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uDraw preview: Hands-on with THQ's GameTablet


THQ's uDraw GameTablet is a rather interesting peripheral. At first glance, it looks like a first-party peripheral. The simple mostly-white design makes it a perfect companion for the Wii, the Balance Board and the iconic Remote itself. Even after playing a few of the games that are compatible with the device, it's hard not to think of it as a Nintendo-made accessory. Essentially, the uDraw enables gamers to translate a DS-esque stylus-based gaming experience onto the TV.

I tested uDraw Studio, a design application that comes bundled with the uDraw peripheral. In addition, I got to try out Pictionary and Dood's Big Adventure, two additional games that support the accessory.

uDraw Studio
uDraw Studio makes it easy to jump into an experience I can only summarize as "My First Tablet." There's no meta-game to accomplish here, no story to finish, no quest to solve. This is an "app"mint through and through, and it does a decent job at teaching you the basics of drawing with the GameTablet.

Drawing on a tablet never "feels" as natural as real life, and the uDraw interface highlights the lack of congruity between drawing on a real canvas and a virtual one. Unlike in Art Academy, I never felt truly comfortable with the stylus, most likely because the GameTablet doesn't feature a screen. Instead, you look up at the screen while drawing on the pad below. It definitely takes some practice getting used to, and the overwhelming number of tools that are immediately accessible in the Studio makes drawing an even more daunting challenge.

It's not an immediately intuitive interface -- having to use a combination of on-pen buttons and the on-screen UI -- but once you get used to the layout, there are some powerful tools at your disposal. You can take advantage of a variety of virtual instruments, whether it be marker, pen, chalk, paint. In addition a number of Microsoft Paint-esque features (like the Paint Fill tool), one feature I appreciated the most was the zoom ability. You can zoom in your image up to 4x, allowing you to make rather fine adjustments to the image you've created.

Best of all, unlike Nintendo's Art Academy, you can export your drawing out of the game onto the SD card. Considering most people interested in the uDraw peripheral are likely looking to make art, it's a must-have feature. Another cool feature: the ability to see replays. You can see in real-time (or in fast-forward) how your creation was made. In the hands of a capable artist, this will undoubtedly make for some mesmerizing videos.

Gallery: uDraw Studio (Wii) | 17 Photos

Pictionary is a pretty straightforward adaptation of the classic board game. Get clues, draw them, and correctly guess them to score points. However, the uDraw version does include one variation that makes the game much more difficult, and arguably more fun. "Mania Mode" adds a twist to the standard "draw this picture" gameplay by adding various rules and effects to each clue. For example, the Rotation Frustration twist makes the on-screen drawing pad rotate in a circle, making it much more difficult to focus on your drawing. The One Line twist forces you to draw your entire image in one line -- lift the pen off the board, and your image will be finished. Ink Limit gives you a limited amount of virtual ink to use, and so on and so on.

One feature I also appreciated about the game was the ability to change the difficulty of the clues. In addition to the standard difficulty, there is a Junior mode, which adds much more specific clues like "At the Zoo" or "Animal Houses." Considering the family-friendly appeal of the game, the easier difficulty is sensible, and much appreciated.

Gallery: Pictionary (uDraw) | 12 Photos

Dood's Big Adventure
Dood's Big Adventure is the most traditionally "game-like" of the three games I got to play. And like so many other Nintendo games, it's a collection of mini-games. But, I don't mean to downplay the experience. Think less Carnival Games, and more a collection of four downloadable titles:
  • Pen Panic - "Use the Stylus to create a trampoline to bounce Dood through the levels." Essentially, this is a Wii version of Wireway.
  • Roly Poly - "Use the motion-control feature to roll Dood through each level by tilting the uDraw GameTablet left and right." LocoRoco, anyone?
  • Bubble Trouble - "Use the Stylus to carefully guide Dood through each level while avoiding sharp objects, enemies and other dangers." A platformer that's similar to Max's Magic Marker.
  • Fan Frenzy - "In this mode, Dood has been inflated like a balloon. Use the Stylus to blow and move Dood around the level." Essentially, Mario Galaxy's bubble-blowing levels.
Although these games are essentially repackaged ideas from other games, it's hard to deny their simplistic appeal. The best games are the simplest ones, as they take advantage of the tablet's intuitive design. Almost immediately, I was able to pick up and play most of them, even getting awarded medals at the end of a level. The platformer, however, demands use of the buttons on the pen, and never felt like a natural gaming experience. Which button is to move left? Right? Jump? It definitely didn't feel like an improvement over the experience offered by a standard controller -- and that's the point of the uDraw experience, isn't it?

While the games are simplistic by design, there's one added level of depth and customization that kids will undoubtedly love. You'll be able to draw your own "Dood" by drawing on the 3D canvas included in the game. You can't change the physical structure of the character, but you'll be able to paint anything you want on him. (And if you're feeling particularly lazy, you can choose a pre-designed character.) In addition, you'll be able to paint various obstacles and enemies, giving each of the various mini-games a personal feeling.

Gallery: Dood's Big Adventure (uDraw) | 12 Photos

uDraw and its myriad of launch titles are obviously not meant for hardcore gamers. But, if you have any interest in drawing, THQ's offerings look like a solid effort. If you're not sold on the concept, I doubt these games will convince you otherwise. But, if your interest is already piqued, uDraw should definitely get some consideration when it launches in November.

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