OUYA Review

The Good

Manages to deliver on its lofty promise of a fun, indie-friendly game console at an affordable price. All games are free to try. There are some terrific local multiplayer games at launch, which is a great showcase for a surprising feature: OUYA supports controllers from other systems.

The Bad

The ratio of ported games to original games is much too high. Buttons were sticky in our experience -- this may or may not be resolved in the retail version. Emulators in the OUYA store left a bad taste in our mouth.

Despite everything you’re about to read, you should probably buy one.

I don’t know how I feel about OUYA. For most of you the console is only a day old, so this may seem excusable; but as a Kickstarter backer, I had a head start on the general public. My OUYA arrived a month ago, which should be more than enough time to form a solid opinion. And yet I’m having a hard time making my mind up. That in itself speaks volumes about OUYA.

Its announcement and subsequent Kickstarter debut in July 2012 presented the world with a beautiful, impossible thing. OUYA would be a living room gaming console no bigger than a Rubik’s Cube and no more expensive than a high-end toaster oven. It was a $99 Android-powered dream.

Despite a heaping helping of skepticism on whether or not any of this might be possible, the project soared passed its $950,000 target to become the most funded gaming project on Kickstarter to date. It took in a whopping $8.5 million. 10 months later, more or less on target, units started rolling out to Kickstarter backers (though some are still waiting, which is a story in and of itself). This week, the unit hit retail stores.

So after a month with OUYA, why am I having such a hard time forming an opinion?


Shovelware, ports, and a glimmer of genius

As a gaming console, OUYA is a device that will live and die by its games. When I first hooked up my OUYA a month before launch, there were more than 100 games available for download. But most of these were games I’d played before. God of Blades? Awesome, but played it. Knightmare Tower? Fun, but played it. Canabalt? Genre-creating genius… but played it four years ago.

Of the games that weren’t simply ports, the vast majority were absolute garbage. I know the entire spirit of OUYA is about embracing the indie community in a way that a normal console wouldn’t, but there has to be a line drawn in the sand. Curation is of vital importance – there should be a team that says “yes” or “no” to every potential game, but it seems that OUYA welcomes all comers. That’s very appealing in a way, but it’s also very much to its detriment.

Yet while my complaints above are certainly merited, great original games are present on OUYA and can’t be ignored. The day my console arrived I was enjoying No Brakes Valet and Deep Dungeons of Doom – both incredible little titles that you couldn’t find anywhere else at the time (though Deep Dungeons is now on iOS).

To support the system’s retail launch, a number of notable exclusives and big-name ports have hit OUYA this week. New games like TowerFall and MRS DAD vs KÖRV are awesome. If these are indicative of the sort of games we’ll be getting on a regular basis, OUYA could really turn out to be something amazing.

But this is just week one. What the future holds will have to unfold on its own.


Emulators are an open invitation for piracy

One of the things that may surprise you as you explore the OUYA storefront is that emulators run rampant. Everything from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo DS is represented – even old school computers like the Commodore 64 and MSX.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to pass judgment on people who play emulated games. Video games have a long, storied, and awesome history – and yes, the only way you’re ever going to play Air Raid (short of taking out a second mortgage) is through an emulator. Using emulators isn’t what I have a problem with – it’s OUYA choosing to make them available on their marketplace that kind of makes my skin crawl.

As a hardware manufacturer tentatively competing against the likes of Nintendo, promoting the use of emulators on their storefront is scuzzy at best, and litigiously suicidal at worst. The argument can (and no doubt, will) be made that emulators allow people to play homebrew titles that would otherwise be inaccessible. But let’s be frank – we all know what these are going to be used for, and it rhymes with Super Mario Bros. 3.

Android phones have been getting away with selling emulators for ages, which is no doubt why OUYA might have felt it was an ok move. But as a TV device I can’t help but feel that they’re courting trouble. There’s a company whose Virtual Console might be rendered useless if people can easily play pirated games on a $99 unit, and they seem like the suing type.

Of course, there’s an easy fix for this. If OUYA kills these from their store people can still install them via .APK, just like any Android app. They wouldn’t be promoting it (which really does feel scuzzy, OUYA), and people who want to use them just need to know where to look online. It’s a win/win.


The controller conundrum

Some of you may have read the early reports from Kickstarter backers about buttons that would get stuck in a controller. Even before those reports surfaced, I was hearing similar things from those who previewed the console at GDC this year. When I asked a former colleague how OUYA was, they responded “the button stuck when I was playing Canabalt.” A sticky button on a one-button game is a chuckle-worthy situation, but if not fixed, it could have epic ramifications.

So has it been fixed?  I honestly don’t know.

OUYA claims it has, but I’ve now had three OUYA controllers in my possession – two of which I received after they stated a fix had been implemented – and the “O” button has managed to stick on all of them.  It’s not a common occurrence, but it does happen.  It’s also worth noting that the first of those three controllers was DOA. It refused to power up right out of the box.

There’s a silver lining, though: there are other controllers that work with OUYA, and you almost definitely own at least one.

PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 controllers work with the OUYA (though not necessarily with every game). If you’re looking for some multiplayer fun, this is an absolute godsend. TowerFall and BombSquad are an absolute hoot with friends – in fact, I’d go so far as to argue that local multiplayer is OUYA’s greatest strength right now.


So should you buy one?

At $99 it would be impossible to advise against picking one up. Every game is free to try, and there are some great games on the system already that will make you feel like this is money well spent.  The local multiplayer makes OUYA a fun device to showcase to friends, and the quick-play nature of much of the system’s fare is a much better fit for your TV than you might think.

There are some frustrations to be had, and OUYA really needs to tighten up which games they showcase on the system – but these are all growing pains.  OUYA has managed to overcome similar annoyances in the month since I first laid hands on my console, and will no doubt continue to evolve as the days go on. I, for one, look forward to witnessing that evolution.

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