I’m going start off my OUYA review by telling you it is a much anticipated open source Android gaming console. It started as a Kickstarter project and quickly broke their goal of $950,000. Ending their run with $8,596,474 in the bank, they took off running. However, does the final product hold up to their high ambitions?
I would like to bust the myth that the OUYA only brings mobile games to the TV. This is simply not true. While a lot of the games do contain that mobile (Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies) feel, mostly all of the ports for the console have been redone in HD or are new console exclusives to the OUYA. With that in mind it’s hard to believe that this can even remotely be a contender to the big three. I personally don’t think it stands a chance…but I love it!
While that last statement may have you a little worried lets first break down the console and get the review on its way.
This is clearly the best part of new consoles. Breaking out a fresh piece of hardware to stack next to my collection provides me an emotion that can be filled by none other. Quite honestly though there is not much to stack with the OUYA. It is extremely small. I would compare it to the size of a baseball. This is one of the best parts though. I’ll expand on it later, but being small and portable is something consoles have not been for years. Lets take a look at the actual console first.
This is a shot from the front the OUYA. The silver part of the console is aluminum. I was seriously surprised with the quality of this little guy. It feels durable and has a good weight to it. The weight was an initial worry of mine. In some cases the weight of cables alone can be over bearing to smaller devices. They combated this issue by literally chucking metal bars into the bottom of the thing. Still though, I’m glad they’re there.
Here’s the bottom of the OUYA. You’ll notice that the ventilation is actually on the bottom of the console…WHAT THE HELL! Didn’t anyone tell these guys that heat rises? This is my first gripe with this console. Generally smaller mobile chipsets do not put off much heat, and the OUYA is equipped with a heatsink and fan to help. However, it just doesn’t make sense if the fan is recycling the heat it is trying to get rid of.
Now we are at the gadget porn portion. Hopefully you are not too turned on. There are only so many holes to stick things in… Up top you have the power jack, followed by a micro usb port and an Ethernet 10/100 jack. Finally your HDMI, which is the only video outlet, and a standard USB 2.0 port. The USB port is actually pretty cool to have. You can use it for simple applications like storage expansion and I’ve even seen people hook up wired Xbox 360 controllers to play as well.
To get a look under the hood all you have to do is unscrew four T9 screws and pop the top. The fact that OUYA is branded as an open source console is fantastic. I love that the OUYA team actually encourages you to take a look inside. From the pictures above you can see the main board. To demonstrate how user friendly and repairable this thing is the motherboard isn’t even tied down to the box. It slides into place with ease.
In case you are wondering what kind of punch the OUYA can pack it currently boasts a multi-core Tegra 3 processor, with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of on board storage. As mentioned before, the USB 2.0 port is universal so if 8GB on board is not enough you can use this port with an external hdd or a jump drive to expand your collection. If I was to add anything down the line I would think an SD card slot would be a sweet deal, and free up the USB for something else. Moving on, it is also bundled with Wifi, and Bluetooth 4.0 for controllers and connecting accessories. For such a small device it is pretty feature heavy, especially considering it is only sporting a $100 price tag. Now lets check out how you control the damn thing.
Anyone who has actually talked to me about game consoles would find that I’m obsessive over controllers. Nothing beats a perfectly contoured controller. You can even check out an earlier article I wrote about the evolution of the Playstation controller here. Earlier this month at E3 I was actually able to play on both the Xbox One and the PS4, and I must say the OUYA cannot compare, in a bad way. While it is not the most dreadful thing in the world, and it is some good eye candy. I find the way the controller grips fit into my hands to be uncomfortable. Now, I’ll still play using this controller, but it can’t help but stand out in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I may be the 1% in this realm. I tested it with three other people in the office and all of them seemed to like it. Maybe I’m just a grumpy bastard who likes to complain…but seriously I’m a grumpy bastard who likes to complain.
The grips aside everything else is awesome. The D-pad is a real D-pad and feels cushioned in its movement. Despite having to learn all the new button names and their locations the face buttons are nice and clicky. Even the thumb-sticks have a nice feel too them, but its strange to me that they are flat. It’s not a bad thing, or uncomfortable, I just haven’t seen it done before. You have a little OUYA button in the bottom center of the face that is used in the same fashion as a “Home” button. Holding this will take you back to the systems Home screen. The Triggers are a little too big and bulky for my taste, but they work. The little cherry on top to all of this is the touch-pad dead center of the controller. The moment you touch it a little cursor comes on screen. Essentially you can use it as a mouse in the Android interface, and double tap to click. It’s a nifty little addon that is a nice touch, and responds quite well. Although a majority of the time I felt it unnecessary for any real navigation purposes.
You take a look around back and you can see it is completely smooth. No protruding battery packs to get in the way of your fingers. I would like to note though that the soft touch black matte material used to cover the non metallic surfaces of the controller are finger print magnets. I wash my hands quite a lot but it still seemed to pick up the natural oils on my skin.
You can see the battery compartment is intuitively designed and integrated into the controller grips. The front controller panels are magnetic and rest on the front of the controller without having to snap into place. This is another example of how intelligently designed this console is. It really feels like the team designing this console had free roam, and was not limited to their creativity. Also, the batteries are included which it totally win. No need to pull some double A’s out of a remote somewhere. I do however wish there was a Lithium Ion iteration that was rechargeable to help eliminate the cost of having to run through consumables.
Another thing I would have liked to see was an expansion port on the controller. While I’m sure it is not a must, it would provide the possibility of a chat pad for a keyboard. At the very least it would future proof it a little bit. I would have loved to have seen what kind of accessories the talented designers over at OUYA could have come up with.
Plain and simple, the OUYA runs Android as apart of their open source initiative. Take is as you will since I know some people jump for joy at the mention of Android while others back away. That being said, almost none of the software resembles the OS. It has an extremely simple layout, and you can navigate with ease. To put in in perspective the main menu only has four options. One of which will not be used unless you are a developer. So, there are essentially three options in total.
On top of the simplicity aspect it is also insanely fast. Almost none of the OUYA experience contains load times unless integrated into a game, and in that case it is up to the developer. I can’t tell you how nice it is to press a button and instantly be in the store browsing game, or jumping back to the main menu to play them right after. To show you a little of what I’m talking about I’m now going to break it down.
Here’s the start-up screen mentioned before with it’s straight forward menu options. It’s clean and straight to the point. You will be hitting this menu a lot transitioning between apps and games. When holding the OUYA button on the controller it immediately throws you back to this screen.
The Play option takes you to your own personal queue of games. Whenever something is selected to download from the store it shows up here. However, I did have some issues with it refreshing my list, and since there is no refresh button I had to end up restarting my OUYA every time to see the updated list. With that being said I still think it is an elegant interface, and it automatically moves your most often played games to the front so you don’t constantly have to search through your list.
The Discover menu lists all the games and applications currently available on the OUYA. It is essentially the store front, and reminds me a lot of the PS3′s Netflix interface. Either way, I found it a little daunting to find new games. As you can see in the picture above it lists other peoples playlist; like I would remotely care what someone I don’t know plays. It really baffles me why they decided to go this route. If you scroll down further you will finally come across a Genre menu where you can start to break down what type of game you want. Again, there is no reason for this to be buried in the store. In fact, it should be the very first thing to look at. With time these things are updated so I’m hoping for a more intuitive store, but right now I find it a pain to look for anything.
The Make menu is the developer hub. It allows you to test and upload the current build of your game/application. I love that they throw a little warning to deter none technical people from poking around with the OUYA. I personally did not do much with this section considering I really have nothing to contribute. However, it is to my knowledge that this is where you would upload 3rd party apps that are not currently on the OUYA store. For more information on OUYA development, or if you want to download the OUYA Development Kit check out their site here.
Finally we have the System menu which is pretty self explanatory. Here you will manage system updates, Bluetooth and WiFi, and other video related settings. You’ll notice that there is a Factory Reset option which is amazing! I don’t think you see this enough in consoles nowadays, and it secures your information from being compromised if you are planning on ever selling the thing.
The advanced system menu is where the Android roots start to show. You can manage all of your console settings, but most importantly this is where you manage your application storage. The applications menu looks just as it does on my phone. Either way its not the best looking menu, and feels a little out of place with the rest of the OS looking so “pretty” but its not atrocious either.
That’s quite honestly it from the Operating System perspective. They kept everything insanely simple and straight to the point. Despite the store front being a little funky, this is still pretty damn slick. To top it off the speed of navigation is mind blowing, and while I see it being even better on the PS4 and Xbox One I still think this is the fastest out there for the time being. Keep in mind though this is just Android and there is nothing super tasking on a processor like this.
Clearly the most important part of a new gaming console is games, and unfortunately I think this is where things take a turn for the worse. While I was excited to play the backlogged Android games I had purchased on my phone now on the big screen, I was quickly halted. Even though the OUYA is running Android its store has no direct tie to the Google Play store. To recap:
Can I play my OUYA games on other Android Devices?
Not at this time.
Can I play Android games purchased from Google Play on OUYA?
To some this may be a deal breaker. I know some people who have invested literally hundreds of dollars in Android apps, and with those being inaccessible on your OUYA seems a little insane. I’m sure it could be done by “side loading” the application, but the time and effort involved almost seems not worth it.
Knowing that, the policies enforced by OUYA are great. They have made an effort to promote that all games on OUYA are free to try. Now whether that means there is a time limit introduced, or a free demo, or even free-to-play is up to the developer, but it has to be free to try. Hell, I even saw someone introduce a pay what you feel scheme into their game. I must say I’m loving this! The moment I booted up my OUYA for the first time I went to the store and downloaded nearly 20 games without paying a cent. Despite the store being confusing to navigate it is amazing to know that I can try all of the games once downloaded without taking a blind leap on quality. I’ll give you a quick breakdown on some of the games I played.
Gunslugs reminds me of an 8-bit Metal Slug/Contra. Its a quick, easy to pickup platforming shooter with a wonderful soundtrack. However, it seems that there is little depth and a pretty repetitive run and gun. You can unlock new characters, guns, and worlds. But, they seemed to have little or no benefit other than a new skin. It held my attention for awhile, but I see little replay-ability, and only single player.
Another demoed game that stood out to me was Grave Stompers. What I was looking for was a full 3d game that hopefully broke the bounds between mobile and home games. This game was not it. It’s close to a twin stick shooter where you fend off wave after wave of monsters. Let me make one thing clear, this looks and plays just like you think a full 3d Android game would. Currently it’s very sluggish, and slow moving. It seriously feels like someone ported their game over really quick in order to get something on the store before launch.
This is my biggest worry with the OUYA. They have to make it clear to developers their game does not have to look and play like it was meant to be played on a cell phone. I’m hoping in time developers to learn to grow and utilize the hardware a little better. I played two Unity engine games and both were extremely choppy and slow to play; which is not good for a first person shooter or an open world rpg. It only worries me that when I went to look up Hawken’s launch date on OUYA only to find this. I fear that as much as OUYA wants you to believe this is much more than a mobile gaming machine, that the hardware is just not there to support it’s big dreams.
I would like to say that there are games that do truly combat this belief though. Some of which are Shadowgun, a 3rd person Gears of War style shooter, and Bombsquad, a crazy 8 player Bomberman blow em’ up style game which will be reviewed at a later date.
At the time of OUYA’s launch the apps section of the store is pretty slim pickings. I believe in total there were six applications, with Plex and Twitch being some of the more notable ones. Really what bugs me the most is the lack of Netflix and Hulu. In this day and age everything and my toaster runs Netflix, and it feels like a huge missed opportunity to include these at launch considering Netflix is already on Android devices elsewhere. I have seen people who have side loaded these applications onto the OUYA. But, they were god awfully slow, and had terrible streaming quality. For those of you home media streamers out there OUYA also partnered with XBMC, and while the install may not be as easy as downloading from the OUYA store the option is still there for you to mess with.
The Twitch app is plain and simple Twitch. Looks like a direct port of the Android Twitch app. Keeps all the games and categories in a simple format, and rendered game play footage quickly. I switched around and watched a couple of games for Starcraft 2 and Quake. The best part is it works.
Like most, this was one of the areas that peaked my interest. With this being natively integrated into the OUYA store they are almost a no-brainer to download. For this review I’m going to specifically cover my experience with Gsnes. However, they already have emulators spanning from the PS1 to NEO GEO.
The beauty of Gsnes is that it auto-detects your roms, and downloads the associated cover art. This lets you essentially have a Netflix of retro games. The only reason the games are doubled in the screenshot above was due to my own idiocy. Either way, its the best looking emulator interface I’ve seen to date.
*Before anyone goes apeshit-nanners about how I support pirating games just take note that I own physical copies of all the games shown above*
Yoshi’s Island looked better than ever. Even stretched in 16×9 held up to my standards. Gsnes is also equipped with the standard laundry list of emulator features. Mind you, to unlock loading states you must have the “purchased” version of the emulator. The OUYA controls were natively optimized for the emulator and worked flawlessly. I did not notice any significant latency timing issues.
I believe emulators in a lot of ways could be the saving grace to the OUYA. It’s important to note that sometimes the classic catalog can outweigh the current; which in this case is very true. I’ve thought about it on many occasions to pack up my older consoles as collectors items, and make the OUYA into the retro workhorse it can be. Will it ever be exactly the same? Of course not, but its damn well close. It packs in more functionality than my actual consoles contain.
Whew! Time to get down to brass tax…
What’s in the Box?
- OUYA Console
- One OUYA Controller (batteries included)
- 3 foot HDMI cable (3ft = useless)
- Power cable
The OUYA is priced at a solid $99 with an extra controller running you $50. You can’t get much better than that folks. The only thing comparable to that, which is coming out in August, is the Game Stick. It is a similar all in one Android device priced at $79 with similar specs on board, but what looks like an unsatisfying controller. If you do end up going with the OUYA do yourself a favor and get yourself a longer HDMI cable. The 6 footer one run a couple of bucks on Amazon.
- Great Build Quality – Both the controller and the OUYA itself feel and look great.
- Open Source – Love the flexibility of the console. Being able to use emulators and sync other 3rd party controllers is great for a console.
- Optimization – The speed of the OS (Android) is great, and no glitches in the system so far
- Freedom! – All games a free to try to some extent. This is an amazing feeling to have, and being able to try out any game before a purchase is one of the best policies to grace a console to date.
- Emulators – This has the potential to be an emulator powerhouse, allowing you for an insane library of games, all in a tiny amount of space
- Lack Of Apps – Missing apps like Netflix and Hulu eliminate this from taking over my living room entertainment center.
- Open Source – Just as this is a pro, it can just as easily be a con. It gives the opportunity for a lot of crap to make it through the door, and a lot of crap is currently chilling on my living room couch, eating the food out of my fridge, and sleeping on my bed.
- Mobile games on a home console – I would almost go the length of saying that nearly 9 out of 10 games on the store look to be a mobile port, which is no bueno.
- OUYA Store – It’s a disorganized mismatched mess. Impossible to find new things, I hate it!
- Developer Backing – Honestly, when the OUYA was announced everyone and their mother was on board, but when I see things like Hawken having to move away due to hardware limitations and Square Enix only releasing a $15 port of Final Fantasy 3 I can’t help but be worried.
It was insanely hard for me to review the OUYA. As much as I like it, I hate it. Everything seems to balance out at the end, but it makes me wonder if in the long run the OUYA will be a fart in the wind. Where there’s emulators, it lacks Netflix. Where’s there one great game, there’s ten crappy ones to follow. I can’t help but feel that the hardware is OUYA’s greatest limiting factor. Which could make it destined to be a mobile port machine for the rest of it’s life. It is quite the conundrum. Also if you weren’t able to tell, I wrote this review over the past week piece by piece, and I decided to keep in my own conflicting opinions. Sort of an evolving outlook on the OUYA.
Constantly throughout this review I felt two things:
1) My dad is constantly trying to hook up his ipad to his TV to play the next Angry Birds, and that this would be perfect for him especially with all the free demos.
2) For $99 bucks you get a hell of a lot. Parents not wanting to invest in the big three would have to be an idiot to not pick one of these up for their kids.
For all the reasons listed in my OUYA Review I have to give the OUYA a 7/10. It’s just not all there yet, and is constantly losing time to catch up with next-gen around the corner. I’m afraid the OUYA will be the PSPGO of the home console. The OUYA is the hero video games deserve, but not the one it needs right now.
For more information on the OUYA you can check out there site here.