OUYA: The Best and Worst System Available

For most of my life, I would have considered myself an avid gamer. My parents introduced me to the Atari 2600 at a young age, and I was swept up in the magic of video games. In time, we got an NES in the house. One year, I bought a Genesis with birthday money, and I can remember saving up to buy myself an SNES and an Atari Jaguar at different times. I loved playing games. I poured countless hours into them over the years, both at home and at the local arcade. Video games were also a connection with many of my friends in the neighborhood.

In later years of my life, my excitement for gaming died down. I was bored with gaming. Most games and systems that I purchased now sit neglected and forgotten. I forced myself to stop buying them, knowing that no matter how much I cling to the memories of past gaming greatness, it is no longer for me.

There is a part of me that longs to be able to lose myself in gaming once again. It is one of the main reasons that I do not completely pack up all my systems. Every so often, I buy a game and attempt to play it enough to be worth the money. Most of the time, I do not play longer than an hour.

Smartphones, tablets and social networks have all sparked a new era of micro-gaming. The idea of being able to play in smaller chunks of time is appealing to me. However, having a strong background in console gaming makes most of that experience feel unsatisfactory. Having a mix of both worlds is what made the OUYA stick out to me during its Kickstarter campaign. I pledged enough money for the system and an extra controller. Even if it did not end up being what I was looking for, I would not have spent as much as the other consoles out on the market.

In some ways, the OUYA is the best console to hit the market in a long time. It aims to bridge the gap between a style of gaming that millions of people have adopted on their phones and the home console system. Being an open system allows anyone to develop for it. This helps to give it a broad game base along with an appeal for indie developers to publish on the platform. For someone like me, a gamer who rarely touches a game again after the first play, the free to play game model is a winner. Each game must allow consumers a chance to play for free before purchasing. Some of the games are unlocked from the start and offer users the chance to give donations if desired. Others have a daily, or total, time limit to play before purchasing. Whatever the model, most of the games provide enough time to satisfy my gaming experience without wasting money on a game I will never touch again.

The OUYA also does a great job of pushing the local multiplayer experience. There are a growing number of games that allow local gaming against friends and family. My girlfriend and I have had many great matches in games like Towerfall and Bomb Squad. There have been several times we have had friends over and enjoyed multiplayer together. I miss that kind of gaming, and enjoy that it is being pushed by OUYA.

The other great thing about the OUYA is the frequent amount of updates. The firmware updates regularly with fixes to bugs and new features. It is nice to see that things are not stagnant. Frequently requested improvements are heard and worked into the updates. External storage was one of the features introduced in the last few months. This provided a solution to the small internal storage that the system has by default.

On the flip side, the OUYA is also one of the worst systems to come out in a long time. Despite the positive aspects of the console, there are other glaring problems that make it hard to recommend. Though issues like the storage space are addressed, other problems are still looming over the head of the OUYA.

The controllers for the OUYA are lacking. The company states that most bluetooth devices can connect to the system. However, many of the games do not work with these other controllers. The system also has trouble keeping track of the devices when users connect non-OUYA controllers. Using the standard controller is frustrating. When working, the joysticks lack the precision found on modern gaming systems. When they are not working, the input is laggy and the buttons stick. Often times, the character on screen will randomly start moving or ignore the player’s input. The company attempted to fix the stuck button issue through a redesign of the controller faceplates, but it is still a problem. I have had controllers replaced and bought brand new ones in the store, they all have issues. That cannot happen on a system if it is aiming for mass adoption. At best, the OUYA comes off as a work in progress. At worst, people see it as unfinished. That will drive away future customers. Though the company has remained largely silent over controller issues, some games recommend placing the system on its side for better controller response. That is a glaring mark against a company trying to cement itself in a well established market space.

The system also has problems with the built in WiFi. Recent updates allow WiFi strength to be turned down when multiple controllers are in use (another roundabout admittance of the poor controller usability). Even at full strength, the downloading of games can be slow. That kind of behavior is frustrating, especially when the games require downloading from online. Hardwiring the device helps, but most people do not want to run ethernet cable throughout their house.

Having an open development platform has allowed to console to gain hundreds of games within its first year on the market. Unfortunately, many of the games look terrible, play poorly and showcase the fact that big name gaming companies are not making software for the OUYA. Even some of the better games available on the system are ports from other Android devices. Online multiplayer games are also an issue. Though some of the games are cool, there is not a large enough audience to find people to regularly game with online. Lack of a centralized friend system adds to the issue. The big crash of the video game industry in the early 80s was due to an overabundant production of mediocre titles flooding the market. The OUYA has created the same conditions from day one with its core model of game development.

In the end, the OUYA is a system that I want to love. I want to be able to tell all my friends to run out and buy it. For now, I can only recommend it to those I know are willing to put up with the frustrations because of the lower cost. I hesitate to even do that though. In recent weeks, the company has announced an “OUYA Everywhere” initiative. They have made it possible to embed the OUYA platform onto other devices. This means that the OUYA can be put on other micro-consoles and possibly even on computers. For a company that touted a “new kind of video game console” during their initial funding, they are now using a loose definition of “console.” Have they lost their vision, or is this just an acknowledgement that their foray into hardware was a failure? Either way, it is not a good sign for the future of the system. I think the heart behind initial development of the console was in the right place. Now OUYA needs to decide what kind of product they are offering the consumer, learn from their failures and deliver a finished product. Until then, the OUYA will remain a curiosity, shunned by mainstream gamers and consumers.

2 comments

  • Any idea if there is a Netflix client that will run on this? If I could at least use it as a Roku replacement with the added benefit of being able to tinker with game development, I would feel better about buying one. I don’t think I would ever try using it to actually seriously play games on, though. It seems to me they landed themselves in a gap that doesn’t require filling. Serious gamers are going to want a full-fledged console. Phones and tablets are good enough for most of the rest and getting better all the time. Micro-console? Who needs one except for a niche hobbyist?

    • There is not an official Netflix client, but you can grab the APK and sideload it. I have not done it, but a quick search brought up several results with where to grab the APK and videos on how to get it installed. It also has an official Plex and XBMC client if you use either of those media servers at home.

      You are definitely right about falling into that gap. They originally wanted to create a new kind of console experience leveraged for indie developers, but I feel like they are still struggling to figure out how to do that. There is another micro-console called the M.O.J.O. It is made by Mad Catz and looks to have a much better controller. They will be the first hardware to use the OUYA Anywhere initiative. It is $100 more, but their hardware is better and you can have the OUYA platform side by side with the Google Play Store, Amazon App Store and others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *