Review: uDraw Game Tablet

I feel funny calling this a game review, because a game this is not. But it does run on a standard Wii game console.

uDraw Studio, the software that comes packaged with THQ’s uDraw Game Tablet, is essentially an artist’s studio and palette, providing all of the tools needed to create your masterpiece. So is it possible to create something that could actually be called art? With a lot of patience and practice, yeah, I think so.

The uDraw tablet itself might seem at first pass to be a glorified steering wheel that you pop your Wii remote down into and then shake around to manipulate various games. It’s true that some of the games made for uDraw require you to shake or rock the tablet back and forth. But what sets the device apart is the stylus connected through the back and the drawing surface on the front. This is where uDraw shows what it can do.

I have to give THQ props for seriously thinking this thing through. Every aspect of the design shows that a lot of care went into designing the device. There’s an indentation on the back where the stylus is easily stored, or you can place it tip-down in the “inkwell” on the front of the device, for easy access during gaming. The pen tip of the stylus retracts slightly when you use it, and there are also two buttons on the side of the stylus that allow various interactions. Probably the most startling of these is that you can draw in mid-air with the stylus by just pressing down one of the side buttons. No contact with the surface of the tablet is necessary — but it’s recommended, as I found it considerably easier to manipulate that way. Since it’s just a peripheral for the Wii remote, it requires no batteries of its own.

Unlike other digital surfaces, the shape and size of the landscape are set 1:1 to what’s on the screen, so there’s no picking up the stylus to reposition your hand on a different part of the tablet. The tablet and the screen stay fixed to one another no matter what you do. This can take some serious getting used to, although I imagine it allows for greater precision among the true artistes.

The palette is a powerful tool, giving you a wide array of brush styles, colors, stamps, shapes, and post effects to apply to your work. The software tries to make it simple to select your options such as opacity, size, and so forth. But there’s still a learning curve involved, because it tries to offer a full suite of artistic tools while keeping them as simple to use as possible. (The software may be rated E for Everyone, but my 3-year-old got frustrated after 15 minutes and gave up.) I have a feeling it may end up being a case of “not enough” for those who really want to make some fine digital artwork, yet at the same time being “too much” for those who just want to have a little fun doodling.

Some nice features include the ability to pan and zoom on your canvas, up to 400% of normal size, and a “replay” feature that will show you a time-lapse video of your work in-progress, stroke by stroke. This is probably my favorite feature, because it’s just a kick to watch yourself work, and you can adjust the speed of the playback between 1x and 8x normal. You can also save and export your work thanks to your Wii’s optional SD card. Files are saved either in PNG or JPG format, for higher resolution versus lower, respectively.

“Environments” give your canvas a place to live in a static, virtual world space, but this is purely an aesthetic feature, serving no discernible purpose within the game. The software comes with lots of blank canvas types for you to draw to your heart’s content, or you can choose to play in the built-in coloring book. This should prove fun for younger Wii players, but it still requires you to have an intimate working knowledge of the palette.

My main issue with the tablet was an inability to make the tip of the stylus go where I wanted it to go. Whether this was a design flaw in the device or some deficiency of my own, I can’t say. I’m experienced at sketching though, and have never had so much trouble getting smooth curves or lines to turn out right. More than once I kept wishing I could just ditch the stylus and use my finger, the way I can on my trusty iPad.

One other aspect of the drawing process that real artists may frown on: a “painting time” bar goes from empty to full with every stroke you make on your artwork — and there’s a limit on how many strokes you can make. The in-game tutorial claims that the stroke counter will fill up after roughly 35 minutes of drawing time. And I guess if you’re not done with your work by then, you’re just screwed, all that time down the drain. I must assume this was done for the purpose of memory usage in the game, but it still sucks.

Overall, I give the uDraw Game Tablet a solid 3 stars. I commend THQ for trying something new and different — and I’d love to get my hands on some of the other games for the Tablet to see how they fare — but the hardware has a few unfortunate flaws. Still, for a fun diversion, it’s perfect for the Wii’s “casual gamer” audience.

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Robin Parrish

Unathletic, uncoordinated tall man with endless creativity stampeding through his overactive brain. Comes with beard, wife, and two miniature humans. Novelist. General blogger and main Gaming Geek for ForeverGeek. Lead Blogger, Apple Gazette.

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