THQ have gone way out on a limb for their latest series of releases, more so than most publishers outside of the rhythm game genre. This holiday season THQ is attempting to release their own hardware, the uDraw GameTablet, along with three pieces of software dedicated taking advantage of its unique feature set. However, it's been 18 years since a console has "successfully" attempted to offer gamers an artistic outlet alongside a piece of hardware that allows them to be creative.
The uDraw GameTablet is a step above most peripherals for the Nintendo Wii; creating a new style of controller, as opposed to just a plastic shell that so many peripheral manufactures have flooded the market with. While the Wii remote does sit inside the left side of the GameTablet's plastic housing, it's mainly there only to transmit signals to the Wii, and the "player" actually uses a stylus to control any onscreen activity. The stylus that's included with the GameTablet is tethered to the back, and, unlike the DS's stylus, has two points of control; a pressure sensitive tip, as well as a clickable button on the side. Overall, the package is very similar to Wacom's line of computer tablets that are widely used in the design industry.
The GameTablet feels like an all-new way to experience Wii games while retaining the familiarity of gameplay similar to the DS, which should keep it from being too overwhelming for new and casual gamers. Outside of holding a controller in their hands, holding a stylus should seem very familiar and comfortable for gamers, both young and old, opening the door for a lot of potential innovation in console games along the same lines that the DS has introduced over the last few years.
Gamings' New Designers
There has been a dominant trend in gaming over the last couple of years to encourage players to be creative, and not just in the "how can I get through this area without dying" kind of way. It seems that developers are creating more and more tools to let their player's inner Picasso run free, and whether it's by letting them create levels, or just doodle until their hearts content, uDraw is a much more precise device than a standard controller, allowing for more detail on all fronts.
Find A Flat Writing Surface
Finding a comfortable position for the GameTablet can be tricky. The games recommend placing it on a table or on your lap, but that means there's no reclining on a couch while using the uDraw. Also, it's pretty much designed only for right-handed people, which is ironic, because aren't lefties supposed to be the creative ones? Either way, attempting to hold it with your left hand while doodling with your right can cause both strain and frustration respectively.
My First Tablet Device
From the software, to the shell, to the oversized stylus, everything about the GameTablet seems to be targeted at the younger Wii audience. It isn't far off-base for THQ to assume that this is pretty much "My First Tablet" and that most adults looking for this kind of experience or creative outlet are most likely headed to their nearest Mac or PC, however, even grownups enjoy a good game of "Pictionary" every now and then.
Overall, the hardware works well, but after spending time with it, there are a few aspects of the device that are going to cause users to have a few questions about its overall design. For example, once the Wiimote is fit snugly into its casing on the side of the tablet, there's no opening for the infrared receiver, which means that you have to pop it out whenever navigating the Wii's system menu. Also, the button on the stylus actually serves as a stand-in for both of the nunchuck's "C" and the "Z" buttons (the top being one and the bottom being the other), but it isn't separated very well and will cause users to accidentally click the wrong thing more than once.
With only three "games" on the market it's tough to say whether or not the uDraw GameTablet will have legs, but at least the three titles do a good job of demonstrating just what the tablet offers in terms of potential mechanics. "uDraw Studio" is packed in with the hardware, and is a competent beginner-moderate graphics design program, going so far as to let you save your creations to the SD card and print them out (take that, "Art Academy"). "Dood's Big Adventure" is a platformer that has the player using the stylus to help direct Dood (or your own custom character) through 60 different levels. Finally, "Pictionary" is the classic board game, re-imagined to take advantage of the GameTablet for drawing your clues. Of the three, "Dood's" is the most gamey, and "Studio" is the best example of what can be done creatively with the device.
The uDraw GameTablet is one of the first non-music peripherals for the Wii to break out of its shell and actually add something to the gaming experience, but whether that addition is worth it really depends on how old you are. The GameTablet seems to be a great peripheral for young kids with a potentially creative side, or diehard "Pictionary" fans. Both the software and the hardware are solid, but at $69.99 and with just three games on the market, all from just one publisher, it remains to be seen whether or not uDraw will have the legs to make a long-term difference in the market. It's also worth noting that "Mario Paint" without Mario is just (MS) Paint.