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uDraw Pictionary: Ultimate Edition

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Page 44 Studios
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4+
Genre: Board Games/ Family/ Trivia

Graphics & Sound:

uDraw Pictionary: Ultimate Edition is a game that could only exist alongside the uDraw GameTablet. It uses the drawing mechanic to bring to Xbox 360 what you may have enjoyed in your living room with family and friends. If you think about offline Pictionary, you'll realize that it doesn't have much shape or form other than the drawings. The board is somewhat nondescript, the kind of thing you might find in any "race" style of boardgame. Bringing Pictionary into life as a videogame involves adding characters that animate as they move around a 3D board, plus lots of flash and sparkle during transitions between rounds. Players of the offline game may or may not find this extra dimension charming, especially when there's a significant layer of technology sandwiched between them and their game. The best thing about playing a converted board game is that new players can be visually led through their first play experience. Not sure if you're supposed to pass the die to another team? uDraw Pictionary: Ultimate Edition will let you know. The other thing that teams may appreciate is the added depth of interaction possible on-screen using the uDraw GameTablet. We don't know about you, but our games of Pictionary were mostly played on legal pads or construction paper, using (maybe) colored pencils and markers if we were feeling fancy. Through this console version, so-called Picturists have access to a full rainbow of color choices, pens, pencils, paint-cans, and quick-draw shapes that can help a drawing come together quickly. If you've been a huge fan of Pictionary offline, you'll find the addition of the uDraw GameTablet brings some pretty major upgrades to your art style.

Gameplay:

There are really three game variants contained here. uDraw Pictionary: Ultimate Edition offers what it calls Pictionary Mode, that is as close to what you've played offline as is possible on a game console. Pictionary Mania takes advantage of the videogame setting to introduce a custom board with all kinds of special actions tied to categories. Pictionary Family Fun Mode is really just a subset of Mania, in the sense that you have the ability to completely customize the gameplay experience, right down to the board. The basic gameplay objective is unchanged across all these. Teams (at least two, up to four) of any size can race across the Pictionary board, and the team to reach the end first wins. On each turn, the person responsible for creating a drawing clue is named the Picturist. That person must quickly draw a visual clue for other teammates to guess, based on a category like "Lunch" or "On The Playground." If a team guesses successfully, play continues for them, or else switches to the next team.

All interaction with the game is done through the tablet. It's a shame there wasn't some Kinect integration, as a value-add for gamers so equipped. Drawing on the uDraw GameTablet is great, but there are times when selecting and navigating menus can be a bit clunky in the heat of the moment. The Pictionary Mania game will be a big hit with traditional players, because of how it expands on the classic game. Mania is basically how you would envision a videogame remix of Pictionary. Normally, categories are just static descriptions that you use as the basis to draw clues. In Mania Mode, categories completely change the play experience, forcing you to draw with dotted lines, artificially capping the amount of ink you can use for your drawing, and even randomly blacking out the screen while you draw. There are about a dozen special conditions like these that come into play during Mania Mode, and you can mix these up as you wish to create your perfect game style for Family Fun Mode. There are also changes to the board that make both the traditional and expanded modes interesting for players who have only done Pictionary offline.


Difficulty:

The distinction between Adult and Junior Clues is probably the most obvious adjustment for difficulty in uDraw Pictionary: Ultimate Edition. These clues are intended to avoid giving young Picturists categories they won't relate to (as in "Honeymoon" or "Pay Day") and substitute things like animals, objects, or pastimes they can easily envision and draw. Depending on the age of your players, Junior Clues may be overkill, but we found they worked extremely well for Picturists under age 10. Much below that and you're going to have other difficulties with understanding the rules. The initial run-through of the rules is pretty high-level in uDraw Pictionary: Ultimate Edition. Perhaps because the game is aimed at fans of the offline game, not much time is devoted to really explaining how a game of Pictionary is played. Part of the reason it can get confusing is the nature of team-based play. Even with four people, you have two teams where players are rotating and where there are never more than two Picturists and two people trying to guess clues based on drawings. Play rotates between teams and players each turn, which is unusual. If you just pay attention to the prompts the game provides, you'll do fine. All the same, there are some aspects to the Picturist's role that aren't covered in detail for new players. How much you can give away in your drawing, or the rules about not talking/singing/gesturing to your team, aren't really covered in the game. The included manual outlines these things briefly, but we know a lot of folks don't expect to pore over a videogame manual before diving in... Bottom line: It will help if you have at least one member of your family or party, who is familiar with Pictionary before you crack open uDraw Pictionary: Ultimate Edition.

Game Mechanics:

The controls for the uDraw GameTablet deserve a bit of explanation. We recently reviewed it independently and like its combination of durable Xbox 360 controller with fancy drawing-slate touch technology. Imagine a "dumb iPad" and you'll get the idea; there's a drawing surface and a corded stylus, plus enough buttons to emulate the basic things you do with your Xbox 360 controller. Learning your way around the tablet is a necessity, before you do much more than draw lines in uDraw Pictionary: Ultimate Edition. If drawing lines is all you want to do, you won't need much practice, and the game does instruct you on some special motions required for throwing the die before your team's turn... You can play with or without the stylus. There are pros and cons, but if you have younger players in the game, it probably makes sense to dispense with the stylus and just use fingers. At any point while drawing, you can bring up color pickers, select between various drawing tools, and use shapes to quickly construct an object or scene. All these controls take some getting used to, and fans of the game may be initially put off by having to navigate this device, where they previously just busted out a marker and a big roll of paper.

If the tech involved isn't a turn-off, you can have some good fun with uDraw Pictionary: Ultimate Edition. It's an ideal party game, because remember that teams can be any size. You can have four two-man teams, or two eight-man teams, whatever your time and inclination. The timer can be configured to make things more accessible for certain groups, and the Family Fun mode lets you tweak almost all the play settings to your heart's content. We'd love to see a mashup of this game with the Kinect technology, to make the living room board game experience even better. As it stands, this is at least a good tech demo for the uDraw GameTablet, and at its best is a great example of how traditional offline games can make the jump to a console.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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