Digital drawing and painting is on the increase, and in the last decade millions of amateurs and professionals have crafted their own works of art on computers, from simple doodles to jaw-dropping masterpieces that defy reality. Graphic tablets are nothing new, especially for computer users and graphic designers. On the gaming front, consoles have relied on practically every other means of input - heads, shoulders, knees and toes included - to manipulate what's on screen, with pen or stylus input left solely to portable hardware like Nintendo DS and 3DS. Drawing and writing games are commonplace on the DS, with Nintendo releasing their own animation suite and even the homebrewers dipping their styli into virtual ink. Spying a gap in the home console market, though, THQ have brought the virtual drawing experience to Wii with uDraw GameTablet.
The GameTablet is essentially an entry-level graphics tablet neatly molded with smooth Wii-esque white plastic, with a space carved out for a Wii Remote to sit in to transmit your drawing data. There’s just enough space to squeeze your motion-controlled joy into neatly. If you play with a wrist strap attached to the Remote though, it does mean plenty of fumbling around to accommodate it; it may be easier to remove it entirely just to slot the Remote into the tablet.
The hardware is a fair bit thicker and chunkier than your conventional slimline desktop tablet, and it seems the most ideal place for it would be your lap, rather than plopped onto a desk. It sits comfortable and is fairly sturdy - there is a sense of durability and weight to the device for ease of use and a more casual approach.
Foxy scene by C3's Susie Gray
We're looking at you!
The drawing area itself is surprisingly accommodating, measuring out at 6 x 4 inches - a touch smaller than an A6 piece of paper. It may appear small, but does allow for enough room to manoeuvre to pop in those finer details and wider brush strokes. Unconventionally tethered to the base is an equally large drawing pen - a stylus housed in an oversized white pencil with little room to adjust and get comfortable. It's odd how short the link is between pen and tablet - though not completely intrusive, it’s tricky and an unnecessary hindrance at times. The pencil-like bevels are a peculiar design decision, perhaps to appeal more to children rather than adults, but do become more natural to hold and use over time. Equally baffling is the ‘pen pot’ to hold your drawing tool in place while you gather your thoughts or nip to the loo: it's circular, whereas the drawing pen has straight edges, so it doesn't quite work so well!
Jorge takes on the world's fastest Hedgehog in uDraw
The included software, uDraw Studio, aims to be a comprehensive drawing and painting tool for both seasoned artists and casual drawers, with a wide range of tools, pre-set shapes and canvases to choose from. You're able to doodle on notepad paper as if in school, bring your creations to life on a chalkboard, or even become the traditionalist by using a canvas. Environments, backgrounds to work in, are a nice touch to set the tone and mood for creating, from a European promenade to a gorgeous beach setting. As for the brushes, it isn't just about paint and ink; there's also the option to dabble with airbrushes, chalk and charcoal - some far better and more realistic than others.
Underwater adventure by C3's Susie
The main issue is sensitivity. Whilst the pen and GameTablet are said to detect pressure, there don’t appear to be enough levels to vary the intensity of your markings - which is probably why pencil hasn't been included as a brush option. It certainly feels as if there are three distinct levels: on, off, and medium, rather than a regular tablets’ 500+ levels of pressure and sensitivity. Though uDraw isn't a tool aimed at professionals, the lack of at least ten different levels is a fairly big setback. Fortunately opacity can be altered manually through the uDraw Studio interface, letting you carefully apply watercolour washes and subtle detail. It still proves tricky for sketching out a rough outline - to make a simple stroke you need to press down fairly firmly with the pen and it's not always consistent either. After some time and compromise between using the opacity options and varying brush stroke, going from mind to ‘paper’ becomes easier and more natural, but there still a need to delete and repeat often because the tablet isn't quite flexible enough. Fortunately brush/stroke size is mapped to the Wii Remote’s D-pad for easy access - it would have been useful to have had opacity adjustable here too, rather than switching in and out of the palette menu.
Yoshi joins the Cubed3 business
Once done you're able to save your work internally to share with fellow Wii owners via the Message Board, or export to an SD card as a Jpeg or PNG image to transfer across to your computer. You can also replay previous work through a neat speed-painting mode to see your strokes in up to eight-speed action. The ability to share your movies would have been an added bonus, however.
There's a wide selection of tools at your disposal, from ink to paint, charcoal to airbrush, and these are replicated well for an array of drawing options for most digital creations. From silky smooth watercolour washes to cute ink doodles - the possibilities are near endless. The tablet's sensitivity is an issue however, especially for more complicated work.
Whilst the tablet itself has issues, the realistic art tools and environments are presented with a basic but usable, accessible interface that's clear to understand and work with for longer drawing sessions. Finished work can be exported to your SD card, however at a small 576 x 396 resolution PNG it’s good enough for web copy and sending to friends, but fairly small for printing.
Relaxing, soothing background music - nothing particularly special, but appropriate and relevant to the scene. Does tend to trail on for a bit in some instances, but generally works well to help the creative process flow.
uDraw Studio is a game that can be continually played, with something new created every time; simple for beginners but limiting for those wanting to take drawing and painting further. The ability to share work via SD or transferring files to your computer is handy. The tablet itself can be used with additional software (sold separately) so does have longevity outside of uDraw Studio.
uDraw is a difficult piece of kit to review. The uDraw Studio software is generally excellent, accessible for new or casual artists, and has the potential for highly detailed art. The main drawback is the GameTablet’s lack of true sensitivity - when you venture into more complicated work it becomes far trickier and more of a hassle to use, with constant switching of options required to get the strokes just right. In general though, the tablet does a solid job putting your thoughts onto the living room screen through a simple interface with many options - it just takes a little more patience for those wanting to go further. uDraw GameTablet is certainly worth considering for the casual drawing fan and as a tool for other compatible touch-based games, but those wanting a little more flexibility may want to look elsewhere for their digital drawing.
Good review, I definitely agree that the pen's lack of sensitivity is a big disappointment. Also did you feel that the on-screen pen sometimes lags behind the actual pen? Like for example, I'm drawing something and the on-screen pen would freeze for a second then return to normal.
I haven't really spent that much time with it but like you said it's not really for pros which is why I bought it for my sister. ^^
I quickly drew this with the tablet, it's not my best but meh:
This has been out for a while no? I've had it since nov 2010 O.o Anywas ya its hella fun Especially with the picotnary game thingy lol... only complaint is that it has a small lag between how fast ur moving and the cursor above on screen