OUYA? The Little Console That Could – Maybe

If you’re like me, you’d never heard of OUYA until last week when the cops were called to the convention to settle a dispute over the legality of OUYA showing up outside of the convention hall and offering their own booths. The publicity did nothing but excite folks about OUYA and give it a ton more press than it would have otherwise received. Go competition!

So, what is OUYA and why all the fuss?

Hands-on with the Ouya destined for store shelves

Eurogamer.net offers an extensive review of the OUYA. Below are a few excerpts of their review.

Kickstarted to the tune of $8.5 million, the Ouya console is one of crowdfunding’s high-profile success stories. Depending on who you listen to, it’s also the system to pull the rug from beneath Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo and forever shake up the video game industry as we know it. It liberates players, empowers developers and creates a brave new world for interactive entertainment – or so we’re told, at least. The hyperbole that has been written about Ouya would make the most seasoned spin doctor blush, but before you allow yourself to become too swept up in the hype, it’s worth remembering that when all is said and done, Ouya is just Android in a set-top box – and we’ve already spoken about how potentially disappointing that particular reality could be.

In purely physical terms, Ouya is small. The first thing likely to strike you when you open the packaging and remove the touching “Thank You” note inserted by the team behind the console is just how diminutive the system is. Compared to traditional gaming hardware, it’s absolutely tiny, although at 300 grams it has a heft which makes it feel solid and expensive. Béhar’s design is destined to divide opinion: the minimalist appearance ensures it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb when placed next to your Blu-ray player and surround system, but a little more pizazz wouldn’t have gone amiss. Still, there’s a subtle, almost understated beauty to the machine, thanks to its glossy black top and sand-blasted aluminium casing. Around the back, you’ll find an array of ports and outputs. HDMI, USB, Micro USB, Ethernet and power cables all dock here.

Essentially an Android device without a screen, Ouya is based around Nvidia’s ageing Tegra 3 chipset, featuring a 1.7GHz quad-core CPU and GeForce graphics processor, encased in a small, fan-cooled cube-like package. Retailing for just £99/$99, it’s cheaper than your average entry-level Android handset, but lacks the same app and game support offered by other Android devices.

The controller is powered by two AA batteries, fitted behind metal panels which clip onto the main body of the pad via a set of magnets. The interface arrangement mimics that of the Xbox 360 controller, with the left-hand analogue stick raised slightly higher than the right-hand one in order to accommodate an eight-way digital pad. The face buttons adopt the now-standard diamond layout, and across the top there are four shoulder buttons – none of which offer analogue control, which could limit the machine’s suitability for hardcore racing simulators and FPS titles. The middle of the controller has a small capacitive touchpad which acts as a mouse pointer and can be used to negotiate certain menus, but it’s awkward to use and rarely provides the degree of accuracy you desire. Finally, there’s the Ouya button, which can be held down to jump back to the main menu from any point. It’s worth noting that by default, the Ouya is designed to run one application at a time – exiting back to the main menu will terminate the current game, so saving your progress is vital.

The Ouya pad’s design certainly isn’t unappealing, and it’s comfortable to use. There are some minor niggles to contend with, however. The “O” button sticks slightly when pressed down hard, and while the analogue stick dead zone issues are mostly resolved, the sticks themselves are still rather heavy to use, making precise aiming rather a chore.

Because it’s an Android device, adding peripherals to Ouya is blissfully easy. Bluetooth keyboards and mice can be paired with little fuss, making it much easier to input text and navigate menus. Additional Bluetooth gamepads can also be linked to the system, such as the official OnLive pad. OnLive is partnering with Ouya for the official launch, and while the unit we reviewed didn’t have the app pre-installed (it’s also absent from the Ouya store), we were able to sideload it onto the system and jump into a game of Batman: Arkham Asylum with the minimum of effort. By adding a USB hub, keyboard and mouse functionality is easily added and it’s here that Ouya surprises as a pretty neat little browsing device – a world away from the world of hardship, endurance and woe encountered when using the Raspberry Pi.

The console’s online store offers a selection of games, all of which are free to download and play, thanks to the manufacturer’s stipulation that all Ouya content offers gratis demos or free-to-play elements. For example, endless-runner Canabalt HD has a credit system which is renewed each day, with additional credits awarded for reaching 5000 metres in-game. Paying cash for the full version removes this limitation, as well as offering other bonuses, such as a different soundtrack and “classic” 2D visuals. It’s a mechanic which means you can jump straight into the action and decide for yourself if a game is worthy of your cash, but there are issues here, too. There’s no indication on the store listing page of how much each game costs – you only become notified at the point of purchase within the game itself. This is partly down to the fact that many of the games don’t expect you to shell out for the full version once you’ve sampled the demo, because you’re already playing the full version, and are expected to throw money at in-app purchases which grant more credit, items or time.

So, generally good stuff. Unfortunately, while the OUYA offers an extremely accessible entry fee of $99 and has solid Kidstarter funding and some positive press, I believe there are two major issues ahead for the OUYA.

First, it’s already got less than half the processing power of smartphones launched earlier this year. Phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the HTC One have a ton more processing power than the OUYA. A 1GHz processor is so…2011. A console has to launch with enough power to play the latest games and give developers reason to continue launching games on your platform. I think the OUYA is already struggling in this regard.

Second, consoles need incredible games to convince players they “need it”. While OUYA boasts support for 150 games (it dinged up from 149 earlier today), are any of those games individually reason enough to buy an OUYA? Here’s the official list of games supported by OUYA. However, given it’s an Android OS, that does mean OUYA can run regular smartphone apps, streaming, etc.

All that 1080p goodness isn’t just for gaming. OUYA brings all your favorite apps to the big screen, streaming shows, movies, and music directly into the living room. We’ve already partnered with Twitch.tv, Crunchyroll, iheartradio, TuneIn, XBMC, Plex and Flixster and are adding more to our list daily.

Unfortunately, without a HALO or Mario or The Last Of Us or real support from the major gaming studios, I don’t have a ton of confidence in the OUYA’s success. According to OUYAGamingSource.com, the best games at launch will be The Ball, Saturday Morning RPG, and Polarity, none of which really excite me. Just one of the blockbuster titles or franchises could mean a world of difference for OUYA.

That said, it’s not really all doom and gloom. Engadget’s hands-on last week left them with this:

Our latest experience with the Android-based gaming device has us feeling optimistic. While there’s certainly work left to be done, not the least of which is convincing consumers this is the console they need, it’s obvious that the company is taking customer feedback seriously. And that’s not something most companies can brag about.

What do you think? Are you looking to drop $99 just to investigate the hype? Is the low cost of entry something that makes OUYA more appealing? I’ve always been a fan of competition and usually root for the underdog. I think the concept is great, but to get me to drop off my PC gaming, I need more incentive. I’m definitely interested in how OUYA’s launch goes on June 25th. You can pre-order yours here.

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