I recently had the chance to test out a console that’s making a lot of PR noise since it was announced on Kickstarter last year: the Ouya. Pronounced similarly to “ooh-yeah,” the Android-driven console will be released commercially this June, but Kickstarter backers and attendees of the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) last month were given first dibs in test-driving the console. So, does it live up to the hype? We’ll find out shortly!
The packaging is simple – kinda reminds me of a Nike shoebox for some reason.
Inside the box, you see a simple Thank You message card for believing in the project. I didn’t plonk down $99 for this; but yeah, I guess thank you Kickstarter people. Ed. Note: I actually did the first day the Kickstarter launched and have yet to receive my console. Screw you, Cheena!
Beneath the message card is the controller and the console unit.
All the box’ contents: the controller, Ouya, HDMI cable, adapter, 2 AA batteries and a manual. Actually, it’s not even a manual: it’s a pamphlet containing safety information for each country or something. Good thing that Boxer8 included cables and controller batteries in the package so you don’t have to rummage for some in your stash.
The Ouya console is pretty small. It kinda reminds me of a Chinese take out box or a bowl. It’s in glossy gray and the finish is pretty good for a budget console. It also has engravings of people’s names and usernames at the side face of the console. I don’t really know what that is, but I’m guessing they are the biggest contributors that helped realize the Ouya project.
These are the ports. There’s one for USB, LAN cable, adapter and HDMI. Apologies for not capturing it clearly.
Then there’s the controller. Although the front face looks good and comes in a good shade of matted gray, the shoulder buttons feel cheap and plastic-y. The analog sticks feel kinda stiff and hard to move around. If that wasn’t bad enough, the worst problem with it is the Home button. It doesn’t really respond that well if you push it lightly as compared to say, the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 controllers. When you push it down harder than usual, the button physically submerges below the controller plate and falls out-of-place. It really is a pain to have to babysit and adjust it every time.
What they did right here is the trackpad. The positioning is easy to access as it is that black slab in the middle of the controller, so you can just readjust your thumb to use it. I’m not so sure if you can adjust the sensitivity right now, but I’m just glad that it works and it works okay.
You put in the batteries by removing the plates on the left and right sides of the controller, which reveal the battery slots. I feel queasy about this setup because the faceplates feel really fragile, so it’s kind of unnerving to pull them out from the slots above. How hard is it to put a slot in the back for batteries?
The Ouya’s user interface is simple, clean and looks appealing. At least they win points here.
After setting the console up, it’ll first ask you to update your system. After connecting it to either Wi-Fi or ethernet, the updater will launch and attempt to download the latest version of the Ouya system software. The download bar kind of reminds me of The Sims where weird messages tell you what it’s doing (i.e., “Reticulating splines”), but in a cornier way (“Sharpening skates…” :what).
After that initial setup hump, the console reboots. After launching (which takes abotu a minute), it will then ask you if you want to register for an Ouya account, or log in as an existing user. The sign up process is pretty easy as it will just ask your username, e-mail address (where they can send receipts for purchases) and password.
After logging in, you will see the main dashboard. The interface presents you with four menu items:
- PLAY – where all your downloaded games are listed
- DISCOVER – the marketplace where you can download games
- MAKE – for developers; didn’t really spend much time here
- MANAGE – where you can manage your account and do system reset, etc.
Now, on to the meaty part – the games. Actually, I can’t even call it meaty as it only has about 100 games on launch. And honestly, the games that you can download at the moment are pretty sad. I’ve tried downloading a few and the only game that was half-decent was Knightmare Tower (which was fairly similar to Castle Crashers on XBLA/PSN). I also downloaded one of the system’s flagship titles, Final Fantasy III. It was a joke, seriously. I don’t even know anyone who would purchase this for $15.00. The port looks weird: I don’t know if it was my TV, but dialog and message boxes were clipped, and the game just simply didn’t run as smoothly as I expected.
The only interesting thing about the Ouya right now is EMUya, which is an nice take on standard 8-bit console emulators. It also works as a storefront for indie NES games (yes, they still make NES/Famicom games!) such as Battle Kid. Then again, you can always run emulators on so many devices you already have: your PC, DS, PSP, Game Boy Micro, phones, and tablets already have very good emulators out there, so this wouldn’t be such a compelling feature.
I have a hard time recommending an Ouya to anybody. The system’s main feature is letting players enjoy Android games on the TV. But why? Aren’t most Android experiences geared towards quick, simple experiences since you’re playing them on the go on your tablets and smartphones? Another selling point of the system is that it’s an Android device with a controller (instead of a touchscreen); but that’s still a moot point given that you can use any Bluetooth controller (i.e., a Wii Remote or a Dual Shock 3) on your tablet or mobile phone. Even if Ouya developers start making games geared towards the system’s strengths as a console—lengthier, more robust experiences—is there even demand for that? I really am not sure what to make of this; but at least it’s really cheap. Maybe the Ouya can serve as a transitional point for graduating midcore gamers (Ed. Note: yes, that’s a word now… I had to look it up) who mostly play cheap smartphone/tablet/browser games? Or, perhaps it can be your kid’s “first console,” if only to kick them off your tablets? I don’t know; at the very least it’s dirt-cheap compared to one of the “big three” consoles.
For now, I would suggest holding on to your $99, wait and see how many developers support the platform. The current content lineup isn’t that compelling and again, most of these games can be bought on your Android-powered gadgets anyway. Until Ouya has some good, exclusive games that would help them move units, there’s really no point in getting it right now.