uDraw Studio Pictionary Updated Impressions

We pass the pad and get doodling with a modern twist on a classic family board game.

Remember the hours you spent sprawled on the lounge-room floor, paper frayed as you mashed pencils, crayons, and brushes into the carpet fibers? Maybe you made the sound effects, smoke billowing and explosions kabooming as you rained fiery death on rival northern forces. Or perhaps you sat at the table on family nights, trying valiantly to convince those watching on with wide eyes that your crooked lines were meant to be snow skies. Duh.

While your skills have (hopefully) improved since then, paper may not be long for this world with the introduction of THQ’s uDraw peripheral and software suites. We recently had a chance to pick up the virtual pad, unleashing our creativity and playing a few rounds of Pictionary.

As a refresher, the uDraw tablet is (at least at the moment) a Wii-exclusive shell that houses and harnesses the power of a Wii Remote. The board replicates the major functions of a nunchuk, simulating tilt and providing the surface to draw on with the device’s tethered digital pen. It’s not unlike a child-friendly design tablet, featuring rocker switches on the pen that allow you to select the appropriate tool, hold down to draw, or use pressure sensitivity in the nib to scrawl your ideas.

The bundled uDraw studio art software works a lot like the free Paintbrush application on Windows computers, giving you the choice of a selection of brush types with varying properties, such as opacity and thickness. Tapping left or right on the D pad grows and reduces the size of the brush stroke, while the up and down buttons zoom in and out of your creation to provide finer control. It took us only a short amount of time to get up to speed with the features at our fingertips, with the board doing a good job of replicating our fast, wide swirls smoothly in real time.

Prefab shapes were limited to stamps of iconic world buildings and sports equipment in our version, but we were told that THQ isn’t ruling out use of the device with digital coloring books based on its licensed franchises like Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Square Pants and Marvel’s Super Hero Squad animated series. We also spotted a logo for Dreamworks Animation’s upcoming Kung Fu Panda film sequel. Regardless of whether you’re creating original works of art or just following the lines, whatever is committed to e-paper can be exported and copied as high-resolution PC-readable files on an SD card for later hanging in the family gallery by doting parents.

If you want to take the drawing experience and make it a multiplayer affair, then Pictionary also allows you to do so. This digitized version of the popular family board game apes the experience well, replacing scraps of paper and broken pencil nubs with a plastic drawing board that can be passed around between teams. In the version we saw, clues were split into two piles: simpler hints for children and more advanced ones for adults to draw. The choice is available on a per-question basis, so there’s no risk of locking yourself into a game too tough for the players.

Because there are no physical cards to refer to (and shield from prying eyes) while everyone is sitting in front of the television, the person drawing will need to hover over and then select a secret clue area, dragging it away to reveal the subject. It’s an honesty system, but a twinkling sound accompanies the reveal of the clue, allowing honest players to know when they can uncover their eyes or turn back to face the screen. On the off chance someone turns back too quickly or simply doesn’t know how to draw the object or action, a new clue can be generated at will without penalty.

All of the game’s functions are performed on the board. Teams roll their virtual die by flicking forward on the uDraw board with the stylus, with pieces automatically moving from a top-down and isometric board view. Human error of incorrectly drawing the wrong category is a thing of the past because there’s no distraction with only a single option. Most squares involve teams directly competing against each other, but we did see a few open rounds. Both teams were forced to avert their gazes and be the first to jump in with the correct response; in the process, either was granted an additional turn or snatched control from the opposing team.

The hardware and software’s ease of use, its simple learning curve, and opportunity to display your creative bent in front of a group will undoubtedly be most relevant to the hardware’s younger audience, but don’t write this off as another toy for kids just yet. uDraw Studio will go on sale later this month in North America bundled with the uDraw tablet hardware, while uDraw Pictionary is also slated for a November release and will be sold separately. Keep an eye out for the full GameSpot review soon.

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