- Wireless dual-shock style controller, partners via Bluetooth
- Open-platform for developers
- 1x HDMI port; 1x USB port; 1x Ethernet port
- Wi-fi enabled
- Price - £99
When Ouya smashed its Kickstarter target in 2012, no-one had heard of the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4. The seventh console generation was starting to drag and with no official info on new hardware, people, I think, got over-excited at the prospect of another machine.
The same has happened/is happening with Xi3's Piston, Nvidia's Shield and the Razer Edge - people have been worked into a link clicking frenzy thanks to the mythologizing of some reinvention of the hardware race, a suggestion these micro-consoles may have a chance of dethroning Microsoft or Sony. They don't and nor does the Ouya. This console is a busted flush.
If you don't know the deal yet, it's a console that plays games built for Android - games you might have played on your phone or tablet - via your television set. You get a physical controller, not unlike but nowhere near as good as a PlayStation controller, and access to a bespoke online store of games that have been ported to work on Ouya. The library of games is about 200 strong right now though, similar to the Google Play store, Ouya is a relatively open platform - the catalogue is thin to start with but the idea is makers will be able to create and add games to the Ouya with ease, creating a store that's dictated by developers not publishers.
The vision is pleasant. Android has always been a great open platform for people to make the games they want to make, but tied to mobiles and tablets, it lacks credibility. Mobile games are something we do in our spare time - console games we make time for. By bringing Android to the TV set, Ouya aims to give the platform gravitas.
It fails, though, because the console is buggy and cheap feeling. The line-up of launch games is uninspiring also, comprising mostly platformers, endless runners and Gameloft-style knock offs of console hits. As far as demonstrating the best Android has to offer, Ouya, for now at least, is doing a bad job.
Before you even get to the games, the console itself is off-putting. The Ouya crashes, a lot. Sometimes that means it will freeze for a minute or so before dumping you back on the home screen, other times it means you have to reset it completely. And if you're rushing back from the shop hoping to get into it straight away, you may as well slow down: From power on to the main menu proper takes about 15 minutes, as you have to wait at loading screens, connect to wi-fi, create an Ouya account and input bank details. It's a slow machine, and compared to the tap-tap-start dynamic of traditional Android devices, glacial.
The controller is fussy as well. It partners with the Ouya via Bluetooth but often fails to connect, meaning it can take a few goes to get it working. Even putting the batteries in feels difficult. You have to pull the face plate off the controller itself, something which isn't mentioned in the Ouya's instructions or hinted it by the controller's design. After I'd found out from Google what I was supposed to do, I still couldn't shake the feeling that I was about to break the pad, since the face plates take a lot of force to come free. It's just...strange. It's awkward and unfriendly. The Ouya comes with a welcoming £99 price tag, and an open-armed Android back end, but in terms of getting the console up, running and fully functional, the stuttering main menu and awkward controller make it feel impenetrable.
And when you do have it going, there's not a lot to shout about. The controller is cheap and ungainly; the prongs are an awkward shape and the buttons take a lot of force to press down. But those are honestly minor complaints compared to the Ouya's games offering, or rather, the console's entire philosophy, which I can't see appealing to anyone, in particular.
It's perhaps a tough pill to swallow, but the fact Android games do so well on mobiles and tablets is largely down to their throwaway nature. They're cheap, disposable, pick up and put down games that don't ask for much of your attention and comprise one maybe two gameplay dynamics. They're generally insubstantial and although that's fine when you're playing them while waiting for a train or on a coffee break, once you start inviting consumers to sit in front of their television, it follows that your console offers experiences a little more substantive. The Ouya does not; the games are just as light but now they're asking for more of people's time, time I can't see the standard Android/mobile gamer being prepared to give.
At the same time, the people who might be interested in the Ouya - console enthusiasts or people who happy to dedicate hours to playing games - aren't going to find much here either. The Ouya's conventional joypad, combined with its open platform, create the possibility for substantial games, but also games that are not regulated by publishers and high development costs. However, as it stands, these haven't arrived yet. Players with an appetite for new, intelligent, heavyweight games - players perhaps frustrated by the traditional AAA factory - are not going to find themselves reinvigorated by the Ouya right now. The exciting games that do exist for it, Adam Atomic's Canabalt and Terry Cavanagh's Don't Look Back, play just as well on mobile devices. The closest thing the Ouya has to a console game without a console publisher is the utterly derivative and totally poor Shadowgun, a game so generic it leads you to wonder if, even when given an open platform, developers are capable of producing anything original.
Ultimately, the fate of the Ouya rests in the hands of these people. On its own, the console is an unattractive piece of hardware. It's tough to get started, buggy and awkward to handle. Graphically, the Ouya only purports to be as strong as mobile devices like the Surface tablet (it uses the same Tegra 3 system-on-a-chip) and achieves exactly that. This is all hardware you've used before and as far as running games pretty much the same as they run on mobiles, the Ouya does it.
But the main menu crashes a lot, the Ouya often drops internet connectivity and the controller is terrible. We're not even convinced about the low price: When you consider Play now sells the Xbox 360 Core console for £80, and that you can get a full model for around £150, if you're looking for a home console, it may be worth just getting one of those and saving Android games for your phone.
Neverthless, the Ouya could be something different. If developers have the moxie to produce interesting games for it, it could be a go-er. This console wants to be the home of unbridled, creative and still commercially viable videogames, and just for having that ambition, it deserves praise; for making it to retail, it deserves even more. But despite big dreams, it feels unfinished. There's a long way left for the Ouya to progress and it might not get to where it wants to go.
Still, it's a fascinating prospect. What good is a newborn baby? We'll see.
- Design: 4/10 - The Ouya is incredibly small which is kind of novel, but the controller is difficult to use
- Performance: 5/10 - It plays Android games perfectly well, but crashes far too often, either on the main menu or during gameplay
- Value: 8/10 - Don't be fooled by the low price since you can now get much better home consoles for less money. The games are cheap, though, typically priced between 99p and £4. Hopefully, when more start to be released, that will make the Ouya good value.
- Overall: 5/10 - A flawed but nevertheless admirable concept which currently suffer from faulty hardware but with enough developer backing could be something interesting. The Ouya is worth watching.
- Open platform for developers
- Potentially enormous library of affordable, interesting games
- Crashes often
- Terrible controller
- Currently thin, uninteresting games line-up