When the OUYA was first announced and funded on Kickstarter, the Internet was positively buzzing over the possibilities for this tiny Android-based console. People talked about it as if the video game industry would come crashing to its very knees with the changes the OUYA would bring.
Kickstarter backers began receiving their consoles months ago, and early reports were less than positive. Now, the device has released to the masses, and sales seem to be going well for OUYA. However, is the retail build of the console any good? Will it shake the video game industry to its core, or is it just a device that sounds good on Kickstarter, only to disappoint? Keep reading the rest of the review to find out.
We are giving away an OUYA and an extra controller to one lucky winner, so keep reading to the bottom of the review to find out how you can get an OUYA without spending a penny!
Introducing the OUYA
So just what is the OUYA? To put it simply, it’s an Android-based home video game console. It hooks up to your TV just like a Xbox or PlayStation, but the backend of the system is a modified version of what you might find in your smartphone or tablet.
Using Android as the backend for the system has some benefits and some drawbacks, and we will get to those as the review goes forward. One thing I will say is that using Android and what is essentially smartphone hardware is what allowed the console to hit the market with a $100 price tag, which is obscenely cheap for a new video game system. Of course, an extra controller costs another $50, so the price will go up if you want to jump into some multiplayer games.
The OUYA exists in a weird space. Is it competing with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, or even more daunting, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4? With the kinds of games that exist on the OUYA, it seems more like it’s competing with the Wii, or even with an iPad or Android tablet. It’s also up against products like Roku, since it can also be used as a media center. Either way, it’s $99 price tag puts it right in a good spot, as it’s around the same price as a Roku player, and cheaper than any of the home video game consoles.
The OUYA comes packaged in a very slick looking box that was plenty easy to open. It includes a very short HDMI cable, the console itself, a single controller, and 2 AA batteries for the controller. The batteries are placed beneath the panels on the left and right of the controller. It took me a minute to figure it out, but the panels covering the battery spots are magnetic, so you simply pull them off.
As far as the console design itself goes, it’s a beautiful looking device. The little cube shape chosen by OUYA looks cool on an entertainment center, and even if you already have a full set of devices hooked up, the OUYA has such a small footprint that it can squeeze right in and make itself at home.
The OUYA comes with HDMI, USB, MicroUSB, and ethernet port connections on the back for hooking up and getting everything up and running. The connecting through ethernet is optional, as the device is equipped with Wi-Fi. All the ports fit nicely on a small panel on the back of the console.
Sadly, the first OUYA I received bricked within minutes of turning it on. During the update process, the console froze, eventually turned off, and never turned on again. I contacted OUYA support about the issue and did not receive a response until days later, but thankfully Amazon (where we purchased our OUYA) handled the exchange process and I had a new OUYA in only two days. Still, not exactly a great way to enjoy my first experience with the console.
An important part of any video game console is the technical specifications. After all, that is what determines the kind of power the games will have to work with. In terms of raw power, the Tegra 3 in the console does quite well for the OUYA, as it’s about as good as it gets in terms of pure power for portable devices. It also comes with 1 GB DDR3 RAM, and 8 GB of storage for downloading games and apps.
There are definitely some good things going for the OUYA, and I am not going to hold the first unit bricking against the console as a whole, as defects can happen. So let’s just jump right in and look at the things I like most the OUYA.
Good: The Console Itself
The OUYA is a really cool-looking little device. When I say little, I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. As I said previously, the small footprint makes it easy to put the OUYA almost anywhere. The gray color scheme allows the console to match in almost any room, which is certainly something that comes in handy.
The console features a single button, which is what turns it on. Once powered up, a “U” lights up on the top, which looks quite slick. The faint OUYA logo on the front is also a nice touch in terms of keeping the minimalist style going with the system.
Good: Games Are All Free To Try
When browsing the “Discover” section of OUYA to find new games, you can freely download anything without worrying about paying. Every single game on the service is equipped with some sort of demo or free-to-play option. This means one could conceivably spend the $100 on their OUYA and never spend another dime. For games that need to be purchased, it is all done within the game itself.
In addition to games being free to try, some games are just completely free. It’s tough to tell which games are free and which are trials from the OUYA store, but that’s not such a bad thing, as it allows you to just download games and see what suits your taste.
This also applies to apps like Twitch, which are also available free in the OUYA storefront. The non-gaming apps are lacking a bit as of writing, but more are on the way. We will get more into the apps featured on the OUYA later.
I am not a fan of emulating, as doing so without owning the game is piracy. However, I own a ton of classic games, so I will say emulating on the OUYA is actually quite good. It features emulators for most popular retro consoles like the SNES, NES, PC Engine, N64, and so on. Since the OUYA features a browser, ROMs can be downloaded from the console itself, which makes the process of getting new games to play even easier.
Most of the emulators are free, but for some, if you want advanced features like cheats and save states, you will have to pay. Still, even without them, being able to play your favorite classic games (that you legally own) is an awesome feature of the OUYA, and something that is not readily available on the other video game consoles on the market.
I should also mention that emulators are available right in the OUYA store, so there is no need for complicated side-loading to make it work. You simply download the emulator, load up your favorite ROM and have fun.
Good: Media Player
The OUYA actually makes for a pretty good media center. In many ways, it works just like a Roku, but with the ability to play video games. Apps like Twitch and Plex can be downloaded directly from the store, and most importantly, XBMC can be side-loaded onto the device. For directions on getting XBMC on OUYA, check out this article.
Since the OUYA has a USB port, you can hook a keyboard up to the device and control XBMC or any other media player that way. Of course, you can also use the OUYA controller and an on-screen keyboard for controlling these functions if you should so choose.
Like almost every aspect of the OUYA, the media center functions are not without problems. We will get to those when we start talking about the negatives of the console.
Good: Open Platform
The OUYA is wide open for you to do whatever you want with it. You can side-load pretty much anything onto the console, and provided it can handle a controller-based input method, there is nothing preventing you from using it. There is no need to go through complicated rooting processes, it just works like that right out of the box.
Not only is the software open, so is the hardware. The team at OUYA hides the internals behind just four hex screws. Of course, messing with the hardware in any way is something best saved for advanced users, but it’s nice to know the creators are okay with users digging in there and doing whatever they please with their console.
The OUYA also supports other controllers such as those for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. This might be the best thing the console does, because as we will get to very soon, the OUYA controller has some – let’s call it, issues.
Now that we looked at the things I like about the OUYA, it’s time to dive down to the dark places. The device has some problems, many of which are quite major. Don’t take these negatives as me saying I don’t like the OUYA, because it’s really not a terrible device, but it’s not necessary a good one either.
Bad: The Controller
In the Kickstarter campaign, OUYA describes its controller as “the Stradivarius of controllers.” I don’t know what kind of fake Stradivarius they were using, but this controller is more like the cheap violin you give your child when they are five years old and you know they are going to quit playing the instrument anyway.
To put it simply, the OUYA controller is bad. I know, bad is such a generic term, and it’s probably lost all meaning, but it’s the best word to describe it. The triggers are terrible, the joysticks are too stiff, and after an hour or so of gameplay, it actually makes my hand hurt. It looks like they just stole the design of the Xbox 360 controller, but did it poorly.
Like anything, if you use the OUYA controller enough you will grow to accept it, at least from a comfort standpoint. What you might never accept is the latency between pressing buttons and seeing the action happen. This doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it really kills any fun you were having with the gameplay experience.
Bad: Game Quality
The OUYA touts having hundreds of games available on the store, and while that is true enough, most of them are utter garbage. Far too many games I downloaded were just lazy ports of mobile games, which makes sense, as this is an Android console, but it would’ve been nice to see the developers put some effort in bringing games to the platform.
Of course, not all games are bad, for example, the FPS Shadowgun controls well, and looks fantastic. It’s clear the Tegra 3 is capable of some serious power, but far too few games actually use it to its potential.
Going further, most of the demos of games are far too short. I know they want you to buy their games, but the way OUYA sells it with all games being free-to-play is a little misleading when, in reality, some games only provide a few minutes of gameplay before the demo cuts off.
The OUYA’s interface is not the worst you will ever encounter, but it’s far from the best. It simply features four options on the main screen, each of which brings you to one of the console’s main functions. You can play games, discover new ones in the store, create games (which is actually where the browser and anything you side-load resides), and adjust the settings.
The problems I have with the interface stem from the way they put the browser in a section designed to create games and apps. Many users will not even visit this section, and as such, might not even know there is a web browser on the console. Speaking of the browser, it’s not a terribly good one.
The store is okay, but navigating it feels a little clunky, and the categories in the featured section at the top of the screen seem arbitrary to me. It has a search option, but without actually knowing what games are available on OUYA, it’s hard to know what to search for.
The apps in the Play section are not divided up in categories, so once you have a few games on your device, you will have to aimlessly scroll through them to find what you want. The most recently used ones appear first, but I think dividing it up, or at least sort alphabetically would be better.
When you get into the settings, you can see that OUYA developers just got lazy. It just brings you to the standard Android settings screen, which feels out of place with the rest of the console’s interface.
Bad: Missing Some Key Media Apps
While side-loading XBMC and downloading Plex and Twitch make the OUYA a decent media player, you will probably notice some big names are missing; that’s right, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are not there. Three of the most popular ways people consume video are missing, so it’s hard to call the OUYA any kind of a serious contender in the media player category until those are available for download. Rumor has it that official apps are coming soon, but that still leaves a lot of disappointed OUYA users for the time being.
In the end, the OUYA has potential. Yes, the controller is bad, but you can substitute another controller to solve that. Sure, most of the games on the platform are not good, but enough are that you can easily see that things could improve. It’s missing some media player apps, but the ones it has will get the job done.
As time goes on, it’s easy to see the OUYA improving, however, I am not looking at what the console might be like in a year, I am looking at it as it stands today, And with that in mind, I have a hard time recommending it.
How do I win the OUYA?
We have a new giveaway procedure in place, which will hopefully make participating much easier. You may enter using your Facebook credentials (which will require you to sign into Facebook) or by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning!
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This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, July 26th. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email.
Explore more about: MakeUseOf Giveaway.