PS3 Review: uDraw Gaming Tablet (With uDraw Studio: Instant Artist)



The uDraw Gaming Tablet was a surprise hit when it was first release on the Nintendo Wii last year. Despite a dearth of software and being on a console that’s steadily waned in popularity, the tablet, which allows gamers to put stylus pen to digital paper and see their drawings appear on their TV screen, managed to rack up more sales than the PlayStation Move at the time of its release, and THQ are aiming for even larger success by bringing a new, updated version to HD consoles just in time for Christmas. It remains to be seen whether their software support will follow the less-than-stellar schedule of the Wii (there’s only been six games total out for it in the year since release), but despite some unfortunate kinks and quirks, the uDraw Gaming Tablet is an impressive piece of hardware that’s sure to keep kids scribbling away at their console over Christmas.

Along with the Instant Artist pack-in software, the UDraw Gaming Tablet comes free with that age-old mini-game: ‘Spare Battery Scramble’. Like any self-respecting Christmas technology, batteries are required, but not included, so be sure to have some ready, or expect to dash around the house cannibalising every TV remote for some off-brand Duracell with just enough charge to power it. It’s a shame that the tablet isn’t built around its own in-built rechargeable battery so you can charge it simply and cost-free via USB cable like standard PS3 controllers, but the alternative is simple and wire-free. There’s a small bluetooth dongle hidden inside the battery compartment that you plug into one of the PS3′s USB slots. Once you’ve popped three AA batteries into the tablet, pushing a ‘Link’ button on the dongle and the back of the tablet gets it all synced up.
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The PS3 tablet itself is a sleek and stylish piece of hardware that (unlike the comparatively garish older Wii version) looks fantastic, and the slick black colour scheme means it looks great and fits perfectly next to your PS3 console and HDTV. It’s pretty light and the inset grooved ‘handles’ built into the back make it comfortable to hold, while all the major PS3 buttons are built into the unit, too. You won’t be using it as a spare controller, but it does mean you can navigate the PS3 dashboard and you won’t be constantly juggling the tablet and a regular pad to start and quit games, check your trophies or peek at your friends list. There’s also a built in tilt sensor, which doesn’t serve much purpose for drawing, but is a nice bonus control option in games (which we’ll get to later).

The glossy side panels where the D-Pad and buttons are is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but the tracking pad itself is surprisingly impervious to smudges and won’t pick up scratches from the stylus. The stylus slots snugly into a notch at the top of the tablet, tight enough that it won’t fall out but loose enough that you’ll have no trouble getting it free. It’s an arguably strange look for a device aimed predominantly at kids, but the stylish UDraw Gaming Tablet wouldn’t look out of place amongst the comparatively more expensive range of dedicated, professional PC graphics tablets (and it’s durable enough to survive unscathed in the hands of little tykes).
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Unfortunately, in practice, the tablet has its slight problems and doesn’t offer the precision you might want or expect from a digital drawing device. The tethered stylus can sometimes be a bit cumbersome when it’s in use; I kept finding the rubber cord hooking around the side of the tablet while drawing, suddenly limiting the stylus’ range of movement. There also seems to be either a little lag or a natural, almost imperceptible texturing to the tablet pad and/or stylus nib that occasionally throws a minor awkward curve into your lines as you’re drawing. Picture trying to draw something in Paint when your mouse needs cleaning and having it refuse to follow your movement for a second, tossing a bit of a bump into your lines – it’s a lot like that.

The advertised ’256 points of pressure sensitivity’ aren’t particularly evident, either, at least not in Instant Artist (though Pictionary: Ultimate Edition showed much better results). You have to push pretty hard on the stylus to get your drawing to appear or to trigger some buttons, and the tone of sketched lines becomes darker based on how much you re-draw over them rather than how much natural pressure you exert on the stylus as sensitivity barely registers. These problems do become less of an issue and drawing becomes a more comfortable experience the more you use the tablet and adjust to its foibles, and while the lack of tighter precision is a shame, it’s unlikely to be something that kids notice or take issue with.
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Bundled with the tablet is UDraw Studio: Instant Artist, an update of the Studio software that came packed in with the original Wii version. It’s split into three distinct sections: Art School, Art Play and Art Camp. Art School presents you with an animated teacher who gives you an interactive beginner’s guide to the basics of artistry, like perspective, shading and so on. Art Play is a freeplay style drawing mode, where you’re given a plentiful selection of materials (cardboard, wood, canvas, paper, etc.) and invited to draw freely and create whatever you like with the tools at your disposal. Meanwhile, Art Camp gives you a huge selection of playful activities, from an absolute tonne of ‘colouring in’, ‘dot-to-dot’ and ‘paint by numbers’ pictures to a couple of minigames with a vaguely artistic slant.

The Art School is a little flatly presented, and doesn’t do a spectular job at teaching you how to use all the art tools availabe; anything you need during each lesson is auto-equipped, and while it gives a vague idea of where to find some tools, the majority of them are simply left for you to find and figure out yourself through trial and error. A more in-depth intro and tutorial would’ve been nice, but otherwise it’s a surprisingly comprehensive beginner’s teaching tool for young, aspiring artists. Split into a bunch of different lessons, each one gives you a step-by-step guide to a new aspect of drawing and painting with uDraw. One lesson teaches you the basics of shadow, in another you’ll be introduced to how to draw perspective, or the idea of contrasting colours and so on, so there’s a great blend of practical lessons along with teaching kids why certain art techniques are used and the effect they have. Along the way, animated art teacher Remmy sprinkles in some very simple facts about art history. While it’s not going to give anyone a thorough knowledge of the Renaissance, as a beginner’s teaching tool Instant Artist does a pretty great job at presenting and teaching the fundamental ideas and techniques of drawing and painting in an engaging way while pointing out how and where they might’ve been used.
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Once you’re done with the Art School, you can practice your skills in a more free-form setting in the Art Play mode. The range of material you can use as a canvas is impressively varied, which is a nice touch, and once you start poking around at the tools, it’s surprising just how many utentils there are at your disposal. From the range of drawing devices like crayon, chalk, paint, and so on, which accurately replicate the texture of their real-world counterparts, to the grid tools, stencils and such, there’s a diverse array of gizmos and options that make it incredibly easy for kids to throw together fun sketches, posters and paintings with ease, once they’ve poked around figured out what everything does. But there’s enough at your disposal in the toolset to provide an incredibly versatile digital art kit for more experienced artists, as well.

While Art School and Art Play are focused around teaching and experimenting with creativity, Art Camp, meanwhile, is more about the playful side of art. There’s mini-games and a massive variety of ‘colouring in’, ‘dot-to-dot’ and ‘paint by numbers’ pictures for kids to fill in. The Alien Splat game has alien critters fly across a canvas and, using the stylus to press on them, you’ll smoosh them with a fly-swatter, leaving a blotch of paint behind. The Tilt Maze game is much like it sounds – tilt the tablet to guide a paintball around a maze to the goal as a trail of paint gets left behind, hitting coloured checkpoints to change the colour of the paint. Tilt Painting is pretty much the same, without the maze: Tilt the tablet to guide a paintball around, colouring the canvas as you go. Hit coloured balls before the time runs out to change your colour and further your progress, but avoid sinking into the holes that appear or it’s game over.
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There’s also a selection of ‘Art Starters’, which serve as little ways of getting the ball rolling if you’re stumped for ideas of what to draw. It’ll set you up with a choice of canvas and brush and give you a basic idea, like ‘Take a look out your window and draw something you see’ or ‘Draw a rainbow with a pot of gold at the end’. It’s simple, but a nice extra to get the creative juices flowing if you’re stuck for ideas. The minigames are simplistic and though there’s a tonne of levels of escalating difficulty, they won’t hold interest for more than a round or two. Even so, they’re fun bonus extras, and the sheer amount and variety of colouring book and paint by numbers pictures (which are all divided into categories, like ‘Fantasy’ or ‘Animals’) is pretty incredible and enough to keep kids entertained for hours.

Anything you draw, whether in Art School or Art Play mode, can be saved and uploaded to the WorldOfuDraw.com website. It’s handled through a sort-of ‘friend code’ system: Each UDraw user gets given their own unique code the first time they upload a picture, which will give them (or any friends they share the code with) access to their gallery online where they can view and download their uploaded pictures as 768 x 612 pixel .PNG files. The resolution unfortunately isn’t amazing, especially for images created using HD consoles, but they’re decent enough and ensure that kids’ created works of art can be shared with friends or printed off, and aren’t simply stuck on the PS3.
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The uDraw Gaming Tablet has its issues, and doesn’t always prove to be as accurate as you might like. As a result, more serious artists will be better served with a more precise PC graphics tablet. But for casual artists/gamers, once you sink the time into getting comfortable with it, it’s an incredibly versatile beginner’s art tool. The uDraw Studio: Instant Artist software, while a little drab in presentation, does a pretty great job at introducing kids and inexperienced artists to the fundamentals of drawing and painting in an engaging way, offering up a bounty of fun colouring activites, too. It’s a fun learning tool, and while it’s a rather expensive alternative to simply picking up a sketchbook and some colouring books, if your kids are interested in art and love gaming, then it’ll keep them entertained over Christmas while inspiring and encouraging their imagination and creativity in wonderfully welcome ways.

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For the rest of the uDraw PS3 launch line-up, please check out our reviews here:
Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat
Pictionary: Ultimate Edition

uDraw Gaming Tablet (With uDraw Studio: Instant Artist) is available to buy now on PS3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii.
Click here to buy it from Amazon.co.uk.