Nintendo's Wii has been such a huge hit over the past couple of years that we figured we'd seen every possible peripheral. You can get weight sets. You can get microphones. You can even get Wii-compatible cricket balls. THQ's uDraw does take the Wii in an area we wouldn't particularly have predicted. It's a graphics tablet with an in-built stylus, designed for primarily drawing-centric games.
The uDraw tablet has a distinctly Fisher-Price kind of feel to it compared to the full graphics tablets we've reviewed in the past. The stylus is light and yet chunky, and the 4x6-inch drawing area sits within a white plastic frame that we suspect would get rather grubby and faded over time. It does suit the white style of the Wii, however. To the left of the drawing area sits a holding area for a single Wiimote, which sits within the tablet providing both power and the gyroscopic controls used for certain games. It's a necessary feature, but we quickly found it a little annoying. You've got to stuff the Wiimote in there fairly solidly, but doing so blocks the front transmitter on the Wiimote itself. Other peripherals have got around this problem by placing a small hole in front of the Wiimote, but the uDraw Tablet doesn't have this feature. The practical upshot of that design decision is that if you have a Wiimote plugged into the tablet, you'll have to gently pop it out in order to actually start anything from the main Wii menu. The uDraw titles we tested all allowed basic menu selection from either the D-pad or tapping on the draw area with the stylus, as suited the context of whatever we were doing at the time.
uDraw only comes with a single bundled software title, uDraw Studio. It's not a game per se, but instead an interactive drawing program. You start out by choosing language based on flag (tip for the easily confused; we need the British flag for English) and then select either a basic blank sheet of paper — although plenty of styles, from plain white paper to chalkboards are available — or colouring books with predefined lines.
uDraw Studio, to put it kindly, isn't Photoshop. Photoshop doesn't have annoying background music, for a start. As a basic creativity tool, though, it's fairly inspired. What particularly struck us was that it's not the best advertisement for what the uDraw tablet can actually do; the drawing tools in Pictionary feel a little more responsive than those in uDraw Studio, even though uDraw Studio has many more actual tools and pages to draw on. Then again, anyone buying the uDraw tablet is going to end up with uDraw Studio anyway.
Once drawings are complete, they can be saved for viewing in the Studio's Gallery mode or exported to SD card as standard JPG files for viewing elsewhere, which is a very nice feature.
Parents with kids permanently glued to their Wii could do worse than uDraw Studio, although at the same time you could always pick up a cheap graphics tablet such as the Wacom Bamboo for a roughly similar price.
As with any games peripheral, the real utility of the uDraw Tablet is going to come from any games or utilities released with it. Aside from uDraw Studio, we've checked out the two other games released for the tablet to date, Pictionary and Dood's Big Adventure, and THQ is promising further games throughout 2011. As it stands, the uDraw Tablet is somewhat fun for casual use, but limited in both what the technology currently delivers and compared to what could be done with a proper drawing tablet.