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OUYA Review: 28 Days Later

OUYA Review: 28 Days Later


A little over a year ago, the OUYA was launched on Kickstarter for a new type of gaming console built on Android – an open platform to revolutionize the gaming industry. It certainly sparked the imagination for a few and $8.5 million was raised. The initial goal was only $950,000 and things were looking bright for this little project though naysayers had their doubts since the beginning. After a slight delay, the Ouya received a final release date for retail sale. But that didn’t matter because, by then, backers would already have their own consoles and help herald this new revolution.

Things didn’t go as planned.

The retail release happened as planned and many places quickly sold out. However, by the time that happened, many backers were still waiting for their own mini-consoles they had backed a year earlier. I was one of those loyal backers and, in retrospect, I was one of the lucky ones. I got my OUYA almost a month ago which was about a week-and-a-half later then the retail release date. Initial reviews for the device were very mixed so when I got my package, I was both excited and a bit apprehensive.

The package I received was a bit plain… the console and controller came in a simple black box with batteries included. There wasn’t much as far as documentation was concerned but there was a large red insert with “Thank You For Believing” written upon it. It also came with a power adaptor and HDMI cable. Opening up the box revealed the tiny console – essentially a cube measuring 3 inches on all sides. A power button adorns the top, plug ins for HDMI, Ethernet, power adaptor, and USB are found on the ‘back’. I found the controller to have a good feel albeit a bit angular. Each controller is powered by a pair of AA batteries – one to fit in each grip. Without the weight of these batteries, you might think this isn’t the premium controller that you would hope for. With the batteries though, the weight seems ideal. The buttons and control positioning work very well and essentially mirror the layout of the 360’s controller. The shoulder buttons feel a bit ‘off’ but serviceable enough. It’s also worth mentioning that the controller also has a touch pad which is works great outside of gaming.

After removing the bits of protective plastic, I eagerly plugged it in … and groaned as I immediately began experiencing issues with the WiFi. The router was about 4 or 5 feet away but it seemed to refuse to pick up the signal. Fiddling around with it would reveal the router for a few moments but then lose it as soon as I tried to establish a connection. Meanwhile, I keep on losing the bluetooth connection I had made after pairing the controllers to the console. Annoyed, I dug out a cable and proceeded to physically connect the OUYA to the router.

Finally… it connected and proceeded to download a firmware update. Once applied, my controller issues disappeared and even the WiFi connection started behaving a bit better (though not perfectly). It was time to play some games so I downloaded a handful. One of the first that I tried was Shadowgun which I chose because I was already familiar with it and had played it on my tablet. I figured it would make for a great comparison. Responsiveness was decent and the game ran as smoothly as one would expect it to. I had read that some people reported lag issues with the controller and the console but this does not seem to be a consistent issue. Admittedly, there will always be room for improvement this early on in the OUYA’s life cycle.

When first tried the OUYA, the games numbered just over a couple hundred and one would think that would be a lot. Sadly, this was one of the problems with the device – the catalogue I viewed was full of ports from other systems and, generally speaking, pretty crappy titles. This didn’t mean it was all bad though. Ports can be great things but it’s hard to find and pick a ‘go-to’ title for it. However, there are a lot of compelling features about the console. In fact, enough to keep me coming back to it on a daily basis. The OUYA is powered by Android version 4.1 (Jellybean) with a Tegra 3 chipset and rooting the device will not void the warranty. By its design, it is relatively easy to mess around with it… browsing the Internet and sideloading apps is not difficult and, given the popularity of certain emulators designed to work on Android, the idea of using this as an emulator console crossed the minds of many who initially invested in the console. There were others who wanted to use it as a streaming box and work is being done to port XMBC to it. Ultimately it’s a great little gadget for hobbyists and enthusiasts who want to tinker, tweak, and toy with it.

In the past month, the titles available on the OUYA have surpassed the 300 mark. A few of them are apps which help to make the experience a bit more pleasant. It’s a sad thing that a rudimentary file explorer was not immediately available at launch. I had to sideload my own. OUYA now has one that can be downloaded and, just the other day, I saw a version of VLC available which will help broaden the console’s scope and purpose. Since I initially plugged the box in, I’ve seen three system updates to fix or improve certain aspects of the device. At least the OUYA people seem committed to the idea to keep working at it to try and make the most of what it is we have.

As far as gaming is concerned, the one thing that makes the OUYA appealing is the nature of its platform. It is open and anyone can develop for it without have to worry about expensive licensing or purchasing SDKs for it. There is only one condition – any titles released needs be be freely playable in some fashion. This allows the end user to access the entire catalogue to try and possibly buy the games they like. The games will be restricted in various ways. This could be a restriction to the number or lives or unlimited playability up to a certain level. In other cases, you may not have access to certain features until they are unlocked by an in-game purchase. The developer is free to set their own prices which, as far as I have seen will range from 99 cents for a game up to almost $15 depending on the title. It’s a model that works for a cellphone platform but it remains to be seen how well the OUYA will do with this format.

The device is far from perfect. I have had to resign to the fact that WiFi is not worth the aggravation and will be sticking with Ethernet for the foreseeable future. There are still some issues with the USB port and how it is being handled but improvements are on their way for this too. The page layout for ‘Discovering’ new titles or playing your downloaded games is certainly not one I care for. It’s reminiscent of what Netflix does but most of the time, you already know what you’re looking for with Netflix. Not so with the OUYA. You can search for titles but this needs to be streamlined a bit more to be user-friendly. Prices also need to be clearly labelled. As it stands, the only way to know the price of a game is to initiate a purchase within the game. The other issue connected with purchases is the need for a credit card during the initial setup. Frankly, the limited launcher is in need of more depth and retooling.

And yet, in spite all of that, I’ve grown to love the OUYA in the past month. Most of the purchases for the OUYA are inexpensive and many people will love the ability to play them beforehand. At its core, it could be an attractive and inexpensive option for someone looking for a different venue for their gaming fix. I have found more than a couple of games that have occupied my attention for several hours and the games themselves range from a good mix of ‘retro’ to those that try and push the limits of the system. Some games, while just ports, are so much more enjoyable with a controller – a fact that hasn’t escaped the notice of Nvidia given their newly released Shield. There are new games every week and the quality on some of these has also been getting better.

So, yes… after 28 days, I am happy to have my OUYA and it’s certainly a box with a lot of potential. It’s a shame it got off to a rough start.

Ouya FF3