The uDraw GameTablet is made of pleasantly chunky white plastic. It looks a bit like an entry-level Wacom unit, and a bit like Apple's iPad - if Apple's iPad had been designed by the top men at Fisher Price rather than a bunch of SoCal billionaires in turtlenecks who like to abuse the word "magical".
Annoying capitalisation trends aside, it's a nice peripheral. The Wii's Remote clips snugly into a little slot on the left; the writing pen that comes with it can be stowed safely around the back and has a decent durability to it. Finally – this being a Nintendo-approved peripheral – there's even somewhere to stick the wrist strap you will never have attached in the first place.
Taking a leaf from Moses' book, THQ has high hopes for this tablet. Although it will come with a considerable piece of software bundled, and has a few other games primed to go at launch, the publisher is planning to support it well into 2013. Clearly, nobody's taken its management aside and told them what Roland Emmerich thinks is going to happen to us all in 2012, but that's neither here nor there. With $69 as a US launch price, uDraw isn't going to be cheap, but it's not a cheap ploy, either – it's a device THQ reckons people are going to want to hang onto for a while.
At first, THQ hopes people will want to hang onto it as a creativity tool. Powered by the attached Wii Remote and sturdy enough that it won't take too much damage if kids fling it around a bit, uDraw comes with an art package called uDraw Studio ready to go. I've been trying to work out just who this is aimed at, and I'm guessing it's pitched at creative children who are too clumsy to be let loose on a Wacom, or arty seniors who think a Wacom is a kind of biscuit. Either way, it's an accomplished set of tools.
Presenting you with a blank canvas and a series of themed backdrops – artist's lodgings, street scenes, and that sort of thing – Studio is very easy to get to grips with. Pushing down on the pen makes it draw (elsewhere, when you're using it as a pointing device, this is also how you select things), you can delete your scribbles one by one with the remote's minus button, and a squeeze of the B trigger pulls up an art palette where you can select from standard paint package tools, choose your colours, brushes, and nibs, and apply special effects like mirroring, sharpening, and sepia-ification. And sepia-ification is definitely a real word that real artists like Damien Hurst, JMW Turner, and Sylvester Stallone might use. I think I heard Mark Lawson use it on Radio 4 a few days ago, actually.
Once you've finished your artwork, you can sit back and watch a replay of it being created if you're tediously self-involved, or save it to the SD card as a JPEG. It's a surprisingly addictive process – the drawing, not the saving to an SD card, which is distinctly lacking in visceral thrills – and the important things all work: there's a nice zoom for detailed etchings and mistakes are very easy to rectify.
While there's a little lag between the pen movement and what's happening on screen, it won't confuse you or muck up your drawings too much. You can tell the delay is there, but you'll be able to accommodate it pretty easily. We'll know more about the lag in a few months, when Rich Leadbetter constructs working AI routines for several Renaissance masters and gets their opinions on THQ's device from beyond the grave. Stay tuned.
Beyond uDraw Studio, the publisher's already getting games together for the tablet, too. Dood's Big Adventure sees you playing through a series of simple platform levels with the device, directing your character by using the pen as a mouse pointer, and interacting with him by drawing trampolines to get him over spikes, spinning fans to loft him through the sky, or by tilting the tablet itself to gust him to safety. Bringing back pleasant memories of Drawn to Life, you'll be able to sketch on textures for most of the in-game characters along the way.
Pictionary, meanwhile, is, well, Pictionary, albeit Pictionary recreated as a kind of game show, in which up to four teams engage in tense scribble-offs, often with random rules imposed which could see them sketching without being allowed to watch what they're doing on the TV, or without lifting the pen from the tablet. (Pictionary's approach to handing out objectives, interestingly, relies on an honour system, with everyone agreeing not to peek at the screen when a new card is drawn. It's effectively doomed in my house.)
uDraw is an odd idea, then, but potentially quite an interesting one. While it's not something professional artists are likely to want to mess around with, it's worth remembering that most of us aren't professional artists anyway. If you're thinking that the last thing you need for your Wii is another peripheral, this might just be the device that changes your mind. If you're thinking, "Why does nobody use the word sepia-ification anymore?" however, I'm right there with you – and so is Sylvester Stallone.