Do you look at the Wii Remote and see the potential for an advanced fishing rod or bowling ball? Imagine it as part of a drawing tablet. I tested it this week. It's what Mario Paint Wii could have been.
The Wii drawing tablet is technically called the uDraw Game Tablet. It is shipping in late November from game publisher THQ for $US70, bundled with painting software shown in the first video in this post.
The tablet is partially a glorified shell for the Wii Remote. A user plugs the Remote into the tablet via the jack normally used to plug in the Wii's Nunchuk. Gripped with two hands, the Tablet can be used as a tilt controller.
The tablet's better use, though, is as an art extension for the Wii. With a Remote plugged in, the tablet becomes an interactive drawing surface, supporting a custom stylus that has a pressure-sensitive tip and a rocker button under the tips of your forefinger and middlefinger.
The tablet will come bundled with uDraw Studio, the painting and colouring application shown above. Users can use many of the colour-selection, brush types and special effects they would expect from a decent painting program. Paintings can be exported to an SD card as .jpegs or .png files.
The tablet will also be launched alongside standalone games Pictionary and Dood's Big Adventure. You can see the latter in action below. It is a collection of levels based on four game types that have you Tablet-tilting, stylus-directing and trampoline-drawing Dood through short side-scrolling challenge stations. Players can colour in Dood and many of the objects and background characters in the adventure, which customises the look of the game. The Pen Panic mode in the video here shows the most drawing-intensive of the bunch.
I shot the videos here, so you don't get to see any of the artistic masterpieces I created with the uDraw tablet. I did use it before shooting the video.
The peripheral itself felt sturdy and polished. The stylus was comfortable and it felt natural to wield it as a paintbrush or pen. I had a little trouble getting used to the fact that, unlike a laptop trackpad, the uDraw tablet's surface was used in the painting program as a proportionate representation of my digital canvas. In other words, I had to adjust to the fact that if I put my stylus in the top corner of the tablet's drawing area, my paintbrush cursor would appear in the top right of my canvas. It wasn't a big deal, just an adjustment.
I'm left-handed, but had no trouble using the stylus thanks to the wired connection stemming from the centre of the tablet. The Wii Remote buttons were hard to access, since my left hand was holding the stylus, but that also wasn't a big problem.
I am sceptical about new Wii peripherals. Many of them seem like comedy shells or ideal gifts for people who don't know any better. The uDraw Game Tablet doesn't strike me as that. It felt good to use and has a lot of potential for drawing-based games and applications. Let's hope THQ supports it well and that it find an audience. In a world without Mario Paint Wii, this may be as close to turning the Wii into an instrument for art as we're going to get.