Thursday, 5 December 2013

OUYA console review

For the purposes of integrity I would like to point out that I was NOT given an OUYA. I spent my own money that I have worked hard for. This review will give you a completely unbiased run down of everything good and bad with the console. Enjoy! 

The OUYA is one of Kickstarter's increasingly few success stories, with a final figure of $8,596,474 pledged of a $950,000 goal. I hadn't heard of Kickstarter before the OUYA truth be told, but the promise of an indie games console spread through the blogosphere quickly. I watched the campaign play out to great success but never got involved - everything stank of 'too good to be true'. I held back and waited it out.

Over the following months reports of faulty units and disgruntled backers made me glad I had abstained from the Kickstarter campaign... However, I have always followed the old sayings regarding the 'vocal minority' and 'empty vessels make the most noise'. Basically, happy people use the item, unhappy people shout... or blog in this case.
'The vocal minority'

So now having one sat next to my telly - what are my thoughts as someone free of bias / late to the party?

The OUYA first impressed me with its packaging, upon opening it invited me to 'Join the revolution' via a translucent plasti-card thingy laying across the console. Now as much as I understand the OUYA is not a revolution in gaming, I couldn't help but feel that the team who put it together genuinely approached the product with serious intent to make it so. In a world filled with insanely powerful hardware on both home computers, laptops, tablets and i-devices how much could it really be revolutionary?

Lets tackle this one methodically so we can better understand where the OUYA isn't revolutionary, and where it has made a push into untamed waters.

The hardware is not revolutionary. When was the last time we actually saw revolutionary though? The first 3DFX cards on PC?, Sony's first venture into gaming? Its hard to pin point the leaps and bounds in technology these days as everything has come so far and its all starting to become standard fare. Games are 3D, graphics are rendered in HD, and the quality of content available has never been better.

The OUYA console is as good as a decent smart-phone or tablet, it will run 3D games and play HD media happily but is not in anyway future proof. The 3D abilities have had the benefit of Nvidia's chip-set but the newer games are already making the console struggle. With 2D games the console pumps out vibrant HD images effortlessly. You can also use USB external memory to take the strain off the diminutive [by 2013's standards] 8GB on board storage.

The OUYA's controller is somewhere between the PS3 and the Xbox 360. The buttons are kind of spongy like the PS3, the triggers had a similar feel too but the sticks and the weight more inline with the 360. The D-pad is serviceable and better than Microsoft's efforts. It also takes AA batteries, which adds weight to the pad [in a good way] and lasts days on my 2300mah Energiser rechargables. The batteries hide within the controllers wings/palm area under 2 magnetically held plates. There is a touch pad at the top frontside of the joypad, it is not multitouch and in honesty its not great. I like the pad a lot due to its size, I have big hands and the OUYA's controller lays comfortably within my meat mittens. I also enjoy the weight of the pad and the metal fascias feel great. Its a nice effort from a company who has never made controllers before, they clearly provided the best they could within the price constraints of a £100 console - its not perfect, but not even the big boys can claim theirs are.

So we are yet to experience the aforementioned 'Revolution' in regards to the hardware but this was never the OUYA's goal. The console is standardized so it can be be kept cheap - that's it. The OUYA's revolution is due to the community and its developers. The hardware, and its underlying Android origins, are simply the delivery method of one thing - GAMES.

The console is less than a year old and it has loads of games, hundreds if not thousands.

The biggest challenge of ANY console's life is the first year, hardware issues and software drought make the first 12 months not only expensive but dull. Games for a new system are poorly tuned to the hardware due to the inexperience of the coders behind them, great stress is applied for the 'BIG PUSH!' but this pressure rarely leads to diamonds. We get sequels and often shit new IPs that fall flat on there big dumb faces if the teams are feeling brave. The first year is often the worst in a consoles life.

The OUYA doesn't have this problem.

Due to the established nature of its underlying software, games are quickly made compatible and can even be freely developed on a standard console. Due to near non-existent overheads, indies can try out ideas or concepts with little risk of failure and if things go well they could make serious money as they have a [near] direct line to Joe gamer. It genuinely is the most indie friendly console.

When the OUYA released, indie games could be bought on all current consoles, this is nothing new but the start up costs could be prohibitive to a studio or an individual and also quite involved due to the unique nature of each console. I'm not a coder/publisher but I can tell you this for nothing, the OUYA has more unique titles than any other home console and I suspect it has allowed an entire demographic of no-budget bedroom coders to get involved.

If the coders were 'artists' and the games were 'paintings', the place displaying them is more 'country fayre' than 'Louvre'. That doesn't mean there aren't some outstanding pieces of work, but these pieces were never intended to be placed on a pedestal - they are purely to be digested by those that enjoy them - not the masses.

So whats my conclusion now I have bored you to tears with analogies?

If you love to be surprised by games or enjoy delving into another's imagination give the OUYA a chance. It is host to some of the best indie games I have played and they are very affordable. There are a lot 'sub-standard' efforts and half arsed messes, but they won't cost you anything to try and when you encounter a gem its very exciting indeed. If you are old enough to remember the 80's, you may remember the excitement of going into an arcade and trying all the games... you'll only fall in love with a few but they will stay in your memories for long time to come.

If you want a next-gen, 64 multiplayer, Skynet powered brick of a system, stay away. There's no shame in not liking it - it wasn't designed to be one of the big boys and/or liked by everybody...

...and that is pretty revolutionary.

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