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Hands On with the Ouya: Is it Worth it?

Whilst the fall will be dominated by the brand new next generation consoles from Microsoft and Sony, a different games console is launching around the world today. The Ouya isn’t a direct competitor to these systems but rather a cheap, indie based console looking to bring Android games to the big screen. Having spent a month with the console, let me give you the lowdown on whether this new piece of hardware is worth your time.

To give you the backstory if you have never heard of the console before, Ouya first appeared on the premier crowdsourcing website Kickstarter last year looking to give gamers a different type of console. The promise was an Android based console where all the games are either free or have free demos and will be easily accessible so anyone with an idea can build games. The console will also be very cheap ($99) and is easy to root/hack so you can make it into whatever you want.

The campaign was insanely popular, gaining over $8.5 million in pledges. Since then the company has got a lot of bad press with many wondering if the console would ever arrive and if the promises they made would be too hard to keep. However nearly a year on early backers have been receiving their consoles (myself included) and now it is the general public’s turn. Now you have the background let’s dive straight into the console itself.

After a very quick and easy setup to connect your internet connection and sync your controller and a few updates you are good to go. The UI is very clean and easy to navigate. Simply titled Play, Discover, Make and Manage it’s very easy to find what you're looking for. First you will want to go to Discover to find some games to play which is sorted into many different categories. You have spotlighted games, games chosen by Ouya developers and many other categories including the usual sorting by genre. Once you download games they are found under Play all ready to go at the press of a button.

So how is the current selection of games? Considering it has only just launched, the amount of games on show is very impressive and many are very good. Their website boasts over 172 games available already and they seem to be being added to almost daily. As I mentioned earlier, most games are either free or very cheap, just like the regular Android market. But these aren't simply mobile games on a big screen with a controller. Some games have been ported but many are brand new titles built exclusively for the Ouya.

Whilst I’m sure I’ll find more games in the coming weeks I would like to mention a few I've enjoyed so far. BombSquad is a crazy multiplayer game that supports up to 8 players that involves picking up different power ups and trying to destroy all enemies on screen whilst trying to not fall off the level. It is hilarious with friends and offers a bunch of co-op and competitive modes, vs the computer or your friends. It can get difficult but it’s definitely the most fun I’ve had with an Ouya game so far.

Another favorite is Ice Rage, an ice hockey game that supports 1 vs 1 local multiplayer or you can take on a series of challenges against the computer. It can get rather repetitive, but picking it up just to play a game or two with a friend can be a lot of fun. Little Crane is a physics based puzzle game that involves moving things around with a crane which is in equal parts frustrating and rewarding. And then there's DubWars, a twin stick shooter that reacts to the dubstep soundtrack. Probably the most original game on the console but is only really a demo at this point with just 4 levels. These are just a few that I've enjoyed but there are so many to chose from and the list will only get bigger.

Another big feature of the console is the amount of emulators that have already appeared on the market. NES, SNES, N64 and even PS1 are present with more promised in the future. They work well for the most part (N64 is a bit janky), but isn't the best way to play the games. The controller mapping works well for some like the NES/SNES, but the N64 controller layout for Ouya is a mess. I’m sure these will all be improved as updates to every and all apps/games come on a frequent basis.

The controller is also another important part of the package as it is what makes this different to other Android devices that rely on virtual buttons to play. Its actually pretty nice. Clearly copied from the Xbox 360 controller in design, whilst it doesn't perform to that high of a standard it definitely doesn't hinder the experience. The sticks and triggers feel slightly cheap but as the package is cheap that is to be expected. Overall it is a very comfortable controller to use and the console supports both PS3 and Xbox 360 controllers so if you want, you can use whatever controller you are used to.

So is it worth it? I think so. It is hard to judge right now as the real test comes in the next few months and whether or not developers and consumers support the product. Hopefully the console and games sell well or otherwise the games could just dry up and then we're left with an expensive paperweight. But until that day, the early signs are good and if you like smaller, indie games that work with a controller you may want to try out the newest console on the market.

The Ouya retails at $99 (£99) and is available in stores now.


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