The Ouya Microconsole started as a Kick Starter project that concluded on August 9th, 2012. The campaign was backed within 8 hours of release. It runs an NVidia Tegra 3 processor/GPU with a customised version of Android 4.1 designed to be purely controlled by a gamepad
Back in March, 2013 the Ouya microconsole started to ship to all its Kick-Starter backers. The Android powered games console was thought to usher in a new age of gaming bringing the growth of mobile gaming to the lounge room. The hype surrounding the original Kick-Starter campaign was undeniable throughout the tech community.
However 18 months is a long, long time in this arena….
Fast forward to recent times….
Following my good times with the JXD S7800b and enjoying all my old games again I decided that I did want some retro gaming in the lounge room on the big screen. I initially had thought about resurrecting an old Mac Mini I have, however the emulator support for Mac is pretty poor and the old machine is really getting a bit old and slow to cope.
Next thought was one of these cheap android based “TV boxes” that you see all over eBay. They’re all pretty much the same; a cheap processor/GPU combo and a poorly skinned version of Android jammed into a small (usually ugly/boring) box. At the point where I was about to give in and just order one it dawned on me… Hang on a sec, I vaguely remember a console that went big a while back that’d be perfect. The Ouya.
The Ouya has never been officially released in Australia, however importing one isn’t really a challenge and there doesnt seem to be any geo-blocks on the machine, but I found one second hand on eBay. Within a few days I had it in my hot little hands. But how does this 18 month old ‘ground breaking’ console still shape up for retro gaming, regular gaming, and as (yet another) device trying to look nice in the lounge room entertainment unit in 2014?
If you couldn’t be bothered reading any more, then the nutshell version is: Well.
But there is more to it than that, so read on….
The whole idea behind the Ouya was to produce a cheap, yet high(ish) spec gaming console that would link into the growth of Android gaming in general. The idea of being able to buy a game once then play it on your phone, tablet, NVidia Shield, AND home console sounds very enticing. But its this last concept that Ouya shot themselves in the foot with a bit.
Although the Ouya does run Android, its been specifically customised to work as well as possible with the gamepad, while Android apps in general are designed around a touch interface. To get around this, Ouya has its own App Store and does not include at all the Google Play Store. So whatever you buy on Google Play, regardless if it would run fine on the Ouya – sorry guys, its the Ouya Store or nada.
Well, not quite.
The Ouya is stupidly simple to root and a bit of fluffing around gets the Play Store installed. In saying that however, Meltdown that ran like a dream on the JXD; crashed. I got the splash screen, then nothing. The Walking Dead however worked fine (actually it worked stunningly, I could easily loose an entire night playing that on the TV). To accommodate any of that, the first thing you will want to install from the Ouya store is a file manager called FilePWN and then side-load an FTPServer called SwiFTP (unless you fancy running back and forth with a thumb drive).
Going by those specs, you can see that by todays standards, its not flash. Even when it was released NVidia had announced their Tegra 4. Even so, the little Ouya keeps things ticking nicely for any retro gaming that is wanted.
The gamepad has two analogue sticks, a D-Pad, 4 main buttons, two triggers on each side, and Ouya’s proprietary system button. More than enough for gaming. The large black space on the centre, front is actually a touch pad too which you can use to guide around a mouse pointer for those apps that just don’t *quite* work with a gamepad. Yet thats not where the story ends. The batteries are not hidden underneath the unit like 99.9% of gamepads. Oh no. One AAA battery is hidden underneath each of the top, silver plates. Which means yes, theyre not 110% tight and that gives the controller a very cheap feel. I just can’t but help getting the impression that they put so much effort into the build quality of the actual console; they forgot about the controller. The bit that’s actually in your hands. Shame.
The actual console however is very impressive. When first pulling it out of the box I couldn’t believe how tiny it is. It has a very nice little “heft” to it which just drools with build quality. Its a snazzy looking little box too. Well design aesthetically with just the the illuminated power button on top and all the required ports on the back.
Just because you’re trapped in the Ouya Store, not all is lost. For me personally I was happy to find both RetroArch and MAME4Droid both in the store. And being written for the Ouya, all the gamepad controls “just work”. Plug in a USB HDD full of your…errr, game backups; and you’re off and running. And much like the JXD – it runs everything stunningly. Although I didn’t push this as far with the Dreamcast emulator, everything that RetroArch emulates, the Ouya plays to perfection. Although it is very weird to play the original black and white Super Mario Land from the GameBoy on a 50″ screen! In saying that however at least on a modern TV its back lit and no longer blurry!
Behind the scenes the Ouya is running Android 4.1. Certainly not the latest however Ouya assures you that all the security updates are in place and for something like this I figure; “If it aint broke…”. Ouya have put a lot of effort into their custom launcher. It displays perfectly on a television and they have made every allowance possible to cater for the limitations of a gamepad. It took me a while to discover, but side-loaded apps are actually accessible via the Make > Software menu. Really, not a bad way of separating the apps designed for the Ouya and the ones that aren’t.
The interface is quick and fluid with no hesitations or slowness.
As mentioned before, the Ouya is very easy to mod/root/whatever. Having never used one before, within a couple of hours of Googling and carefully following instructions I had the device running an FTP server, apps side-loaded, rooted, and Google Play running. As long as you follow the instructions to the letter – it works well. (TIP: in the instructions there is a bit where you have to download a file called ps4ouya.zip. Download it yourself and copy via FTP to the device (/sdcard/Downloads) as the built in download takes you to the worlds worst browser that has no download meter, so you never know if its finished downloading or not). In my opinion, unless you have games you desperately want from the Play Store, probably don’t bother. However for that sake of seeing if it works I did it and it’s not particularly hard.
Just remember that not all games will work.
From an entertainment point of view, XBMC (which I think is terrific) can be side-loaded without much hassle to make a great media streamer.
It’s been 18 months since the Ouya was released to the hungry public. All the fanfare has died off and all the hype has disappeared from the headlines of every tech blog on the internet. How has it survived?
Well, the developer community still seems to love it. Ouya reports that the number of developers are still increasing on a weekly basis and new games are being released, so from that I have to assume that there is still plenty of love out there for the little box. However Ouya have said recently that they want to concentrate more on the actual software platform (Ouya Everywhere was just released for rival Android game console Mad Catz MOJO) which I can’t help but have memories of Sega dropping their hardware line to do the same. I hope I’m proven wrong, especially with rumours of an all-new Ouya 2 floating around.
Although the Tegra 4 was already around, it’s possible that Ouya did the right thing by picking the Tegra 3. If you remember how expensive the Shield was at release and how rare they initally were due to hardware shortages; this could have meant a more expensive, delayed Ouya. And the Tegra 3 seems to still kick along nicely even on todays games.
Finally, can I recommend an Ouya? It really depends on what you want it for. If you’re a casual gamer and/or a retro gamer – then absolutely. Its massively cheaper than any other console out there and does require hacking to get it to emulate (eg: PS3). It also doubles as a ncie media streamer too. It is also significantly better built and supported than any of the cheap little android tv boxes currently floating around eBay. Yes, its about $50 more than the average one of those, but its WAY more than $50 better.
My next trick will be to pair one of my spare PS3 controllers for some two-player fun!