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uDraw turns Wii into an art studio for kids

Wii-owning hardware hounds envious of new peripherals rolled out for Sony and Microsoft's game systems this fall can take some solace in uDraw, a clever new tablet from THQ designed exclusively for Nintendo's console.

A plain white slate attached to a wired stylus, it's reminiscent of a Wacom pen and tablet (though Wacom's line lacks a model with a slot for a Wii remote). It even performs a similar function by allowing kids-and perhaps kids at heart-to indulge their creative sides in a trio of art-themed launch titles (which I'll get to in a moment).

It takes a while to get used to stylus, which has a nib that depresses slightly with pressure to begin drawing and a slender button on its side that aids in selecting onscreen menu items, but once you get used to it you'll likely be surprised by the level of precision it affords. It lags a little behind the user's movement, but if you work slowly and carefully you can draw almost exactly what you mean to.

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Assuming, that is, the software you're using provides the proper toolkit. With the exception of uDraw Studio, which comes with the tablet, the first crop of uDraw titles underwhelms. My impressions of each of the three launch games after the jump.

uDraw Studio ($69.99; comes bundled with uDraw tablet)

The software that comes with the tablet, uDraw Studio isn't really a game but rather a way for kids to draw and colour pictures. It's also the best uDraw application currently available.

Paint mode provides a blank canvas and a good set of artistic tools. Users can select custom colours from a palette, choose from a broad range of stylus nibs, deploy stamps, toggle between free drawing and straight lines, and add post-painting effects such as sepia tones and negative film. Common tasks-such as zoom, undo, and nib size adjustments-are assigned to the Wii remote's face buttons for quick access. It won't spawn the next Mona Lisa, but it should prove a satisfying outlet for creative kids looking to do a little digital art.

Younger children can have fun with uDraw Studio as well thanks to a colouring mode that serves up black and white line drawings that kids can either colour freehand or quickly paint using the always handy fill function. After helping acquaint her with the basic tools, my five-year-old daughter spent an hour on her own working on a unicorn colouring sheet.

Both paint and colour modes allow users to take snapshots of their work and save them to an SD card, which means saved art can be viewed on a PC display and printed. It's a nice finishing touch that ensures a young artist's efforts don't go to waste.

Score: 8/10

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uDraw Pictionary ($29.99)

THQ's attempt to draw grown-ups into trying the tablet, Pictionary is exactly what you would expect it to be: A video game version of the popular board game with the uDraw tablet and your television screen used in place of a pad and pencil.

Players work with a virtual die, token, and game board as they draw pictures based on words appearing on randomly drawn cards for their team-mates to guess. Choose Pictionary Mania in lieu of the classic game and players will work their way up a three-dimensional board while encountering some whacky rules, such as a canvas that rotates while drawing.

It can be fun, but the problem is that uDraw doesn't really lend itself to speedy drawing. Pictionary urges people to compose sketches much more quickly than they would otherwise, and not only do uDraw users need to grow accustomed to the idea of watching the screen rather than the tip of their pencil (it can be unexpectedly disconcerting), they also need to take into account the device's lag, which becomes more apparent when you're trying to sketch as quickly as possible.

Pictionary is playable and sometimes even legitimately fun, but don't be surprised if you find yourself wishing you simply had a pad and pencil rather than a high tech tablet and stylus.

Score: 6/10

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Dood's Big Adventure ($29.99)

There are some good ideas in Dood's Big Adventure, a platforming/adventure game that allows users to colour characters and objects before jumping into the game to see their works of art in action, but fussy controls tend to block them from view.

The game is divided into two primary modes: create and play. In create, players can colour the game's characters and objects using basic drawing and painting tools, stamping on facial features and selecting from various colours and textures. It's a pretty elementary exercise in content creation, but it can be gratifying to see your own work appear in the actual game.

Sadly, the game itself isn't much fun. Players work through quick levels that fall into a quartet of categories that allow players to control their character by using pen strokes and tilting the tablet left and right. They can also create the occasional usable in-world object, like a trampoline that can be called into existence simply by drawing a line.

The problem here is that the controls are a bit confusing and rather imprecise. I had, for example, a very hard time getting used to managing Dood's movement with the stylus nib while simultaneously making strokes to flick ink at enemies.

Kids, with their talent for picking up games and technology more quickly than grown-ups, might have better luck than I with this one, but I suspect the majority of the fun they extract will come from painting the game's characters, in which case they might as well just stick with uDraw Studio, which offers a better drawing toolkit.

Score: 5/10

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