Ouya's Place in an Overcrowded Gaming Market

An Ouya Review by a Gamer Who Has Everything

Finding a place for Ouya in my crowded gaming life.

As an early backer/true believer of the disruptive $99 Ouya game console, I received my unit several weeks ahead of the official June 25th launch, allowing for a good chunk of hands-on review time. I’ve gathered my thoughts and share them now with the hope of providing helpful information for those of you still on the fence as Ouya hits retail shelves.

Whether or not you buy into Ouya’s “revolution” hyperbole doesn’t matter. Yes, this open-source cube that fits in the palm of your hand aims to upset the gaming industry by narrowing the gap between indie developers and the game-hungry masses, and very affordably at that. But when we get down to brass tacks the only thing that matters to you, the gamer, is the question:

“Why should I buy one?”

To be a modern gamer with endless pixelated entertainment options to choose from is both a blessing and a curse. For console gamers, we have Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft all competing for our time and disposable income, two things which seem to be in shorter supply the older we get. We also have Steam, GoG and similar services catering to the PC set, and portable options like 3DS and Vita vying for attention along with smartphones and tablets. And then there are gamers like me who contend with all of the above. The Ouya’s main challenge, without question, is carving out a niche in that extremely overcrowded market, but an even bigger challenge is finding its place in multi-console, multi-gadget, multi-TV homes like mine.

First world problems aside, the sad fact is none of these things serves all of my needs. Despite having all of this gaming technology at my disposal, my affection is divided among the “Big Three” of the current console gen which bait me with platform-exclusives (gotta catch ‘em all), a library of new PC games via Steam, a library of classic PC games via GoG, a 3DS, a PSP, an iPhone, an iPad, and a well-rounded physical collection of retro consoles and games dating back to the Atari 2600. Still, living in an age where even basic editions of consoles cost $300 and up, the Ouya’s $99 pricetag is hard to ignore, especially in combination with its uniquely-positioned library of “free to try” games.

Ouya Game Console and Controller

So where does Ouya fit in?

To answer that question in a single word: emulation. That’s where it’s at for me. As an open-source platform powered by Android, the Ouya is capable of running the many emulators that already exist for the platform, including some that were designed specifically to look great and function well on HDTVs, like EMUya. Thanks to a USB port that provides for potentially unlimited storage of ROMs, it’s possible—even easy—to turn the Ouya into a powerful all-in-one emulation station that plays all your old favorites (NES, SNES, Genesis, C64, Atari, etc.) while delivering that familiar couch gaming experience.  All this from a device that’s small enough to pick up and take anywhere. For a retro gaming enthusiast such as myself, it’s not hard to understand why this is appealing.

Beyond providing a cheap, reliable and most importantly fun way to get my retro gaming on, the Ouya offers a Marketplace full of indie titles, ports of popular mobile games, and apps that unlock Ouya’s potential as a living room entertainment device that’s not just meant for games. Because it’s Android-powered, with a little legwork you can also side-step the Marketplace completely and install Android apps using the built-in browser. It’s not an easy or straightforward process, but the option does exist for those who like to tinker.

Ouya Ports

But let’s get back to the games!

That’s the reason we’re all here, right? As far as what’s available on Ouya’s Marketplace, it’s a mixed bag. If you’re the type of gamer who wants the hottest new games with cutting-edge graphics, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. If you’re more open to exploration, the Ouya offers a way for you to try a lot of games of varying quality for free. And by varying quality, I mean a few gems, a few turds, and whole lot of in-between. But they’re all free! Or at least free to try. That’s the important thing to keep in mind, as it is Ouya’s main selling point. Also, I realize not everyone is in love with the idea of playing what are essentially mobile games on their TV, but I could not be more thrilled about that. As much as I love my iPad, it’s not very comfortable to play games on at length. Saturday Morning RPG and The Bard’s Tale on my big, beautiful HDTV? Yes please!

Browsing the Ouya Marketplace is a bit like being a kid in a candy store where all the candy is free. I found my attention span being pulled in all directions as titles and screenshots for games I’ve never heard of jumped out at me. Within the first hour of playtime, I had downloaded and tried at least 20 different games, quickly moving on to something else if whatever game I was sampling happened to suck. Jumping between games is fast and fun. As of right now, no other console exists that allows me to do that as quickly and easily as Ouya does. And that’s really at the heart of what Ouya is all about: making couch gaming fun again.

Filed Under: “Needs Work”

As you might imagine for a newly launched console, there are still plenty of things about Ouya that need work. We Kickstarter backers in particular who received what essentially amounts to a “preview” version of the console had plenty to complain about out of the box. For example, I experienced wi-fi troubles, issues with pairing the controller, and an earlier version of the interface that I would not hesitate to describe as god-awful. Once I (eventually) got online successfully, a massive system update downloaded and installed itself, which seems to have fixed most of my problems. However, the process took several hours and put a damper on the “fun factor” right quick. 

Also, I had to mess with the system’s video settings in order to get Ouya to display properly on my TV, as the menu and games were scaled too large and disappeared off the edges of my screen. All of these things added up to a frustrating first experience that makes me worry about the impression Ouya is making on others who may not have the same level of patience. I will say, though, that the forum communities that have sprung up around Ouya have been fantastic, and I was able to resolve many of my issues by simply Googling my problem and reading what others have posted before me. I realize this is not an ideal solution and doesn’t instill confidence in would-be buyers, but if you are more technically inclined and can accept beforehand that, at this stage, Ouya is more “project” than “finished product,” you’ll have a better idea what to expect.

Final Thoughts

I agree with the many reviews floating around out there that say Ouya has tons of potential but isn’t quite ready for primetime—so there’s some validation for those of you taking the “wait and see” approach. But I’m optimistic the Ouya experience will keep improving as new system updates are rolled out and its library of games and apps continues to grow. For this gamer, the fun-size $99 console has delivered on its promise of exposing me to new gaming experiences and letting me relive old ones on the cheap. As for whatever level of success Ouya achieves, it feels cool knowing it wouldn’t have been possible without early adopters like me.

Thank You For Believing

This entry was posted in Retro Park and tagged , , , , on by .

About Jaime Hood

Jaime has been gaming since she was old enough to hold a controller in her hands (by most accounts that was 1984). Her love for good games no matter what the platform means she does not discriminate when it comes to buying hardware and thinks fanboy arguments are stupid--but that doesn't stop her from telling anyone who'll listen how awesome Sega CD was. She's most passionate about adventure games and dreams of designing one some day. A movie buff and TMNT fanatic, Jaime co-hosts the CultFilmClub.com podcast and blogs about other geeky stuff at ShezCrafti.com.

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com Shawn Robare

    Wow, at $99 and the options available to play emulated retro games in an all-in-one environment, that pretty much sells me on the system right there. I’ve been looking for a console-style solution to this conundrum for years. None of the big consoles offered the back catalog of retro games I was interested in, and personally I hate playing roms on my PC.

    That being said, the technical hiccups in getting the box set up kind of concern me (not being super technically inclined), but again, at that price point it still seems like a very viable solution to me. Better than fixing up the old NES and Atari 2600 and literally cleaning my old game carts hoping they still work!

    • http://www.shezcrafti.com/ ShezCrafti

      Keep in mind, the Ouya version being reviewed here is the Kickstarter/developer preview console. From what I understand, many of the issues people have been having are fixed in the retail version that launched June 25th and are currently being sold in stores. But yes, for $99 it’s a great buy even if you just want it for emulation.

  • http://www.geekcultural.com/ Jonathan Mayne

    And the prize for the most awesome opening post photo goes to….. Ha ha! Best part is that having followed your blog for a while I know that that first photo of all the controllers is actually one you took yourself. Any of the rest of us would have had to source a photo like that from somewhere else so kudos!

    So it turns out that only yesterday I discovered the emulation side of Ouya. What a difference a day makes! It’s got everything but arcade out of the box really. Although I’ve got the side loading working though Dropbox now so I’m guessing that can be worked around. Only horror story I’ve heard is that the DS emulator is basically unplayable. So I’ve stayed away from that one thus far.

    As for the Ouya originals I’m not overly blown away by anything yet but if developers start taking it seriously then there’s no reason we couldn’t have some slick looking original indie games on a more than capable platform. Only one that really impressed me so far was Chronoblade. But like I say, early days.

    Also be cool if they added a more social aspect to it but hopefully that will all come in good time. Also access to some kind of cloud gaming service like onlive wouldn’t go amiss.

    All in all I’m impressed. Incidentally I’m guessing that your top tip on Twitter about taking the updates first probably saved me a lot of hassle without me even realising it. If anyone else asks, I plugged it into ethernet, took the update from the start and I’ve had no issues connecting to wifi whatsoever. So cheers for the heads up. If anyone else asks, that seems to be the way to go.

    Nice post!

    • http://www.shezcrafti.com/ ShezCrafti

      Glad to hear you finally got your Ouya! And that somehow I was responsible for making your first experience better than mine!

      Yeah, one of the first things I did was install Dropbox for easier loading of games/apps.The one Original I’ve really been enjoying so far is Polarity. It kind of feels like a cross between Portal and TRON.

      I think more social stuff, along with more polishing of the Ouya interface and experience, will come all in good time.

      • http://www.geekcultural.com/ Jonathan Mayne

        Agreed. It’s a work in progress. Wasn’t just so fussed on Polarity. Maybe I need to give it more of a chance. Polarity, Chronoblade and Vector were the 3 I gave any real time to. Vector’s OK but incredibly frustrating! But then I guess some of the best games are.

        Finally decided to give OnLive a look last night. I’d read a bunch of stuff on forums and what have you that said you needed to load the patched version of the apk. Specifically because OnLive only really works with an official OnLive or XBOX 360 controller. Tried the XBOX 360 controller and didn’t get very far with it to be honest with you. In fact the Ouya controller works a lot better. Not sure what people are talking about. But then again maybe my initial update fixed some of those problems? Dunno.

        Anyway, all in all OnLive is kinda playable. The only real downside is that the Android resolution only goes so high. So stick that on an HD display and needless to say you lose something. Also they very sneakily don’t tell you that a bunch of their games aren’t available on Android. Borderlands being the one I noticed. But hey, maybe there’s hope for the flowers yet. It’d be the cherry on top if they could get it working flawlessly with some kind of cloud gaming service. Let’s face it, the hardware will support native games only so far. But then I guess indie gaming is what it’s for. If only developers would start taking it seriously. Fingers crossed eh?

  • http://aeiouwhy.blogspot.com/ Dex

    What’s the game pricing like? And for the emulators do they offer ROMs or do they expect you to scour the net to get your own since if they don’t own the rights, it’s kinda sketchy?

    • http://www.shezcrafti.com/ ShezCrafti

      All games on Ouya are “free to try,” and many are outright free. Most full versions of games are only a couple of bucks–they’re priced very similarly to mobile apps/games.

      As for ROMs, you would need to supply those yourself. Or ask a friend. ;-)

      • http://aeiouwhy.blogspot.com/ Dex

        Are there any arcade emulators or is it only computer/console?

  • https://twitter.com/WallCrawlinHero Wesley Hampton

    I admit to being hopeful, but skeptical on this one. With my gaming time and resources so limited I hesitate to jump on to anything, but I’ve been watching this closely and I think this post has sold it for me. Honestly, the issues you’ve had make me a little more excited to try it, if that makes any sense. I love the idea of it being a “project” not a “product,” like there’s a lot of room to improve it for me personally. I realize that’s not exactly a selling point for most people, but for such a low price point I think I could buy it and even if I only played it a few times I wouldn’t feel like I wasted money on it.

    Plus, original TMNT NES gaming on an HDTV? Sign me up! I’m already humming the overworld music.

  • http://tophatsasquatch.com/ Tommy Day

    How is the controller? I’ve had my eye on an Ouya to use as an emulation box but have been wondering about that.

    • http://www.shezcrafti.com/ ShezCrafti

      It’s not perfect, but it’s not terrible either. Sorry, I know a range of terrible to perfect isn’t super-helpful… The closest comparison I can give you is a 360 controller, in terms of both button layout and weight & hand-feel.