Ouya: The Kotaku Review

Ouya: The Kotaku Review

If I was writing a book of personal gaming records, I’d mark up a page for the Ouya: new console that stayed in the box, unplayed, longer than any other one I’ve ever had. Three days. Sealed. No urgency to play the tiniest console I’ve ever seen. It’s so tiny, yet I still wasn’t sure I had room for it in my life.

Who asked for the Ouya, anyway?

Many people did, actually. Many people helped crowd-fund it on Kickstarter last (northern) summer — 63,416 backers, contributing $US8,596,474 (the Ouya people had only asked for $US950,000).

Last summer, however, was the season to dream of a $US99 hackable Android-based console on which at least a portion of every game would be free.

This summer is reality. And this is the summer when anyone who loves games can decide whether the Ouya makes sense.

For me, this is a summer that already includes an Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U and PC in my house, all of which can play some very good games. I often carry an iPad, a 3DS and/or a PlayStation Vita in my work bag. They play great games too. So does my iPhone, which is usually in my pocket. I’m not hurting for gaming machines or for games. I recognise that maybe the Ouya isn’t for me. But, here’s the craziest thought: maybe it is.

My Ouya had been sent to me by the Ouya people. I’ve interviewed them. And, as game companies tend to do, they sent me hardware to review. This Ouya came in its dachshund-sized box. It had some games pre-installed on it. That was nice. The Ouya people were making my life ultra-easy. Just start playing and have fun, they were saying. Review this thing.

Unlike other consoles, The Ouya doesn’t promise a brilliant future. You get the Ouya for the now.

I carried the Ouya box back and forth last week, optimistic that I’d play it at work. No, at home. No, at work tomorrow. No, really, at home tonight. Guaranteed.

On day four, I unboxed it and then spent a day carrying the absurdly-small console (Rubik’s Cube, large tomato… pick your size comparison) and the system’s wireless controller. The Ouya also requires an HDMI cable and a power cord with a small brick on it (computer mouse-sized? toddler’s fist?). That all fit into my bag. And it stayed in my bag for another day.

The Ouya really is easy to resist. This is, for now, one of its big problems.

We are immersed in video games. They are everywhere. If you’re reading this, you’re probably currently using a device that plays good games and you’re probably within shouting distance of a second or third one that does, too. What draws me or you from one to another is the same thing that draws anyone to a device that plays games: the games. What draws people to new game devices is the promise of new games. Day one — hell, year one — of owning a Wii U or a PlayStation 3 might be a drag, but you know Nintendo and Sony are eventually going to deliver some instant classics. You can look past the year one clunkers.

Ouya: The Kotaku Review

The Ouya doesn’t promise a brilliant future. It sells at $US99 using a less than top-level Tegra 3 quad-core processor (full specs here). As an Android device, it signals that it’ll probably be displaced by a better iteration as chip prices go down. Ouya execs have said as much. There’s no 10 year lifecycle on Ouya 1.0.

You get the Ouya for the now. You get it for the summer of 2013 and the fall. You get this to wedge it in the gaps of your gaming life or in place of bigger, beefier consoles you can’t afford.

You get this console to play the Ouya games of the moment.

You plug it in on day five or six. You get ready, possibly, to play Towerfall, a game that is well worth your time and the most ballyhooed Ouya-debuting game.

These games are tiny. And the first bite is free. So, download, download, download…At launch, my favourite of the bunch is Knightmare Tower.

But here’s the cool/hilarious/progressive/insane/oh-so-Ouya thing: You turn the machine on, sync the controller, connect to the Internet, pick the “Discover” option on the system’s menu, access the online shop full of games that are all free to download, you start queueing them up with the gluttony befitting a gamer accessing “free” games, and suddenly you’ve got this machine full of new games and discover that two of the ones you downloaded begin with levels that require you to… park vehicles.

Yes, people, the Ouya is already saturating the market with parking-based games:

That first game, No Brakes Valet, had a title screen that had worse art direction than an NSA PRISM slide. At least the game was kind of fun.

Ouya: The Kotaku Review

The second, The Little Crane That Could, is only about parking in its first level and is then about using the crane to pick stuff up.

You start playing the Ouya and it hits you: oh, yeah, this really is an Android-based machine. This is mobile gaming come to TVs, people. Meaning, this is the wild west. Good games, bad games, games running on timers before asking you to pay, games locking off most of their content but giving you the first few levels for free.

Look, it’s Canabalt!

And, what’s this? Here’s a game that looks like Canabalt!

Is this a poor man’s Gears of War?

Is this a twin-stick shooter set to dubstep?

Wait. Someone made a twin-stick shooter set to dubstep? I don’t like dubstep, and I don’t know if I’d pay for that, but if I can download a twin-stick shooter set to dubstep for free — see, the ship only shoots with the music, you only control the aiming, and when the drop hits, enemies better look out! — this is how the Ouya begins to hook you.

Soon you’re playing Nintendo 64-looking puzzle platform games about a guy wearing a monocle.

Soon you’re playing a hilariously hideous game — game? “game?”?? — about bouncing a frog through a city. You’re then playing this splitscreen and are sure you’ll never spend a dime on it. You’re also sure you’re doing nothing at the moment that helps further the appreciation of great games, but, damn it… it’s The Amazing Frog.

Super Crate Box, anyone? That’s an actual good game.

Mrs Dad? Not only is it the best-named game on the Ouya, not only is it good, but two people can play on one controller. Three people can play on two controllers.

Bear in mind that these discoveries happen this fast. The Ouya’s online shop is a buffet and the fliptop plastic container you get to stuff full of games can handle about 5GB of content. These games are tiny. And the first bite is free. So, download, download, download.

And then it happens…

You find a really good game. One you never heard of. Because, this is the wild west, and sometimes there’s treasure among the varmints.

I give you.. Deep Dungeons of Doom… a sort-of-real-time series of role-playing-game battles.

DDoD is also available on iOS, of course, which is the rub for a lot of these Ouya games. The Ouya lets you at least play with a controller. As if — ha ha — these games on the Ouya weren’t nearly all still optimised for touch controls and not the system’s so-so dual-analog controller. Good luck figuring out how to pause half of them.

The killer app for Ouya, they’ll/we’ll tell you, is Towerfall. It’s like Smash Bros. with bows and arrows. It’s got neat retro graphics (as do, it seems, half of the Ouya games).

It’s good. It’s fun. It’s, I’ll declare, not the most fun game on Ouya. At launch, I’m giving that accolade to Knightmare Tower, a game so good that somebody already cloned the Flash version of it on iOS. Play as a knight who bounces off the enemies he’s stabbing in order to jump and fly every higher up a tower. Earn money to get better gear to soar higher and attack with more vigor. I paid for this one. Four bucks. (I bought Towerfall too. It was $US15.)

Most of the games on Ouya kept my attention for a few minutes before I moved on. Knightmare Tower hooked me for over an hour, and I had to force myself to stop playing. It stands out as one of the very few satisfying singleplayer games I found. The system’s library seems to cater toward couch multiplayer experiences. Hence the love for Towerfall.

I have a soft spot for interactive lunacy, and I don’t mind downloading some bad games if it costs me nothing. But the Ouya people need to make it more clear that they’re serious about this platform thing.

The Ouya team may be exploding some preconceptions about what a game console should cost or how its games should be delivered, but there are certain console expectations that they are failing to meet. The most basic one is this: things just need to work. This is the foundational promise game consoles have delivered on for 30 years. Consoles are not personal computers. They might offer less opportunity for technical experimentation but they provide greater security to gamers that any and all games will run well on them. Controllers need to function and function reliably. The console should convey the feeling that it’s built on a stable platform not on a bunch of struts that may or may not have been tightly screwed in.

The Ouya does not feel like a stable, properly functioning platform. It’s close, but it’s not there.

Its main controller occasionally failed to read my inputs or sent signals to the console that I didn’t send. It might have been a game-specific problem or something that’ll be patched out. Who knows? It doesn’t bolster confidence.

The console’s essential online store — its Discover area — is underserved by a worst-in-class internal search engine that only finds games by title and not by developer or any other category that’d be useful in a marketplace as crowded as this. Don’t rely on the genre classifications which lump the system’s beat-em-up action games with its pinball games, for some reason.

Some games are missing product descriptions or have ones that say nothing informative about the game.

Games on Ouya inconsistently use different buttons to pause the action and usually fail to signal how to quit them (it’s not intuitive, but double-tapping the controller’s Ouya button quits games).

The lack of polish and tolerance of sloppiness on Ouya, however, is the thing that most makes the console feel cheap.

One game, which I tried to play solo while a second controller was synced, split the game’s controls across the two controllers. The sticks on one controller and the buttons on the other controlled the action. Feature or bug, you decide!

The framerate in the Ouya-exclusive Chronoblade is a stuttering mess.

Yes, this is an Android machine. Yes, Android doesn’t standardize things the way Apple does on iOS, let alone the way Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo do on proven game consoles. The lack of polish and tolerance of sloppiness on Ouya, however, is off-putting and is the thing that most makes the console feel cheap. The extent to which things are improved — the extent to which the Ouya “just works” — will indicate how serious and how capable the Ouya people are about running a platform gamers can support and believe in.

When we’re reviewing games at Kotaku, we endeavour to answer the question: “Should you play this?” When we review consoles, we change what we’re asking: “Is it time for a gamer to get an Ouya? Is it a must-have?

Ouya: The Kotaku Review

The Ouya sets the bar low with its $US99 price tag and its initially-free games, but it’s not even clearing that well enough. There are some good games, but not many. They’re hard to discover, don’t always work well with the system’s controller and risk being lost in a mess of substandard attempted amusements that don’t belong on your TV any more than they deserved to be on your phone.

The system is a fascinating experiment and can be fun for those for whom $US99 isn’t much to plunk down for a lark or a risk. I’m not so sure that’s who the Ouya was made for. Buyer beware, for now. If the Ouya and its library get better — and they should given how far this system has come, out of nowhere — we’ll let you know.


  • The only question I have is, could I play N64/SNES games via some android emulator with it?

    It would be my only reason getting one.

    • You can emulate up to the PS1/N64 generation without problem! Although portable wise the DS emulation is still a work in progress. The emulators are also supported applications on the ouya store. Check youtube videos for proof.

      • We know it supports the emulators, it is the games themselves that are illegal. It is stupid to believe that the Ouya will get away with this for too long.

        • Emulators aren’t illegal, what do you mean by get away with it? As long as the emulators don’t distribute the roms then there is nothing that can be done. Emulators have been on the android market for a long time now. Even if OUYA removes them, people will just sideload those apps so your argument is pointless.

      • SNES Emu is already on there, N64 I assume is coming. Also has a PSOne EMU on it.

          • Freakin’ A! Thanks man!

            Also, can you configure the controls accordingly? You could do that easily or something right?

          • Default controls work fine but most of the emulators provide manual control mapping, you can also connect USB controllers such as NES, SNES etc. for the emulators.

            The retro category on the OUYA has all the popular generations before N64/PS1/Neogeo working such as C64, NES, SNES, Megadrive, Atari 2600, MSX, PC Engine, N64, PS1, NEOGEO, GBC, GBA, Neogeo Pocket. Performance is smooth with the exception of the proof of concept DS emulator. You can also “sideload” some of the unoptimised for OUYA android emulators such as MAME with decent performance as well. Check out YouTube videos if you’re curious such as Blunty3000 part 2 OUYA review or just type OUYA emulators.

    • Works ace as an emulator out of the box. They already have SuperGNES, SNES9x, an N64 emulator, NES emulator and an NDS emulator available to download off the Ouya market.

      I’ve tested the SNES and N64 emulator, and they both work great.

  • This review makes it sound like one of those old shareware compilation discs. A million things to play and poke through but nothing that would make you go ‘I have to have this’.

    • Or those not-so-legal 50-in-1 gameboy/DS cartridges you could buy: “Well I paid for it, might as well see whats on it…”

  • So basically it’s a console for the “now” but we should wait and buy it later, when it’s better? What a glowing endorsement.

  • You may want to comment on emulation, it’s one of the main reason a lot of people bought the thing for emulation of up to PS1/N64 and the discover store has almost all of them.

  • You start playing the Ouya and it hits you: oh, yeah, this really is an Android-based machine. This is mobile gaming come to TVs, people. Meaning, this is the wild west. Good games, bad games, games running on timers before asking you to pay, games locking off most of their content but giving you the first few levels for free.

    Exactly why my interest in this never went (and likely will never go) beyond idle curiosity, and also why I have absolutely zero interest in the rumoured consoles from Apple/Google until they convince me that they’ll be any different.

    • To me, the itunes app store is the most abhorrent entity in gaming that I’ve ever had the displeasure of attempting to navigate/discover with. I haven’t used the Play store, or any of the ‘competitors’.

      It’s a sure-fire way to drown in shovelware and copyright violations – bad ones. Terrible cash-grabs, ‘build your empire’ games which are basically stacks-on PVP gank/stay-logged-in-24/7-grind-fests, and the very best reviewed titles are no better than the very worst of Steam’s Greenlight.

      Why is allowing users to navigate a store so impossible for modern companies? When I’ve been browsing through thirty fucking pages of results and the only way to look at something interesting is to go to its page, then when I hit ‘back’ I end up at page one? That’s inexcusable. That shows me that someone is either criminally incompetent/insane, or never tested the thing with real results (or did, then ignored the testers). Even the relatively progressive PSN store and earlier non-ad-fucked versions of 360 dashboard had/have serious flaws in navigation.

      They need to take a leaf out of youtube, or better tvtropes’ book. Game discovery should involve browser-tab explosions and gluttonous background queueing.

  • I agree with all of the points here but still find myself higher on the Ouya than Totillo is. It isn’t for single player experiences, they do exist but are mostly phone ports or emulated games. The multiplayer is where the console shines, if you have family, housemates or a willing spouse there is a lot of short burst fun to be had here, the accessibility is a huge bonus. Most games are truly pick up and play, simple controls and premise, games like Get On Top and No Brakes Valet are immediately entertaining and competitive multiplayer experiences while Towerfall has a slightly tougher learning curve but is a more rewarding, deep game.

    At the very least it becomes a good emulator box, anything N64/Neo Geo or earlier runs fine. The controller is rough (at least for the backers edition) and the UI does feel like it is built on sand, the lack of decent game descriptions, tutorials and a universal system for purchases make it feel cheap. The pace at which the software updates are improving the system is encouraging and overall I’m really enjoying a few pick up and play games each night and can’t wait to try Towerfall and Bomb Squad with the proper numbers. Support for PS3 and 360 controllers is great too.

  • I’m mostly hoping that this will encourage more games to implement controller support.

    Hopefully we’ll soon see some genuinely good games in the mobile space, though. To date the only things I’ve really enjoyed have either been ports of games I already love or emulated titles. Everything else I’ve played has been either so simple it’s only fun for a couple of sessions or a pale imitation of something bigger and better; enough to distract you for a bus ride or two, but ultimately leaving you wishing you were playing the original game.

  • If I’m in a situation with no PC’s and no consoles…. but I have a TV with a HDMI port (actually a good chance it won’t since it sounds like I’m in the middle of nowhere)……… and I want to play an android based game…… and that game is better with a controller….. and I decide that it’s worth the effort of plugging in a console instead of playing it on my phone……. and I’ve been lugging and Onya around with me just in case this ever happens…….I’ll be HEAPS glad I bought an Ouya!

  • I certainly love the concept to this device, but yes as a console, even as a basic one. Really has to have a “must have it” application for people to even look at it. Plug & play is essentially what a console should be about.
    This is a limitation I think Valves Steam Box for the casual gamer will likely overcome once it’s officially out.

  • Seems just like my first impressions. Mobile style games on my TV made by “free gaming indie developers” with very little quality behind the games or content.

    Now if you could do this article with the emulators and ROMS that work on OUYA emulators I’d be interested in that.

    • The retro category on the OUYA has all the popular generations before N64/PS1/Neogeo working such as C64, NES, SNES, Megadrive, Atari 2600, MSX, PC Engine, N64, PS1, NEOGEO, GBC, GBA, Neogeo Pocket. Performance is smooth with the exception of the proof of concept DS emulator. You can also “sideload” some of the unoptimised for OUYA android emulators such as MAME with decent performance as well. Check out YouTube videos if you’re curious such as Blunty3000 part 2 OUYA review or just type OUYA emulators.

      • While it annoys me the idea of people systematically pirating Nintendo’s software, at the end of the say it’s hard to get too upset for them when Nintendo charge $7 on the 3DS shop for a port of a 20+ year old game which someone else is happy to port for free. Add to that the fact that while some bloke is happy to build a SNES emulator in his basement, Nintendo still hasn’t made ANY of their SNES library available on the 3DS and when they do we’ll be expected to pay at least $10 per game. It’s f*cking ridiculous!

        Without getting completely sidetracked, it’s funny how many people rip on Microsoft “because they’re an evil corporation….. being all corportationy” but most people are happy to give Nintendo a pass on behaviour like this as well as their region locking policies. Apparently it’s only Western companies that can be evil capitalist fat-cats (ok, now I am sidetracked).

        • Well. I don’t give them a pass. It’s the reason I never owned a Gamecube, wii or 3DS, thus missing all the hype about Zelda, Metroid, Mario (because let’s face it, the Mario games on NES/SNES were good quality, but they weren’t the best games available on the systems), and a billion unheard-of JRPGs which are probably really awesome but I’ll never know.

          Been voting with my wallet on Nintendo for a while now and they seem to be doing OK without my dollars. :/

          (Edit: Of course Zeldas 1-4 were some of the best on their respective systems, and Kirby on NES and GB are almost impossible to top, beaten only by the true classic RPGs like Crono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Earthbound, and the original pokemon. Yes. There are only 151 pokemon thankyouverymuch.)

  • If I could hook up a keyboard and make this into an Atari 800 I’d be interested.

    • The OUYA supports keyboards through USB although the only Atari emulator I’ve seen is for the 2600.

  • The problem with the OUYA is that right now, it’s not good at ANYTHING.

    I thought to myself I could at least use it for XMBC to connect to my NAS for movies and TV shows ansd it can’t even do that right at the moment. Hopefully they release an optimised XMBC specifically for OUYA.

    The N64 emulator can’t handle the games at any sort of framerate that resembles playable.

    Getting the plethora of other emulators to find roms on a USB drive is near impossible.

    As I said, it’s just not good at anything. This thing would have had a REAL market had it been a good media player and emulator.

  • There are legal complications for the Ouya on the horizon, and they know it. I ain’t touching the thing

    • That’s just fear mongering, the majority of applications have been on the Google play store for months. Where are the companies suing Google for emulation?

  • That’s just fear mongering, the majority of applications have been on the Google play store for months. Where are the companies suing Google for emulation??

  • Screw the gaming, I’m interested in the Ouya as an alternative to a jailbroken Apple TV!

    The Apple TV is a fantastic platform on which to run XBMC, however doing so relies on jailbreaking and that’s not yet available for the Apple TV3. The Ouya on the other hand is able to run XBMC quite well and with no hacking require, so it would be great addition to anybodies home theatre system for that reason alone.

  • Cant you plug phones into the telly and sync a controller and use google games?
    I dont have a mobile, so have no idea if this is possible – but it’s how Id roll, if I did.

  • The sad thing is the possibility of what could have been.
    Originally it was going to be a android console.
    In the end it is based on android, but is not a full (Google) android device, and that’s the issue.

    Imagine if Google got their shit together and got app data syncing for games working. Play your game on the phone on the bus, get home let the phone sync the data, sit down in front of the tv and continue your game with a controller.

    But as it turns out even when google do get their shit together, you couldn’t do it anyway because the play store isn’t available, they say they are open, but created their own walled garden, so now you can buy those games again for the ouya… I don’t think so. They said it was hackable, but give yourself root (so you can add the google services like the play store), and they remove the Ouya store.

    They have become just another console, only with less support then the majors.

    Maybe they’ll be more use as a cautionary tale for the Nvidia shield, and the gamestick.

  • I’m hoping Totillo’s short reviews of the games were in jest… If not, you’re a jerk Totillo. Show a little respect.

    I KS’d the Ouya and I’m glad I did. It’s a great little unit and does what I expected. ‘Nuff said.

  • What a horrible review. Almost everyone I talk to is buying this for emulation, and you didn’t even mention that. You just went on about how shitty indie games can be.

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