Remember when the Kinect launched? Course you do, it was only a few months ago and, even with those all night CoD multiplayer fests, your brain cells aren’t that battered.
Basically, the Kinect launch was greeted with that standard peripheral fanfare: nice idea, shame about the software. I seem to remember the Sony Play system getting much the same response. There are no prizes for guessing where the reviews for Wii’s latest addition, the uDraw Tablet, are headed then...
After early sneak views last year, uDraw struck those of who’d had a few minutes playing with it as a neat enough idea. The Guardian’s Steve Boxer celebrated its refusal to make “game-changing” claims and described it as “by no means an earth-shatteringly clever input device like Microsoft's Kinect... but it should prove pretty attractive to parents worried about their offspring spending all day in front of their Wiis without achieving anything concrete.”
Six months on from that early look, with the finished tablet (and its three launch games) zooming towards retail outlets even as I type, how does it fare? Do I really need to answer?
As the name suggests, the uDraw is an electronic “pad” that allows you to sit on your sofa, plug in a Wii remote and wield the attached stylus as a pen, paint brush, puzzle solving device or, indeed, all of the above, as the results of your actions unfold on your TV.
And, on the whole, everything about the uDraw is reasonably capable. It’s solid, simple to use – the stylus has a side button and a pressurised tip that control everything you’re going to need – and your existing Wii controller sits neatly inside, meaning there’s no need to calibrate yet another device.
For launch, there are, as mentioned above, three titles: uDraw Studio (packaged with the tablet), Dood’s Big Adventure and Pictionary. As the names alone suggest, that’s a straightforward(ish) art package, a platform / puzzler and a family favourite. It should be a good mix but...
The art package uDraw Studio is one that’s just about worth exploring. Your initial forays will be as basic as that painting timewaster on Windows however, give yourself over to it, and there’s considerably more to this “game” than meets the eye. The range of paints and techniques and styles is remarkable, but it’s very much a case of trial and error. Attempting to follow the tutorials is a long, laborious and annoyingly intonated experience. The results can be astonishing but the pad, at the moment, isn’t the most sensitive of devices so careful nuance is a thing of chance. Beyond that, even with the handy SD card option to save your masterpieces, it’s a bit of a fleeting success. You can’t hang your work or even attach it with magnets to the front of the fridge. As a good value diversion that might give the impression of oil painting techniques or introduce children to certain aspects of art, uDraw Studio certainly has some worth. Whether it will ever replace pen and paper (or canvas, cardboard, chalk or any of the other “surfaces” it allows you to draw on) is doubtful.
The lack of subtlety also affects Dood’s Big Adventure. Here you control Dood as he attempts to collect coins around various bits of jungle scenery, avoiding and beating the bad guys (who appear to be members of Gorillaz should their lawyers be reading) with a flick of the stylus or a carefully placed drawn-in solution. Mastery of this takes a frustrating amount of time thanks to the uDraw’s lack of sensitivity and the rather badly explained controls. Things do gradually click and the various platform-style games do have a childish appeal but this is little more than a DS game on a bigger screen.
Ironically, the best game of the three launch titles is Pictionary, the old pen-and-paper board game given a 21st Century twist with the addition of your TV as notepad. As with the recent DS version, the introduction of technology is both a bonus and a drawback. The purpose of the game remains the same. To progress around the board, you have to guess what word your teammate is drawing. A correct answer earns a roll of the die, first one past the post wins.
In this incarnation, instead of a physical board, counters and a die, everything is on screen: to roll the die, you flick the pen across the uDraw tablet. As with the original game, the colour of square you land on determines what sort of subject you draw next – person, animal, object, etc – and whether you’re drawing just for your team or as an “All Play” option. The use of the TV here certainly comes into its own although you do have to rely on everybody closing their eyes as onscreen prompts have replaced the cards.
In addition to the freehand option, the uDraw offers various choices of line and shape tools, colours, line type and width. Chances are, however, you won’t. With only 90 seconds to guess, and a tablet that takes some getting used to in terms of pressure, these extra options generally just slow you down.
As with the recent DS version, where the game and technology work best is with the second variation, Pictionary Mania. This adds some interesting electronic twists to the theme, such as having to draw without looking at the screen, or having to draw while the screen rotates. They’re fun variations that breathe a little new life into the game, although the one that forces you to just use the line and shape tools is a bit of a pain.
- Simple to set up
- Gives the Wii a new lease of life
- Er, saves money on paper
- The lack of sensitivity – it feels like your gouging at times – makes these launch titles a little frustrating.
- Do you really want to create works of art that live on a SD card?
- The – inevitable? – lack of decent software
The Short Version: Everything about the uDraw screams “potential”. It’s easy to use – whatever your age – so is a fine addition to the Wii “family”, and changes the scope of your console. It’s just that, as always seems to be the case, the first games / titles barely scratch the surface and feel slightly rushed.