OUYA Gaming Console: Hands-On Evaluation.

The OUYA Gaming Console came bringing a lot of promise to an area desperately in need. The explosion in smartphone gaming has been phenomenal; but if there’s anything more phenomenal than all the developer attention being brought to smartphones, it’s the sheer magnitude of disapproval coming from core gamers who don’t think Android/iPhone gaming involves the hardware necessary to be taken seriously.

Honestly, it’s a valid point. The amount of times a game had to have it’s design elements crippled to match insufficient control options is too high to count and the end result is a new generation where the gaming scene ousts core gamers. Hardware that allows mobile operating system games to be more than a novelty needs to happen… and so far, the Xperia Play has been the only one with enough developer support to break the mold. Developers know it, serious gamers know it… and apparently so did over 63,000 backers. Born as a kickstarter concept, the OUYA demolished it’s $950,000 goal in hours, then proceeded to raise over $7.6 million more. People want to see smartphone gaming ascend beyond itty bitty time waster casual games and become something substantial.

The question arises now, how has the result of these donations shaped up now that it’s mere weeks away from seeing it’s official release?

One of the most widespread misconceptions is that using a phone or tablet with HDMI out and a bluetooth controller eliminates the need for an OUYA.

To give a bit of backstory, I’d previously been using a Samsung Galaxy S Aviator with a MOGA and HDMI out thinking that it did the same job as OUYA… and yeah, the essential task could be done… but now that I have the OUYA, I realize that the thought of a phone or tablet doing OUYA’s job ignores a metric ton of key differenciating factors:

  • Cutting Your Screen’s Life Short: Whether you’re using a smartphones or a tablet – the component of a screen heating elements exists. This means that trying to use a smartphone in the same manner as an OUYA introduces the liability of a screen that’s life is finite.
  • Compromising Battery Life: The cardinal rule of every portable electronic device is that poor battery care etiquette can make a device that once lasted a whole day without charge decrease to something that barely holds it’s charge for 15 minutes. And yes, docking that phone into an ever-charging situation where it’s under the stress of the device and TV-output can shave life off your battery to an extent that not even CWM battery stats wiping can repair.
  • Convenience: While the OUYA is stationary, always plugged in and no more than two button presses away from being ready to game… it’s always an ordeal to get a smartphone from it’s pocketed position to being ideal for gametime. That means we’re plugging in the HDMI cable to get our display to the big screen, going through all the required menu-work to get audio/video the way it needs to be, plugging in the charger so that it doesn’t die under the heavy stress, then spending valuable time pairing (or re-connecting) a bluetooth controller, with periodic breaks from our couched position to finger-navigate through the UI… and that barely touches all the fun stuff like having to disconnect everything and return to phone mode when a text message comes into play.

OUYA doesn’t have a battery that can “go bad,” it doesn’t have a screen element that wears with use over time, docking it doesn’t become a chore of disconnection/reconnecting when texts/calls come in… and it’s a hell of a lot easier to get into a gaming session without all the hooking up and connection protocol nonsense. So it’s very sensible to conclude that no method of a phone or tablet paired with a controller can actually do OUYA’s job.

With that said, let’s get to the OUYA itself. While I can’t make the claim that I’m a *genuine* original backer, I did purchase a backer-edition OUYA off eBay. It arrived very quickly and in pristine condition. Being that this is based on a famously open-source platform, sideloading apps was easy. From this, we can conclude that it’s game library becomes an unstoppable juggernaut to anyone who contains a little know-how.

After getting my flavor of customization in with the Amazon Appstore and ES File Explorer, loading it up with emulators was easy and the controller I got has no sticking issues despite being a backer edition. But I kind of prefer playing an operating system’s own games over just reliving yester-decade’s tales… luckily not all games have to be custom-tailored to the OUYA for them to work properly. I was able to grab games like Sonic 4 Episode II, Zenonia 4, Pocket Monsters and quite a lot more to play with no issues… and since it works with OnLive, full console-quality games like The Witcher 2, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Batman: Arkham City, Homefront, F.E.A.R. 3, Saints Row and Borderlands easily become part of the OUYA.

It’s an incredibly powerful device for the money spent, capable of going far beyond “just games”. With the obvious fact that people’s life needs go beyond playing video games, media capabilities are getting to be a key feature. The purists will argue day and night that a system solely focused on games is ideal, yet anything being released with the ability to work with Netflix, Youtube, DLNA/uPnP streaming is actually getting shunned. Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 all cost multiple times more than the OUYA, and it’s obvious that not a single one of them has media capabilities that even comes close to what Android offers. So OUYA does definitely trample a lot of other dedicated systems in the field of raw functionality.

What we all want to know about though is the games… and at this point; everything is all about perception. If the OUYA’s gaming store were in the state it’s in a year from now, there’d be serious reasons to worry… but any open eye can see that it’s not even released to be properly judged – yet STILL has some heavy hitters under it’s belt. Even more impressive than that though is that OUYA seems to be deploying a hype-building strategy. The scowls brought by the thought that what we see today is indicative of OUYA’s future are turning into bulged eyes and dropped jaws as they slowly leak out more and more news of the hit titles they’ve been holding back. Games like Killing Floor, Ittle Dew, Towerfall, Quintet, Arena of Heroes and ChronoBlade are already stirring up wells of faith in any already invested backer that may have felt regret.

Moreover, the retail units are in circulation – and reports indicate that all thoughts and concerns ranging from mild to severe have been considered in the post-release tweaks. This means we have a vastly improved controller on the horizon as well as an overhauled user interface – meaning the two biggest complaints have been resolved.

I am quite interested in seeing just what kind of UI improvements we’ll see upon launch, that’s been the one and only qualm I have with the OUYA. If what we have now is any indication, we’ve got a lot of good things to look forward to.

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