uDraw and Instant Artist Hands On
As far as gaming peripherals go the uDraw raised many eyebrows when it was announced for the Wii last year. An ugly, bulky looking white thing with a controller comically attached on one side it was never going to win any aesthetic awards, even considering the Wii’s normal desire for function over form. A year later and the uDraw tablet must have sold well enough on the Wii because the company that conceived of it has now pushed it out to the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. THQ are well placed in their timing – Microsoft is continually shifting its machine to be considered more of a media hub that families can engage with, rather than simply being squirreled away in a teenager’s room. The PS3 has always had strong media connotations, and for both machines a more family oriented peripheral should do well when released for a Christmas market.
The first impression upon being handed the updated 360/PS3 tablet is that it is a much more streamlined device. The sleek black lines and contours are more in fitting with the presentation that Sony and Microsoft work towards with their hardware, and it does help position the tablet in the mind of a neutral viewer more towards ‘device’ than ‘toy’. Buttons are well placed for easy access (and out of the way of accidental pressing!) and the pen feels responsive and comfortable. It is somewhat disappointing that the pen is connected to the tablet by a wire instead of supporting a wireless connection, and the wire is just a bit on the short side, making it fairly difficult to achieve a full sense of free movement at first. While you learn to work around the limitation of the wire fairly quickly the thought that an extra inch would have made your life a lot easier never really goes away.
Without the benefits of attaching a Wiimote to the new tablet, THQ has had to include internal accelerometers to provide the motion control functionality for the uDraw. This does smack a little of crowbarring in a gimmick on top of another gimmick, but the response times and control seem acceptable once you have got used to moving the tablet around. In a nod to the current rise of smart technology and the real tablet market THQ have also included pinch and finger drag controls which help add to the overall intuitive feel of the device. However, you will need to teach yourself not to try to use the stylus as a mouse pointer – greater success by far comes from lifting and shifting as you would with a normal pen.
The uDraw tablet comes bundled with the uDraw Studio: Instant Artist ‘game’. Essentially a souped up version of Mario Paint for the modern world the package attempts to do what it says on the side of the box through a series of short tutorials covering beginner-level drawings. Each tutorial is made up of a series of stages, and the pacing throughout is very well thought out and they act as a great introduction to the depth of options available to you within the free draw section of Instant Artist. For those into their sharing side, Instant Artist also allows you to export your work via the internet, and after you have retrieved it you are free to post it across your social media sites or keep it secret on your own hard drive. Whilst budding electronic artists of an older sort will look towards PC based tutorials and tools, the uDraw is certainly more accessible for younger kids and may well act as a gateway into more creative pursuits.
Somewhat inevitably Instant Artist comes with several mini-games, none of which are impressive enough to keep your attention after your first assessment. It’s a nice to have bundled in with the tablet and it does serve to highlight each part of the tablet’s functionality (pressure sensitive stylus, internal accelerometers, range of motions possible, etc.) but beyond that the game will only retain the interest of those serious enough to work through the tutorials and pick up some artistic techniques. There is no denying that some of the pieces that the tablet can produce while in the hands of a skilled graphical artist are impressive, but the average user will certainly not reach that plateau. Although upsetting that the hardware bundle doesn’t include more game-oriented software to truly show what the peripheral could do the potential to go either way is apparent. As long as you bear in mind the suggested age range for the device and ensure you find other suitable games for use you may find that the uDraw has a place inside your TV cabinet.