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Console Review: Ouya

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You should buy an Ouya (pronounced OOO-yah).  Really.  Not for today,487243_170677286400098_1256048618_n but for tomorrow, for next year, for when they work it out.  They haven’t worked it out yet as far as I can tell, but I think they’re going to and I think that when they do, it could be a great system.  You should buy one today though so that the Ouya can be around long enough to be great.

I think what the Ouya has currently is a chicken or the egg problem.  The system exists, and there are, according to Ouya’s website, 461 games currently available for it.  But the ratio of disappointing titles to good ones is inordinately high.  I think that once they’re able to get a big user base, the system will end up with more folks wanting to develop and port good titles to it and what we’ll end up with is a spectacular little console.  We don’t have that yet.

Backing up a moment, Ouya is a Kickstarter tale.  Their campaign ran on Kickstarter in the summer of 2012 and wound up with over 63,000 backers raising more than $8.5 million.  They had attempted to raise a mere $950,000.   The system they proposed to make—that they did make—is a small little box running a version of Android’s Jelly Bean operating system.  Today, $100 gets you an Ouya and a wireless controller.  The box itself sports an NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor, 1GB of Ram, and 5GB of internal storage.  It comes with a USB port so you can add more storage, connects to the internet via (included) wifi or an Ethernet port, and connects to your TV via an HDMI cable so you can play your games in gorgeous 1080p (gorgeous, depending on the game).

Games are downloaded via its own separate store (no taking games from Google Play or Amazon or wherever one gets Android titles) and they’re all free to try out.  If you like them, you buy them.  If you don’t, delete them, no harm, no foul.  Some titles are completely free.  And, anyone can make an Ouya title, all the tools you need are available to you, free.

It all sounds so utopian and brilliant, doesn’t it?   We are going to go out and make a cheap, decent console.  Games will be inexpensive but can look great, plus we’re allowing anyone to go out and make them.  You don’t need a $400 PS4, a $100 Ouya is enough.

Reality is sometimes different.

The base system here is fantastic.  It hooks up easily, it is easy to sign-up for an account, getting started is a breeze.  And, it is a beautiful little box with a miniscule footprint.  You may think you’re about to break the controller (because it feels kind of cheap) when you go to insert batteries, but you’re 558108_170677299733430_1841812941_nnot, it’s okay.  The problem is with the games and the store and the store’s organization (or lack thereof).

Free to try is brilliant, but you don’t know in advance how much the game will cost.  Imagine if you whipped out your phone (either iOS flavored, Android, or Windows) and you clicked on the store and there were no prices.  You know, looking at some of the apps, that they’re going to cost money, but until you download them and use them for a while, you’re not allowed to know how much money it will cost or how much you can actually see of the title before you’re locked out.

You can go to Ouya website and look up games and get ratings and info on them, but not the price.  Not the price.  Until you have spent the time downloading the game, you’re simply not allowed to know how much it will cost.  Is it $5?  Is it $10?  Is it $20?  $30?  $50?  Who knows!

I can’t come up with any other example of this sort of structure and for good reason – it’s obnoxious.  For a system that purports to be open and honest and where they’re happy if you take a screwdriver to the box and open it (you won’t void your warranty) and wants you to root it and where they want you to try out games before you buy, this seems rather duplicitous.

One way Ouya could eliminate this vague sense of being cheated is by having its store function well, but it doesn’t.  It is spectacular that anyone can go out and try to create a game for the Ouya.  I love that big developers have ported titles to it as well (Final Fantasy III and AvP Evolution are both available, more than one Sonic the Hedgehog title exists, eventually Minecraft may show up).  I love that there are over 400 games currently out there, but trying to sort through the mess of titles in the store is difficult now, imagine what it’ll be when there are 2,000 different games.  Maybe if they could be sorted by price or by developer or original/port/exclusive or something other than genre and trending it would be easier to navigate.

Again here, I can’t escape the feeling that it’s a slog on purpose.  That I’m being shown so many titles—so many of which appear mediocre before downloading and prove mediocre once downloaded—in order to convince me to download and try more and, eventually spend more money or simply to download to bolster the number of downloads the system experiences so as to convince more developers to make games for the system.

There are good games out there.  I think it’s a little ludicrous to have so many emulators for the system, and I certainly am not going pay $16 to play Final Fantasy III, but neither of those things are Ouya’s fault.

What I haven’t found is a hit, must-have, super-awesome, holy cow that’s the best 99 cents (or however much) I’ve ever spent in my whole life title.  And don’t think that Ouya doesn’t know it, they currently have a matching funds campaign.  It has been plagued with issues.

See, and that’s why you have to go out and buy an Ouya.  It is a great bit of hardware that needs some help with the software/presentation side of things.  If you buy an Ouya, more people will make bigger and better games for it.  I don’t know how one would port Where’s my Water to a non-touchscreen device, but I want to play it on my Ouya.  I want someone over there at the Ouya offices to be able to spend the time to create a better menu system that separates wheat from chaff.  I want to know what the cost of a game is before I play my free trial.

These are all things that Ouya can make happen and thereby really make their system competitive.  But you have to go out and get one so that they have the time and money to make it work.  If not, Sony may beat them.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • judge703

    I own an ouya and I would agree. All the right stuff is there we just need more developers and ports. Also pizza boy is the best game on there. Followed very closely by ittle dew. GO OUYA!!!!!