The Ouya: A Week Of Impressions

Senior Contributor
05.14.13 8 Comments

So, I bought the Ouya off the Kickstarter, and… well, only got it about a week ago. Does the tiny little box live up to its massive Kickstarter? Yes… and no.

Setting Up

The good is that the Ouya includes absolutely everything you need to get it up and running… well, provided your TV has HDMI ports. What it doesn’t include is a manual, which is a bit problematic because if you were expecting the controller to, say, have its batteries next to each other, more fool you: There’s one battery port underneath each side of the controller, and the controller is built to seem of a solid piece.

It also took a few tries to get the Ouya to realize it could connect to my router, but once that was done, it was relatively smooth sailing.

The Physical Unit Itself

The Ouya as a console is actually quite lovely: Solid, small, and unobtrusive.

Would that the same could be said of the controller. The Ouya’s controller is probably the worst thing about the unit itself. The main problem is the godawful touchpad, which alternates between twitchy and leaden. This rapidly becomes problematic because you’ve got to use the thing to configure games, and the Ouya documentation never makes clear how and when you absolutely need to use it. Fortunately, it’s not required most of the time, so you can treat it for what it is: An afterthought.

The shape is at least comfortable, and everything works properly out of the gate, but it’s still a bit surprising considering all the hype surrounding this that the controller is still such a work in progress. Just as aggravating, the console has a USB port, but your USB controller isn’t going to work right now.

Menu Navigation

Here’s the other area where the Ouya really shows itself as a work in progress. The controller can navigate the menus easily enough, but the menus themselves take forever to load images and when you do access a game’s menu, you might have to click over once or twice to read the full description.

For example, you can download multiple games at once, but there’s no quick way to get to your downloads; you’ve got to back out to the main menu. Want to buy the game? Good luck finding out how much it costs: The store stubbornly refuses to tell you until you’re in the process of actually buying it. Which you can’t do from the store menu; you have to download the game, install it, and then buy it from the main menu.

Why this is in place is utterly beyond me. True, it’s likely due to technical challenges: Android dialogue boxes appearing when you go to install a game give away that much. But you have to wonder why this problem is in place.

Graphics And Sound

The Ouya actually handles most of the tasks thrown at this with no problems. Honestly, there’s a limit to the strain placed on the Ouya: Even the most graphically demanding games I tried out, like The Ball were maybe high-end PS2 graphics, and full credit to Tripwire Interactive for going in and optimizing their cult puzzle game almost perfectly.

The Ouya team could also stand to put up some audio standards between games; I found myself riding the levels as I switched between games.

Gameplay And Game Selection

While this depends almost entirely on the programmers, actually playing games on the Ouya itself is fun and intuitive: It works as a console.

The selection of games, though, is currently the biggest problem. There’s no on-board option to switch away from the Ouya and to, say, the Google Play Store, no option to import your games from your Google account to the Ouya, and no controller configuration options should you happen to pull that feat off. And the simple fact of the matter is that there is no real flagship game, no attention-getter that makes this a must have.

Considering the Ouya was Photoshopping games from Minecraft to Dead Trigger in their Kickstarter materials, this is a serious problem. One made more intense by the fact that the Ouya’s own website refuses to list games currently available on the platform, with the best they’ll do is insisting that you get “lots” of games, and there’s no simple way to get a list. And of the supposed titles, I’ve yet to see many of those listed as “March 2013” on Wikipedia.

There are good games: The aforementioned The Ball is an amusing FPS puzzler, Knife Media’s Red is a fine goofy top-down shooter, Organ Trail is an amusing rip on educational games, and Final Fantasy III is a solid RPG. But there’s some shovelware, and nothing really pops out and grabs you.

Considering the wink-wink-nudge-nudge attitude it has towards these things, I won’t be surprised if there’s a rooting afoot already. Still, one wants more software that pushes the hardware a little and shows what it can do. Of course, we’re still technically in the beta stage: The real push will be coming in June, and we’ll revisit the console then. Whether or not it’s worth your $100 will likely be answered then.

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