uDraw Tablet Controller Review
Manufacturer: THQ / MSRP: $79.99 / Played on: Xbox 360
The uDraw tablet from THQ represents an interesting moment in the video game hardware cycle. At this point, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are still thought to have plenty of life in them, while the Nintendo Wii is being all but ignored in favor of the forthcoming Wii U, which counts among its main selling points a touch-screen tablet controller. Looking to somehow fill a niche we never knew that we had, THQ saw fit to try and extend the life of the current generation of consoles with its uDraw tablet controller, while testing the waters for tablet-based console gaming. Does the device live up to its promises of innovative interactivity and releasing your inner-artist? In short, no—but it’s still got more to offer than you might think.
Design and Interface
The uDraw tablet has a fat, chunky stylus attached to the center of the device via a thin cable, allowing users who are right-handed or left-handed to utilize it without too much trouble. Other than that, the tablet mimics a regular controller surprisingly well, offering four standard face buttons on the right with a sturdy d-pad on the left. The majority of the unit itself is taken up by the touch screen, which itself is colored the same matte-black as the rest of the controller. The main difference between this and what we’ve seen of the forthcoming Wii U controller is the fact that this is basically the equivalent of the trackpad on your average laptop, whereas the Wii U seems to have more in common with the fancy tablet computers that are all the rage these days.
The feel of the device is pretty solid, though slightly chintzy. The uDraw tablet is aimed at kids, and it certainly feels that way. The tablet is responsive to your inputs, whether it be using the stylus to draw or select different options, or when using your fingers. But that responsiveness can also be oversensitive, so lines get drawn when all you want to do is select a new brush style or color choice.
On the flip side of things, despite the controller’s ability to pick up your pen strokes, actually drawing anything that doesn’t look kind of awful is rather hard. There’s a very difficult disconnect between what you’re doing with your hand and what you see on the screen; when I draw, I need to see what marks my pencil actually makes on the paper. But if I’m moving my hand underneath my gaze—which is fixed on the television across the room—my brain has a very hard time compensating. This isn’t quite the tablet’s fault but rather a limitation of the technology itself. I have the same kinds of issues when using a standard computer drawing tablet. But that doesn’t change the fact that the device simply isn’t great at letting users feel like a competent artist, which is supposedly its main draw (get it?).
But before we write (zing) the uDraw Tablet off as a piece of junk, it’s important to take a look at the ways it can actually be implemented in games—you know, those things that made you buy your video game system in the first place. The controller comes packed in with the uDraw Studio Instant Artist, which, as you can see from the above paragraph, doesn’t really work too well. The game’s menus are confusing, and even though it offers lessons in an “Art School” mode, the entire thing is boring. I really doubt that anyone who gets their hands on this game—kid or not—is going to have the patience to sit through the virtual art-teacher’s step-by-step instructions, especially since it’s just so hard to actually follow through with the weird hand-eye disconnect.
But, fortunately, I didn’t stop with the Instant Artist. For my review, I also had the chance to try out Pictionary: Ultimate Edition, and Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat. The former is your standard party-style game, taking the basics of classic Pictionary (charades…but with pictures!) and putting it around a game board instead of just relying on points. The actual gameplay doesn’t much matter: the fact is, using the uDraw tablet for Pictionary is actually pretty fun.
Because the goal is speed and not beauty, the tablet is perfectly suited to being passed around the room to each player on their turn. When I played with a bunch of my friends, the players ranged from graduate art and design students to, well, me and another dude who aren’t really too adept at drawing in general. But despite our shortcomings, we all had a hoot playing and trying to decipher our weird chicken-scratchings. Also: I was surprised at how often drawing a dick can be a helpful hint among my friends. I think I counted a total of four dicks drawn while using the tablet.
As for the Super Hero Squad game, this was the best surprise of the bunch. The gameplay resembles mobile games like Battleheart, or even a point-and-click battler like Diablo, in that you command your characters on the screen to attack enemies by tapping on the bad guys. Different drawn commands will generate different attacks and effects: drawing an X will create a bomb, using your fingers to “pinch-zoom” will create a hole in the universe and suck enemies in, and your characters can perform extra powerful attacks by drawing a line from them to the bad guys. Because the game utilizes the Super Hero Squad version of the Marvel heroes, we’re dealing with strictly kid-stuff again—which is good, because it’s very forgiving and helpful when your characters get knocked out because of misread stylus inputs. It’s an occasional frustration, but considering that this is the first batch of games made for the peripheral (and it actually seems to work somewhat more consistently than the Kinect), I’d forgive a few technical hiccups.
In the end, while I’d hardly call the uDraw Tablet controller a must-buy, it’s definitely an interesting sneak preview of the kind of gameplay we might be able to expect from the Wii U—only that will be even better, I hope. It’s surprisingly enjoyable to use the tablet to play actual games like the Super Hero Squad title, and if I found out that there were some other interesting games coming out—like maybe a console-version of Scribblenauts—I’d be even more into the device.
I’m hopeful that the controller isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan cash-grab sort of peripheral, and will actually be used for some solid games, because it definitely has the potential. But until we hear that there’s an exciting new lineup of software that takes advantage of the tablet controller, it may be better to leave this one off your wish list for a little while.