I have to admit, when I was first approached to review the OUYA I was pretty skeptical. I had read the reviews like everybody else, that it didn’t offer any games you couldn’t find elsewhere and couldn’t compare to the big name consoles for graphics capabilities. I quickly discovered, though, that the OUYA isn’t a David trying to slay the console Goliaths, It’s more like the quick, agile, and scrappy early mammals surviving and thriving in the shadow of the big lumbering dinosaurs.
So, you can’t play Call of Duty or Batman: Arkham Origins on the OUYA. Its role is much simpler than that: it’s there to play games quickly. That is its implicit strength, one that my kids (both teens) quickly discovered and immediately fell in love with. After only a few days of playing with it, they made me go out and buy another controller—the base unit comes with one—so they could play against each other. We’re already talking about getting the full complement of four controllers so the whole family can play games.
If you are not familiar with it, the OUYA Console is a small 100-buck block with a slightly smaller foot print than an AppleTV, but about three times its height. In fact, the OUYA is doing something everyone thought the AppleTV would be doing by now: running games. In this case, though, it’s running them on an nVidia Tegra 3 processor and 1GB of RAM and 8GB flash storage and built around the Android OS.
Founded by Julie Uhrman and designed by Jambox creator Industrial designer Yves Béhar, OUYA began as a Kickstarter project which made its target almost 9 times over. The design is a sleek and sexy sand-blasted aluminum and plastic, with a single button on top to turn it on and off. Output is 1080p HDMI while input includes through USB 2.0 and micro-USB, WiFi (802.11 b/g/n), Ethernet Port, and Bluetooth.
The controllers use Bluetooth to connect to the base-station, which is great as this means you don’t have to keep line of sight for IR, but I did find the connectivity got a bit wonky from time to time and we would have to reset everything.
The user interface is well thought out for TV, with simple large text menus and plenty of background texture and depth to keep it visually engaging but not overwhelming. I have to admit I occasionally got a little lost, and could have used some clearer signals as to where I was, but that doesn’t last too long. And getting into games is extremely quick. Turn the system on, choose your game from the menu, and you are playing. This is at odds with other consoles, where I feel like I spend half my time just getting to the game play.
It took some time for the OS to update, and we even had to restart it at one point, but once all those “t”s were crossed and “i”s dotted, getting the controller in sync was a snap, hooking to my WiFi network only a little troublesome (as with most systems like this, a keyboard would really come in handy or at least a caps lock), and we were quickly downloading and playing games after that.
One neat feature is that all of the over 500 available games are free to download and try. They will either provide the basic levels or unlimited play for a limited time trial. This means that if you see a game that looks really cool, you can make sure that it’s more than just a sexy splash screen before plonking down cold hard cash. This has saved us from a few potential buyer remorse situations, where games were only fun for a few levels before the game play quickly becomes tiresome. Yet several games have provided me and my kids with hours of enjoyment. And oddly, it is the simpler games that my kids are drawn to the most.
In the 21st century, we should have expected immersive virtual reality worlds that overwhelm the senses. For sure, there are games like that, and yet it’s games like Minecraft that keep my kids (and obviously many more kids) coming back. OUYA has some high concept hi-res games, but it’s its arcade style games, with graphics I would have laughed at 20 years ago, that my kids seem to want to play over and over again. As my 15 year old says, “Retro for the win!”
Chief among these is the game TowerFall, which takes me back to my misspent youth in the dark recesses of the local video arcade. With 8-Bit “retro” style graphics, this game pits two magical protagonists against each other in a castle environment where they duel with arrows and other weapons they pick up along the way.
But other, even simpler, games like Draw Ride kept them occupied too. In this game, they are simply trying to ride a bike over some pretty tricky terrains. They played for hours, taking turns and teaching each other new tricks.
What may be the coolest things about the OUYA—and the feature that may attract the most geeks—is that it comes with a free developer’s kit and developer portal, where anyone can make use of the built-in UNITY engine to create their own games. The OUYA makes an inexpensive platform for budding game makers to get started.
If your kids asked for a PlayStation, Xbox, or Wii U for the holidays and you show up with only an OUYA, they are going to be disappointed. The OUYA will not play any of the hot high-level games you can buy at your local gaming store. But for $99, it makes a great second system, especially for casual game play where you want to be able to quickly pick something up without having to wait for endless screens and loads and learning complex moves. It’s also great for kids wanting to get their feet wet with game design. The OUYA is much like an Apple TV: small but packing a lot of entertainment potential if you give it a chance.
The OUYA Console sells for $99.99.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a free review copy of the OUYA Console.