Ouya is what happens when a bunch of talented people come together and decide it's a good idea to create a console that blends Android, fantastic industrial design and relatively cheap hardware. The end result is one of the most successful Kickstarter projects to date (it netted funding of 8.5 million dollars) and a new piece of hardware for us to play with. At $99 a unit, it's cheaper and more powerful than the PS2, making it a possible option in low-cost markets such as ours. But does it have the ability to stand out where it counts? Read on to find out.
Let's take a look at what a $99 console entails
Aside from being a successful Kickstarter project, the Ouya is a slick-looking piece of technology. While the packaging houses a "Thank You" note from the Ouya team, some safety compliance documentation and the console itself, it still manages to feel sparse. Lending a nice touch to the packaging are batteries for the wireless controller and an HDMI cable (hey PS3 and Xbox 360, we're looking at you). All in all, the packaging feels compact, if slightly lacking in details.
The console itself feels like it has been constructed with a lot of thought. No bigger than a coffee mug, it's flat on the top and the sides taper down. The body has a brushed aluminium finish that, when coupled with the silver and black shading, gives the console a premium look and feel. To put it simply, the Ouya looks classy, understated and completely desirable. This is in no small part thanks to the unique form factor. And considering that the team behind its design worked on Jawbone products, this should come as no surprise.
Tear yourself away from its gorgeous shell for a moment and you'll realise it is home to a Tegra 3 processor that has four cores clocked at 1.7GHz each, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of flash storage. The specs are not exactly cutting-edge by today's standards, but they're decent enough to keep most of the graphically-intense titles on Android, such as Dead Trigger and Shadowgun, running just fine. Except these and a bunch of other free-to-play titles, nothing much is available on the Ouya online store at this moment.
It has a pleasant industrial design
Yes, you read that right. At the time of publishing, you won't have access to some of the more graphics-intensive games you can play on your Android tablet or phone as they aren't on Ouya's own storefront yet. Sure, you could side-load them via a memory card, but be prepared to run into compatibility issues and lots of errors. This is further compounded by the fact that Google Play isn't available on Ouya. From a commercial point of view, it makes sense and ensures that Ouya and its developers make profits, but end users can't help but feel shortchanged by this arrangement. The reason for that is, the current catalogue of available titles is deplorable at best. Barring roleplaying game Final Fantasy III and infinite running game, Canabalt, which are available on almost every other platform known to mankind, there's little else in the way of quality content. This is quite sad considering there are over 150 titles on the storefront, most of which are no-name knock-offs of existing franchises we know and love.
Though the company has announced partnerships with Sega, Double Fine and Mojang, the first two are for ports of existing titles such as Sonic and The Cave. Mojang, the house that built Minecraft, hasn’t released or announced anything concrete yet. Things look rather bleak at this stage. It doesn’t help matters that you’re forced to input your credit card details to access the store, games don’t have their prices mentioned up front (you only find out how much you spent as you download) and the entire purchase and download process takes too long. If you thought the PlayStation Network required a tremendous amount of patience to negotiate, think again. Buying, or for that matter, even downloading a game via Ouya’s store should be a test for sainthood.
All is not lost, though, as the console's UI is quite nice; it's a custom skin running on top of Jelly Bean and is organised well. Fire it up and you’re treated to a pleasing sound pneumonic and a Holo-inspired design. It looks good and seems to have borrowed the best bits of stock Android in terms of look and feel. Each section of the interface is thoughtfully segregated into places for your games (called Play), the marketplace (aptly called Discover), a place to fiddle with your account settings (labelled Manage) and one to let you side-load apps or test builds if you’re a developer (entitled Make).
The game store is a barren wasteland
While the first three are standard, the Make section allows you to install apps that might not be developed with the Ouya in mind, or upload test builds for upcoming games. This ensures that every Ouya doubles as a development kit as well. The implications are huge and it will be interesting to see how many actually put it to use.
In order to navigate these sections and, of course, play games, there’s the controller. Much like the console itself, it has a premium aluminium finish and is powered by two AA batteries. It connects to the console via Bluetooth and somewhat resembles the Xbox 360 controller in design. Don’t expect the same level of responsiveness, though—the analogue sticks feel loose and the buttons have an awkward habit of getting stuck under the faceplate. But then, what were you expecting from a $99 console?
As it stands, the Ouya is still very much a beta product. Sure, it has a petite, great industrial design and a fantastic team behind it, but that accounts for nothing if the games and the entire purchase process aren’t up to mark. Touted as a budget console with fairly decent hardware, we can’t help but feel that its Tegra 3 innards are going to be outdated fairly quickly thanks to the short life-cycle of mobile components. Though there is a promise of developer support—Airtight Games has promised an exclusive game, as has indie darling Fez and Double Fine—there’s nothing yet to inspire confidence that this would be worth a purchase.
The controller isn't the best we've seen
So if you’re on the lookout for some budget gaming bliss, you’re better off finding your old PS2 or grabbing a new one. At least you’ll find yourself with a ton of games to play. They won’t look as good as Ouya's offerings, but at least you’re assured of high quality content.
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