The lights are on
The console isn't even out yet, but
it's already been a wild ride for the Ouya. Since this Android based
platform announced its Kickstarter campaign last July, more than
60,000 backers have contributed $8.6 million for an open platform
that gives developers the autonomy to build what they want when they
want. We recently sat down with CEO Julie Urhman, who showcased the
console, controller, and slick user interface.
The diminutive chassis is less than the
size of a softball, packing in a Nvidia Tegra 3, 1.7Ghz quad-core ARM
A9 chip, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of internal flash memory. One modestly sized fan keeps all these pieces from overheating while operating at a
quiet 20 decibels. The back of the unit features an HDMI port, USB
and micro USB ports, an Ethernet port, and a power plug-in. The
console also supports 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The unit
comes with an HDMI cord as well, so you don't need anything extra to
get the system up and running. Ouya is currently testing other
Bluetooth devices to see if they are compatible with the console, and
plans to publish a list once it's done with the fact-finding mission.
It currently supports the use of up to four controllers at once.
Xbox 360 owners should be right at home
with the Ouya controller, which has staggered analog sticks, four
face buttons, a D-pad, two shoulder buttons, and two triggers. It
connects to the console via Bluetooth and runs on two AA batteries.
To replace the batteries, you must remove the brushed aluminum face
plates on each side of the controller. You need to be aggressive to
pull them off, but they fit tightly back onto the controller. I like
the placement of the analog sticks, but they aren't concave so your
fingers may slip off them from time to time. The sloped triggers are
pressure sensitive, which should make the controller a good fit for
first-person shooters, and the middle of the controller is a
one-touch touchpad. To get back to the menu at any time in a game,
you can double-tap the Ouya button in the lower middle of the
My favorite feature of the Ouya is the
minimalistic and intuitive user interface, which isn't cluttered with
advertisements or an overwhelming amount of options. Instead, upon
booting the system up you're greeted with four options: Play,
Discover, Make, and Manage.
Selecting the Play channel brings you
to the collection of the games you have downloaded. This menu looks
almost like the Xbox 360's Metro design, with rectangular panels for
each game, but the Ouya fits more options on the screen at once.
The Discover channel acts as the Ouya
storefront. Here you can peruse several different menus of games.
Similar to a recommended apps tab in the iOS storefront, the Featured
section houses games vetted and curated by former thatgamecompany producer Kellee Santiago. The Go Retro section obviously leads you to
throwback titles that recall gaming's golden age. The Genre section
allows you to sort the games by several categories. The Sandbox
houses the latest games appearing on Ouya. These titles need a high
enough O ranking (an under-the-hood algorithm that collects usage data on games) or enough thumbs-up votes to become candidates
for the other sections. The Hear Me section selects games with great
soundtracks. Whatever section you are in, when you click on a game
you are presented with a screen that showcases game information,
screenshots, and eventually video trailers (a feature that has yet to
be integrated). If you'd rather not browse, a universal search option
lets you type the name of the specific game you are looking for.
The Make channel is the home base for
developers to quickly access their latest builds, and the Manage
option lets you dive into the system settings to enter your credit
card information, set up your user name, etc. The console currently
doesn't have many community functions – friends lists and
achievements are notably missing – but Uhrman says these are both part of the long-term plan. Parental controls and the ability to set up
multiple users on one console are also missing at this time. I'd also
like to see Ouya create a dedicated channel for multimedia options
like Netflix, XBMC, Flixster, etc.
The biggest question mark we still have about the Ouya is what game will be the system seller. Urhman tells us that the company has more than 50 games up and running in the Ouya storefront as of right now, but most of these titles are already available on other platforms. The games we saw on the console include Canabalt, Final Fantasy III, Organ Trail: Director's Cut, Fist of Awesome, Stalagflight, Wizorb,and The Ball. We know that Double Fine, Robotoki, and Kim Swift have Ouya-exclusive titles in the pipeline, and Ouya has shipped more than 1,200 developer consoles, but we don't know enough about the upcoming games to discern whether or not they have the potential to draw players to the platform.
Kickstarter backers will begin receiving their consoles in the next few days; the company began shipping them out today. The Ouya is scheduled to launch for $99 on June 4, appearing at retail storefronts like Best Buy and GameStop as well as online retailers like Amazon. As much as we appreciate the console's clean interface and developer friendly environment, if Ouya expects gamers to migrate to its platform, it needs to offer experiences we can't get anywhere else.
Email the author Matt Bertz, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.