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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