A Week With The New OUYA $99 Android Console

OUYASo I was one of the 63,000 people that backed the Ouya on Kickstarter last year and helped it achieve the $8.5 million in funding for the first ever “indie” console.  The console started shipping at the end of March and I received mine last Friday. I was instantly impressed with the small and sleek cube that makes up the console.  There wasn’t much in the box other than the console, controller, cables, batteries, and a “Thank you for believing” note. Obviously, I was excited to experience the console and immediately started setting it up.  I admit that I struggled with getting the controller face plates off and figuring out exactly where the batteries went.  As a quick aside about the controller, for all intents and purposes it’s an Xbox 360 gamepad with different triggers and a touchpad in the center.  The Ouya button on the controller acts like the Xbox button and brings you back to the main menu when held down (though it does not turn on/off the console).  Some folks have complained about the buttons sticking, but I had no such problems – though I did experience some of the input lag with several of the currently available games (more on that below).

ouya controller 1

After getting the controller back together, I plugged my Ouya into my 50-inch TV and booted it up.  This where I ran into my first problem. I needed to connect to a wireless network in order to register my Ouya and get playing. But my WiFi was not showing up.  The Ouya didn’t detect my wireless network and was perpetually stuck on “Turning WiFi On…”  After waiting for 10 minutes and with nothing changing on the screen, I decided to figure out the wireless problem later and hooked up the Ethernet cable.  This got me linked up and allowed me to finish registering my Ouya username and console.

ouya start screen

The Ouya doesn’t come with any games pre-installed so I headed down to the Discover pane to access the Ouya store.  I immediately noticed that game images and descriptions were loading really slow.  Eventually everything loaded in, but as I went to download games the button seemed to get stuck on “downloading…” and no games were showing up to play.  Needless to say that after hours of waiting, rebooting, and troubleshooting the system, I gave up and sat with a $99 Ouya paperweight for about a week.  One morning I was able to quickly download Knightmare Tower and play it, but that was it (and I could have just played the free Flash Version).  I read the Ouya support forums, contacted them, and monitored their Twitter feed.  I never received a response, but this week a firmware patch was finally released that seems to have fixed the internet connection problems.

Since getting connected yesterday, I have downloaded over a dozen games/demos. Consoles are really all about the games and right now the Ouya is lacking a killer app (think Halo, Killzone, Uncharted types) to push system sales.  One of the most jarring things about Ouya’s games are that many are unplayable with the controller lag (Wizorb for one).  I’m not sure if the lag is Ouya’s fault or the developer’s, but it’s an obvious problem with several of the games I played.  I guess the big game on the console right now is Final Fantasy III, but I think the best game on Ouya right now is Deep Dungeons of Doom by a landslide:

Other games that are worth a shot are Beast Boxing Turbo (not quite as good as Super PunchOut, but same idea), Vector, and obviously Canabalt. All in all though, the Ouya needs Android games made for a controller and not for phones.  There are a lot of short arcade-style phone games on the platform and I hope the console can attract some meatier console experiences.  There is nothing wrong with Canabalt – it’s a great game, but is it really something you want to sit down on the couch and play for hours on a big screen?

Ouya has already come out and said that the console sent to Kickstarter backers is not ready for review.  The console is meant to be a preview/beta of the console that will eventually launch next month.  I agree with them.  The Ouya is absolutely not ready for retail and full-blown release, but I doubt it will be ready come June.  My first week with the Ouya was immensely frustrating, —not only with the fact that it didn’t work, but also because of the lack of information out there.  If Ouya had posted on their Twitter/Support forum that a patch was in the works, I could have saved myself a lot of headaches wrestling with the thing trying to get it to work.   Even with the patch, the system is rough around the edges.  The user interface is alright, but certainly doesn’t look as sexy as the concepts shown during the Kickstarter campaign:

Proposed Ouya Interface shown off during Kickstarter

Proposed Ouya Interface shown off during Kickstarter

Actual Ouya interface as it works today
Actual Ouya interface as it works today

Another frustrating aspect of the Ouya is that it was touted as a completely hackable and open platform.  Recently, Ouya has come out saying that Android games that you own via the Google Play store or that you have on your phone will not work on the Ouya since everything has to be purchased through the Ouya store.  In my opinion, if you have Canabalt on your Android phone (or iPhone for that matter), you should be able to play it on the Ouya without having to repurchase it.  As it stands now though, all of the hacking surrounds side-loading games and DRM-free .apks outside of the Ouya OS experience.  I’m glad that .apks can be hacked to work on the Ouya, but it still feels like they’re hiding one of the coolest things about the console.  How cool would it be for indie developers to sell their own Ouya console version of their games as an .apk from their own website without Ouya, Microsoft, Sony, or Valve taking a cut?  I guess that wasn’t in the cards.  I think Gamestick may rise up as the better Kickstarter/Android console value, but only time will tell.

  • Indie maze

    It’s not possible to drop an regular APK on the console and install it? I’ve read somewhere that you need to add a credit card before you can play. Is that true?

    What about multimedia capabilities? Did you try to install XBMC oder something like that?

  • SaintNicster

    It is possible to side-load APK files, but some games do an authorization check with the Google Play Services Framework, so you’d have to side load that, as well. It isn’t completely simple, but there are installation instructions available for those comfortable with a command line.

  • James Coote

    Thing is, if OUYA don’t get a cut of the money from the games being sold through their store, then they don’t have any other way of making money as a business (it’s not like they make money on the $99 hardware). They never see any money from games sold through Google Play

    I personally haven’t had any problems downloading from OUYA, though it may be there is less server demand at the times when I’m playing as not many euro’s have their OUYAs yet. Also the wifi on the router my ISP sent me sucks, so I’ve cabled up the entire house

    If you have any future problems, don’t bother waiting for OUYA support, since they’ve spent the last two months dealing with 60,000 people asking twice a week “where’s my OUYA?” but you can feel free to ask over at ouya forum dot com (we’ve got a whole subforum just for support and help, since OUYA aren’t very good at handling that stuff themselves).

    Also, there definitely are a fair few games “you’d want to sit down on the couch and play for hours” or play with friends on the OUYA at the moment, but they do take a little searching around to find. (The featured section is mostly OUYA going “look! things you might have actually heard of before!” and consequently is mostly ports. Not to say the games in there aren’t good. Rather that they’re perhaps not entirely representative of what else is on the store)

  • SaintNicster

    > How cool would it be for indie developers to sell their own Ouya console version of their games as an .apk from their own website without Ouya, Microsoft, Sony, or Valve taking a cut?

    They can still do this.

    The only issues that I see are that the built-in browser (android default) is bit clunky to use with the controller, and there are some extra steps needed to access the filesystem (specifically the downloads folder). These can be fixed.

    I’ll echo James’s comments about the Google store aspect. Ouya needs cash to operate, and they won’t get a split from Google. Also, probably 80-90% of the apps there aren’t going to be optimized for use with the controller. Yeah, you can use the touchpad, but that’s really a non-optimal way to go.

    You can directly download the Amazon App Store to pull some things there, but again, good luck finding stuff that supports that actually supports a controller or the Ouya controller.