Jul 31, 2013
Ever since the Ouya was announced, it has been a lightning-rod. Not only was it one of the biggest Kickstarter projects ever, it has also served as the flagship for the “unconsole” movement. But now that it’s a real product, the question remains: is this thing actually any good?
Once everything is plugged in and set up, Ouya very easy to use. The power button on the Ouya itself or on the controller is used to turn the system on. It’s simple to launch apps, quick to quit back to the menu by double-tapping the menu button on the controller, and the whole interface is great for the 10-foot experience. There are moments where the stock Android UI is used instead, but it’s not a terrible experience.
It’s very easy to spend money on games too. When an IAP opportunity arises, it’s a simple confirmation dialog and optional security prompt to lock in a purchase. Of course, getting convinced to buy anything when there’s vast amounts of free stuff is a challenge of its own. Still, from a pure user experience, Ouya is successful. The only tricky thing is figuring out how to sideload apps, but hey – we wrote a guide on that.
This is a Tegra 3 Android device, and it performs about as well as one expects it to. So don’t expect games that look like even current-generation console titles, but don’t expect completely ugly experiences either. Thanks to multitasking being disabled by default, the experience does feel a lot more stable than the Nexus 7 does when playing games.
The wi-fi has been mentioned as an issue by others, possibly because of the system’s case, though I didn’t have an issue with connectivity. Then again, my Ouya is near my router anyway, so it wasn’t a big problem. There is ethernet connectivity for those who need that instead.
There’s a full-size USB port for connecting either wired Xbox or PS3 controllers, and a micro-USB for connecting the Ouya as a storage device. Video output for the Ouya is done solely through HDMI. The whole package is rather small, thanks to the cubic design.
The selection is missing a lot of the elite titles that have released on Android over the last few years, but there’s some solid titles and some good exclusives. It’s hard to say that Ouya owners won’t find plenty of ways to be entertained.
While most of the games are mobile conversions, even games like Nimble Quest brought to the platform actually are a good fit for sitting back in a chair or on a couch wih a controller and playing for a while. That, and physical controls actually work really well for some of these games. They’re just as fun on a TV as they are on a touchscreen.
Long-term, it will be interesting to see how the library stacks up. Early on, developers don’t seem to have good things to say about the conversion rates on free downloads, because ev erything is free to download. For Ouya owners, this is great because it’s very easy to see a game that looks interesting, and to give it a spin. The problem is that because there’s so much to sample, there’s not a lot of reason to spend a lot of money on full games. Plus, developers who are releasing outright free games aren’t helping either. It’s easy to get enough entertainment to justify the $99 purchase without spending much more beyond that.
And really, that’s the problem – if developers have no reason to push Ouya development beyond “eh, this might be interesting enough to put out there just becuase” then the library will be constantly deficient, and the system will remain nothing more than an affordable curiosity. That, or an emulation machine, which Ouya is not shying away from – multiple emulators are featured on the store. I suppose sideloading of emulators was something people were going to do eventually, but their featured place on the store is a questionable decision.
Of coure, the platform as a whole might be helped if perhaps it gains steam initially as a cheap emulation box, then the influx of new users to the platform will help propel developers to financial success solely through massive user numbers. Otherwise, expect most games to go the pure free-to-play route with IAP as opposed to a freemium unlock situation, solely because it will be a challenge to make money through any other method. That’s what worries me about the Ouya’s long-term viability more than anything else.
The controller is kind of weird. It starts with putting the batteries in, which strangely involve pulling the faceplates off of the controller and sticking a battery in each side. The joysticks are rubberized like the Playstation 3 controller’s joysticks, but without the rounded top. The d-pad feels a bit loose, but otherwise does the job well. The shoulder button positioning is a bit odd and cramped a bit, but it’s not exactly a problem.
The use of a single start/menu button is weird, but doesn’t cause many problems beyond just being an unusual choice. The trackpad in the center works well enough for whenever it’s necessary. The button layout is odd because “O” is where “A” on the Xbox 360 controller is, and while the color-coding is identical, “O” has historically been cancel on Playstation systems, so there’s a mental disconnect that won’t quite go away.
All in all, it’s a combination that individually feels worse than it actually is, which is to say that it’s a controller largely without many problems in terms of pure usability. Some games suffer from some annoying input lag (Super Crate Box in particular) but this seems more like a software problem than a hardware one.
The ability to use Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 controllers (in certain games, at least) is a very welcome inclusion.
And really, I think the Ouya’s controller experience is indicative of the experience of the console in general: there’s a lot of little things that are off, but it overall works. It’s definitely imperfect, but it’s really neat.
But of course, that’s what the buyer of an Ouya has to tell themselves: this is as much about satisfying a curiousity about the unconsole market rather than buying into a fully-formed and completely viable platform. It’s about buying in to the idea as much as the execution, because I think the execution of the Ouya is still being written.
So, if the Ouya sounds interesting, hey, it’s $99, so it’s not a terrible impulse buy. While there will be other options, including the $20 cheaper Game Stick, I think that is the most-likely survivor unless Google comes out with their unconsole as rumored, or if Apple jumps in to the market. Just beware: this is still a work in progress. But there’s enough going for the Ouya to be hopeful for the future.