OUYA Review – The Other Game Cube

New video game hardware comes along all the time. It may be in the shape of new peripherals, controllers, mice, keyboards, or virtual reality headsets, but if you can name it, someone will sell it to you. However, new video game consoles only happen every few years, and those are usually just updates by companies that are already on the market. An entirely new gaming console release happens basically never, so when a new one actually does come out, it’s a pretty big deal … even if it comes in such a tiny box.

OUYA, the Kickstarter-funded, Android-based, $99, dream machine has finally become available to the public, and, at the very least, it’s an interesting experiment. The tiny, cube-shaped console, packs a technological punch, offering a huge launch lineup of games, and comes at a minimal cost. It’s basically everything that Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo’s consoles are not. What once seemed like a pipe dream is now a reality that has the potential to cause some disruptions in the console marketplace, but it’s still got a ways to go if it wants to really compete with the big boys.

The console itself is sleek, clocking in at less than 3x3x3 inches and weighing less than 12 ounces, meaning it can easily fit just about anywhere that you might need to store it. The console’s minuscule size is supported by the fact that there are no discs to read; everything on OUYA is strictly downloadable. Packed in with the OUYA system you’ll find one controller, a power cord, and an HDMI cable, which is everything that you’ll need to get up and running, and playing games minutes after you crack open the box.

On the inside of the cube, you’ll find a system that is designed after a mobile architecture, with a CPU that clocks in at 1.7 GHz, running on 1 GB of SDRAM, complimented by 8 GBs of internal storage, and a video output of 1080p. It’s clearly a solid piece of hardware that is built to support a variety of different types of games – most of which are already available on the system.

Once you have everything up and running, OUYA features a no frills dashboard and menu system for searching through your downloaded games, as well as finding new ones. It breaks down into 4 parts: Play, Discover, Make, Manage. Play is your library of games, which is displayed in a growing two-row grid. Discover is OUYA’s storefront, allowing owners to download trial games – upgrading to full releases is done within the game itself. An internal algorithm (“The O-Rank”) will help new games, that are well received by the community, bubble to the top. Make is the place for developers, since each OUYA console serves as a development kit. Manage is simply the console’s setting. This scaled back approach is actually quite nice, and very neat, helping to make the overall experience easy for just about anyone right out of the gate.

Games are the things that make or break consoles. If you look back on any piece of hardware that has failed, it’s instantly clear that the likely reason it went under was due to the lack of software. Developer support is key to the success of a console, but it’s even more important to have developers that believe in your platform. Within two weeks of launching the OUYA there are already over two hundred games and apps available for it, which is a heck of a lot of games in such a short window. Many titles are ports of games that have been released elsewhere, but the OUYA storefront also features a host of exclusive titles, all of which can be downloaded, and tried for free. This is another bold step that help to define OUYA as an entirely unique console experience. With already established indie games like “Super Crate Box” and “Canabalt” alongside classics “You Don’t Know Jack” and “Final Fantasy” and exclusives like “Towerfall” and “Polarity,” OUYA already has a wide range of content, and that is just going to continue to grow. Additionally, it’s worth noting that some intrepid developers have already ported over emulators for just about every console known to man, so depending on your stance on piracy, you could play just about any game you want.

For a versatile game library, OUYA needs a versatile controller. With a similar button layout to the Xbox 360’s controller, the OUYA pad feels lighter, and a little bit looser. While some owners have reported issues with the face buttons sticking, it doesn’t seem to be an issue on every unit. The trigger buttons on the top of the controller could use a little bit more spring, but they do the job for now. In addition to the standard set of buttons, the controller also features a touchpad, which can be incorporated into games at the developer’s discretion. It’s a nice touch, but given the traditional form factor of the pad, it may end up not seeing too much playtime.

The strangest thing about the controller is that the batteries are housed within the face of the controller, under the grey sections of the plastic, but there’s no way to really know that without searching the internet, or through trial and error. While it is a small, relatively common sense piece of assembly, it would be nice to know where to start at least (hint: pry off the grey parts). Additional controllers can be purchased for $49.99, or, since the console syncs via Bluetooth, other Bluetooth controllers may be compatible on a game-by-game basis.

The system has a few other shortcomings as well, namely in the online space. While owners have been assured that there are community/social features in development, they haven’t really launched yet, making online gaming with your friends a bit tricky. This is something that OUYA is going to want to shore up as soon as possible, because an active community is the best way to sell more consoles (well, that and more games).

Also, the shopping aspect needs to be worked on a bit. When downloading a game, it isn’t really clear if you’re just getting a trial version, or a full version for free. More importantly, if it is a trial you have to do some digging to find out how much the full release will cost. It just doesn’t seem that the most important information about the game is presented up front, making the entire game buying experience confusing.

OUYA finds itself in a very interesting place in the video games market; somewhere between mobile and console gaming, freeware and retail, indie and major. They say the secret to success is to create something that someone doesn’t know they need, and then make them realize that they can’t live without it. Whether or not OUYA will do that remains to be seen, but, if nothing else, the Kickstarter proved that there was a demand for this type of experience. And, OUYA really is something unique that fills a void that gamers may not know that they had. At $99 OUYA seems reasonably priced enough to stretch beyond core gamers and appeal to the curious crowd with a cnote burning a hole in their pockets. The console is already doing interesting things, and, hopefully time will allow for the team to build on the core of the system, so that it can get fully up to par with the big boys. A little competition never hurt anyone.

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