Ben Kuchera

The joy of the OUYA’s software library isn’t in the destination, but the journey

The joy of the OUYA’s software library isn’t in the destination, but the journey

It’s hard to “review” the OUYA console, because the console is still evolving. For instance, a firmware update that went live a few hours ago removed many of my issues with the hardware and user interface. I’ll go deeper into what I don’t like about the experience tomorrow, after I’ve had the chance to spend more time with the latest firmware and make sure no other updates are coming before launch.

The upside is that the company is doing many things right with the game selection, and how those games are being presented.

For $100, this is going to be a helluva console on launch day. The reason is simple: They put the games first, and you can play everything you see without paying a cent.

What went right

There was an early messaging problem when it was announced that every game was going to be “free-to-play,” but the reality is that everything you see is free to try. I have yet to put my credit card information into the system, and I’m likely to buy a pre-paid card before trusting yet another video game console with my financial information, but I’ve been able to download a metric ass-ton of content and games to play and enjoy.

Developers may not want to hear this, but it may be awhile before I tire of all the free content and opening levels being given away and actually pay for anything. Right now there’s simply too much to sample.

That’s not to say it’s all good, or even that the average game is good. There are a ton of games that are boring, ineptly designed, or lazy ports of existing Android mobile games. That’s fine though, it’s simple to download a wide variety of games, and you can delete the crap you don’t like very quickly, and you never have to think about it again.

I’ve already discovered a number of great games I had never heard of, and the variety of local multiplayer games is likewise impressive. If you like playing games with your friends in the same room, you’re going to find some good stuff here. Many of the games are supporting Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 controllers as well, so getting four players on a single console is easier than you think, and less expensive. The OUYA controller is only so-so but, as they promised, it’s an open console. As long as the game supports third-party controllers, and most do, just use that.

Bonus: the wired controllers also kill the annoying controller lag that’s present in some games. This is an issue that needs to be fixed, and fixed now.

The joy of the hunt

Having fun with the OUYA requires a slightly different mind set than most consoles. You have to be willing to dig a bit, and it’s rare I sit down in front of my retail unit with a game in mind I want to play. The console doesn’t have many killer apps, at least not yet, so it’s more about browsing and finding something new than it is looking forward to playing that one particular game.

I’ll have some notes on games you need to try soon, but for now I’ll say that after 30 minutes or so I was able to find a number of games that were enjoyable. Right now it’s the wild west out there, and the OUYA marketplace is a good opportunity for young developers. The first wave of players is going to be ready to look around and see what’s there, and whoever provides the first breakout hit of the system has the opportunity to do very well for themselves.

And that’s what I love about the OUYA right now, it’s just a giant wall of games. There are no ads in the UI, and the non-gaming apps are segregated in their own little section. Everything on the “Discover” screen is a game, and you can drill down to the individual genres and sections, or search for particular game names. There's no bullshit, no confusing menus to disorient players. The “Discover” section is filled with games, and you can try every single one of them. The games you download are kept in the “Play” section. It's a barebones, but effective, way to handle content discovery and usage.

Everything you see you can try, and there’s no bullshit to it; the UI makes it easy to grab a game, jump into however much of it the developer wants you to play, and see what you think. Upvote the good ones so other people discover them, or just delete the games that are crap and never think about them again.

There are 162 games on the service right now, and I’ve been mowing through them mercilessly, deleting the bullshit and keeping the fun stuff in my Play folder. I’m finding enough that I like to make the search worthwhile, and certainly enough to justify the $100 price tag. That’s just talking about the “legit” games as well, there are already high-quality SNES, NES, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Atari, and even Neo Geo Pocket emulators to download, although you’ll have to bring your own ROMs.

There are some rough edges, and those edges can get very rough indeed. I’ll dig into those tomorrow, and explain what’s working and what isn’t with the latest firmare and the retail hardware. For now? I have games to play.