Hands on with Hardware: The Ouya!

The little console that could – but nobody believed it.

Being the huge geek that I am and hanging around the websites I do, i picked up on the Ouya chatter in late 2012. And it really peaked my interest!  Here was a games console the size of a Rubiks cube, powered by Android. It had it’s own dedicated game store and anyone could develop games for it, without paying huge fees to Sony, Microsoft or Ninetendo!

I carried on reading, and watched as the Ouya was released in the March of 2013. There were a few niggles following launch, but this was never going to be as smooth as a new Playstation or Xobx. I wanted something that wasn’t perfect. Something I could play around with, tweak to my heart’s content. I’ve always been a fan of the “alternative” and would love to see Ouya flourish in what has become a predictable market!

In september 2013 I recieved my very own Ouya as a present on my 30th Birthday!

History lesson (may repeat some of the above, sorry!)

Julie Uhrman founded the Ouya project in 2012. Together with designer Yves Béhar and a team of engineers, she set up a Kickstarter page for an “Android Microconsole” and showcased a mock design and some impressive hardware specs. Internet fans loved the idea and backed the little console to the tune of 8.5 Million Dollars! This was Kickstarter’s 5th highest earner at the time. Ouya has always had the magical $99 price tag.

The Ouya was released to kickstarter backers in March 2013, and then on general sale in June. After the initial buzz around the console, problems started to arise. Some people complained about controllers, some about Wi-Fi issues, and most people about the device’s limited storage. The marketing wasn’t quite right either. I always felt that the Ouya team were relying on word of mouth to shift units, and when that word was negative, sales were hit hard.

The console tried to hang in there, revising the operating system/controllers and introducing things like USB storage. The damage had been done however, and instead of being the “revolution” it wanted to be, the Ouya is widely regarded as a flop and a disappointment. The designs for the hardware were sold to Razer Inc in July 2015, and the console has been declared dead. I’m still waiting for the day to come where it won’t connect to the official servers, but at the time of this post, it’s still possible to make a connection, browse the store, download and play whatever games you fancy.  With official announcements of any kind not forthcoming, the Ouya, it’s store, and the remaining userbase is in perpetual Limbo!

The Console

ouya5

The title pic for this post (right at the top!)  Is your standard Ouya console.  Sleek, metallic and cold. But feast your eyes on my Ouya, shining bright, with clear custom case! I love being able to see the bare boards, it shows you how amazing the hardware really is!

The Ouya is a tiny little beast that takes up minimal space. The front and sides of the console are totally bare, with the ports on the back and the power button on top. Ouya boasts full HDMI video, a USB port, a mini-usb port, an ethernet port, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi out of the box. It runs a modified version of Android’s Jelly Bean 4.1 and sports a Tegra 3 processor.

The device has 8gb of onboard storage, and thanks to an update, now supports external USB storage too. You’re able to connect a full USB hardrive to the system if you so desire.

The console has it’s own custom-built operating system, and dedicated store to purchase games from. Games can be installed (side-loaded) if you have a compatible APK file, which is a major plus, but I’ll get to that later. Games in the store have nice detailed descriptions, screenshots and ratings, and you can try any game for free before you buy. This is the only console in my collection that doesn’t have any physical media (disks, cartridges, tapes, blu-rays etc.) It’s 100% download only!

The controller

Well somebody liked the Xbox 360 pad, amiright?

ouya1

The black panel in the middle is actually a touchpad, you can swipe to move a cursor and tap it to select things. It doesn’t work very well at all I have to admit. Otherwise the controller feels quite nice to hold. Thumbsticks are responsive, and snap back to centre nicely. Shoulder buttons are snappy and there’s a central button to call up the menu. Going with a familiar layout like this definitley helped the Ouya, although there were some grievances early on about controllers lagging. Mine respond perfectly fine, but that little flaw put a lot of people off buying an Ouya!

The Games

ouya2

Ouya has a wide variety of software available for it. Some titles are a lot of fun to play, Towerfall for example, was so popular that it recieved a port to the PS3, PS4 and Steam! There were a host of other gems here too, such as Bomb Squad, Gears of War clone ShadowGun, and Wrestling Revolution! I also want to mention Sine Mora, a fantastic shooter that took me back to the good ol’ days of R-Type.

ouya3
Playing Mario Kart 64 without powering on the N64 – thanks Ouya!

Then there’s the emulators. Ouya is NOT shy about it’s ability to run classic games, and you can download the emulators right from the main store! Supported consoles include NES, SNES, Megadrive, Playstation 1, Neo Geo and even the PC Engine! These emulators are all tuned properly and run great on the OUYA, you just have to download the game roms from somewhere else. Y’know…. to keep it legal.  The emulators are even better when you use the Nostalgia app shown in my video below, it’s like an Aladdin’s cave of retro gaming!

There are also plenty of apps on Ouya, such as E-Book readers and media players. You can also install video streaming apps like Plex and Crunchyroll, although I advise a wired internet connection if you’re going to try them!

That’s the good stuff. A lot of the games on the store are erm, tosh. Some games look like complete rip-offs, some are poorly executed and others look like they were thrown together by a hungover student on a Sunday morning. It’s a good job that almost every game can be playtested for free.

Lastly, you can sideload games. Sideloading is a way to install games onto the Ouya using a file you’ve downloaded/obtained instead of using the official store. The Ouya team were well aware of this, and never tried to stamp it out, which I suppose is commendable. Simply transfer your file to USB drive, plug it into your Ouya click install, and the game is playable on your console – as long as it supports your controller! I got some great games to work through sideload. They really show off the Ouya’s power! Dead Trigger is a great first person Zombie shooter, and Evac HD is a similar game to Pac Man, with a puzzle element and gorgeous neon graphics. Gunman Clive is a 2D shooter with visuals that look like every frame’s been drawn by hand.  Some really nice experiences here.

Video

I show off my own Ouya, and explain why people were a little hasty to write the poor thing off!

Final Thoughts

I really like the idea behind the Ouya, and I love rooting for the underdog. This console has a lot to offer and certainly doesn’t deserve to be the joke of the industry. It’s not without it’s niggles: the Wi-Fi is certainly ropey and the controller needs a re-think…. but come on, it this really as bad as the CD-I?

If you see one at a bargain price, scoop it up. It’ll be fun, I promise!

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