OUYA Console Review

The OUYA. Currently one of the most polarizing topics in the gaming industry, the Ouya strives to end the idea that you need to spent $400-500 on a console and $60 on a game to have fun. That’s what they've been telling consumers, but they also have a plan for developers. Developers have a free, open platform to build games using the Open Development Kit, which is powered by its own version of the Android operation system.

One of Ouya’s biggest criticisms is in the OS itself, claiming that it’s just a smart phone for your TV, and though it does have similarities, particularly in the options menu, it is much more powerful than people give it credit for. Unfortunately, since the ODK has only been out for a few months, and is mostly being used by independent developers, smart-phone quality games are all that you’ll find on the console’s online store right now (but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun!).

The Ouya also caters to those who just like to tinker around, and are never satisfied with what comes with a console. These are the people who jail-break cell phones, and this console has a lot to offer for them. Opening the console’s cover doesn’t void the warranty, as a matter of fact, they welcome changing what’s inside. Everything is mod-able, and while we haven’t seen everything that can be accomplished by heavy modding, it's an exciting prospect.

On top of that, the Ouya is rootable, allowing full access to everything on the console’s operating system, allowing you to use your console for whatever you would like (phones typically cannot be rooted without voiding your warranty, preventing certain apps and the OS itself from being deleted or modded).

Now, back to the games.

As we mentioned, this tiny little console has been polarizing, dividing those who believe in the Ouya, and those who don’t. Those who don’t are also divided between groups that want one, but only after two or three upgrades, and those who are fine with paying for their big-budget $60 games and don’t want anything that could upset the current system.

Those who are for the Ouya have a surprising amount to love, first with the price, at roughly $100 for the console, and with each game being free-to-play (to an extent). This typically means that you get a playable demo with 1 or 2 levels, and for $3, you can upgrade to the full version, or, in the case of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy III, $16 (which is likely the most costly game or app on the store right now).

Apps currently range from internet radio players to classic console emulators. These emulators do not come with any games/ROM, because it is illegal to have possession of a ROM if you do not own the game and haven’t obtained the file from the game’s BIOS itself, but that hasn’t stopped many people from re-living classic games from their childhood (stay tuned here at BWP for a list of our top OUYA games so far).

The controller, which was built from the ground up, resembles the Xbox controller than the PS3, due to the positioning of the analog sticks and the shape of the D-pad, but the face buttons behave more like Sony’s dualshock controller. The face plates are divided into three portions: the middle which has the Ouya button and a touch pad, and the left and right plates are removable/customizable and hide the batteries in (which are included with the controller, but are not rechargeable).

The grips of the controller are rounded at the end, but not in a way that shapes to hands well. The shoulder buttons and triggers feel clumsy due to how smooth they are and have only a small gap between them, making it easy to press the wrong button. The overall weight of the controller is very heavy, even without batteries, preventing it from being comfortable to hold for even an hour of gameplay.

The biggest criticism lies in the face and analog stick buttons. While they are much more responsive than the D-pad, they have an awful habit of sticking to the underside of the face plates, requiring some wiggling of the buttons, or in extreme circumstances, removing the face plate, just to have the button pop back up. The buttons and sticks are very stiff, but that’s likely due to how new they are, but they are noticeably stiffer than new Xbox and Playstation controllers.

With pairing issues (highlighted in the next paragraph), and many instances of the analog sticks getting “stuck”, making control of the character impossible, it didn’t take long before a PS3 dualshock became the primary controller, rather than the Ouya controller (this can be done by connecting it to an Ouya via the USB port and hitting the PS button, and can be done with Xbox controllers as well).

The console’s interface is very simple, but surprisingly nice for what amounts to more-or-less of an indie device. It’s very easy to find what you need, and games that you want to play, with various categories highlighting popular or highly-rated games and genre-specific games. With an internet connection that struggles on other online stores, we found that we can download Ouya games very quickly, and not just due to a smaller file-size for these games and apps.

That said, the internet disconnected twice during operation of the Ouya, and at no point was this made known via notifications until trying to use an online feature. It's not a huge problem, but it's definitely annoying. At one point, the controller would not pair with the console, and since there's no cord to connect it to the console, it became a huge headache to re-pair the controller, especially due to the lack of help topics on Ouya’s support site for this issue. Eventually, the console had to be reset to factory configuration to be able to use the controller, with navigation of the menus being done by connecting a PS3 dualshock to the Ouya.

So far, we have a small gaming console with a gigantic amount of potential that it hasn’t come close to achieving: suffering from poor controller design, a lack of high-quality games due to the short amount of time that the development kit has been available, and a lack of power inside the console. That said, we haven’t seen everything it can do, and we haven't seen what a stellar, blockbuster Ouya title looks or plays like.

It would have been nice for them to have been able to research and develop the console longer, and to create more partnerships with other larger developers (like the one they have with Square Enix) would have not only helped the launch, but the overall success over a longer period of time. There is fun to be had on the Ouya, especially at only $100.

Will the Ouya Inc. team be able to capitalize on initial success (with consoles selling out at Target and other stores around the world) by introducing more exclusive features? Will it be able to remain relevancy when the PS4 and Xbox One hit the market? And will the Ouya’s devoted group of supporters and game developers be able to realize the full potential of the console’s power and create experiences worthy of separating it from being just a TV-based smart phone?

They only truly have until October or November to prove that what is included with their $100 price tag is enough to discourage people from spending $400-500 for one of the bigger consoles, because being the alternative for those who can’t afford a PS4 or Xbox One will not pay off for long, making it likely that we may only see one of their promised yearly hardware upgrades.

At this point, we can tell you that if you enjoy indie and mobile games, you will get a few hours of fun out of the Ouya, but we also highly recommend using a different controller than the one that comes in the box for longer periods of play, and, if you’re not entirely sure about getting one, to wait until the next one or two upgrades are released, or at least wait until a few big titles are finally released.

Overall, we currently rate the Ouya at: 6.5 controller issues out of 10.

**(Please note that the quality and quantity of games did not have much of a heavy impact on the overall score of the console, as the several dozen games we played may not represent the entire 200+ catalog, the quality of the Ouya itself, or the long amount of time spent waiting for a Kickstarter Ouya console to arrive. The score more closely represents, on a scale of 1 to 10, how highly we believe this console and its accessories can currently be used to deliver a quality gaming experience. As for individual component ratings, our 'Graphics' rating represents our opinion of the interface of the console's menus and store, the 'Gameplay' rating represents how much we enjoyed the experience, and the 'Replayability' rating represents how often we returned to the console.)**

Comment 1
George Prax's picture

Disappointed with all the problems I'm hearing with the initial release, but the yearly hardware update are promising I think. But it's definitely discouraging me from getting one now, especially with my next gen preorders already in. I don't need to play phone games on my TV right now, to be honest.