. Colors lets you paint pictures in 3D by making use of five layers, all the while recording the process so it can be played back later. You can then share your work and download others' via an online gallery and watch how they painted too - surprisingly, I have not yet seen anything inappropriate.
Simple yet deep
Colors does a good job at focusing on the core painting experience and avoiding the urge to add tons of extra features and overwhelm the user. I'd rather have a program that does one task well instead of many tasks poorly. With just some simple options for the type of brush, color, size and opacity, it's possible to paint pretty much anything your heart desires, although you might have to scale back on the resolution of the Sistine Chapel.
The controls are simple, enabling you to flip through the five different layers with ease. You can also zoom in and out of the canvas on the touchscreen using the Circle Pad so you can add those tiny details while the 3D screen continues to display the entire painting. As the game’s geared towards painting with brush strokes, you won't find any fill tools here (Draw Something style). The layers are also the key to painting in 3D, giving a unique experience you won’t find elsewhere, as the layers appear to recede farther into the distance the closer to the background they are. Elegantly simple, the depth of the 3D effect is controlled with the 3D slider when exporting the image and not with a software solution.
Colors! 3D does grant the ability to “flip” the picture as well as placing an image in the background to work off of. There also is an "undo" button, but it’s unfortunately assigned to the trigger-button opposite of your drawing hand, making it inconvenient to use (there’s also a touchscreen alternative, but it takes even longer). I was let down slightly when I found out the eraser brush only has hard edges and not soft ones like the brush. As a result, these differences forced me to tweak my drawing process while using Colors! 3D.
Learn from others
The best part of Colors! 3D for me was finding out that the entire painting process is recorded and saved along with the art, similar to Nintendo’s own Swapnote. I can not only watch how I painted my own artwork, but how others did too, which actually provides valuable insight into how to better yourself as an artist. It's fascinating to see how people build up the different layers to create a painting. Granted, I could just go to Youtube or watch Penny-Arcade's Gabe Art segment, but this offers an extremely easy way to browse paintings and share my recordings too. Though if you’re adverse to watching paint dry, there are three different speeds to watch at and you can even skip to the exact part you want to see.
Colors! 3D doesn't just confine your art to the world of the 3DS, but is viewable online at colorslive.com, making it easy to share with friends. The app also lets you export your works of art to the SD card as a JPEG, allowing you to use it in other programs (albeit without the 3D goodness). It's great to see Nintendo allowing this and I hope it leads to other developers following suit in the future.
There’s also an option to draw a painting cooperatively with two 3DS systems locally, but unfortunately none of my local friends have picked up a 3DS yet to try it out.
I'm spoiled and yet I still like using Colors! 3D
As mentioned in the background check, I’m an artist and have used Wacom Intuos and now Cintiq screen tablets with Photoshop over the last several years, which is pretty much the best way to create digital graphics outside of using Painter, so it was a little difficult to adjust to the smaller scale. However, I found Colors! 3D to be more than adequate for drawing and didn't feel like it was holding me back much. I really only missed pressure sensitivity for varying stroke length on the fly, and being able to flip the pen/stylus around to use as an eraser. Although we don’t factor price into our review scores, if you consider those other gadgets and software would cost well over $1000, Colors! 3D is a pretty darn good deal in comparison.
In the end, Colors! 3D doesn’t so much limit what the artist can or can’t do, but instead leaves it to the talent and patience of the artist himself. Due to this, I wholeheartedly recommend Colors! 3D to anyone who is interested in drawing or painting and has a 3DS. Yes, there still isn't a magic cure to painting bad art but this app can help you practice and learn how to improve while on the go.
Developer: Collecting Smiles
Release: September 16, 2012
Available On: Nintendo 3DS
Photoshop: Took forever to get used to
Made in Wario: Enjoyed, but wasn’t drawn in