"Today I'm going to show you that we have delivered on that promise, and on that dream, of developing an accessible, open game console for gamers and developers." That's how Julie Uhrman, Founder & CEO of Ouya, began our demonstration of her company's new console.
After an explosive Kickstarter debut that raised more than $8 million dollars, nearly 10 times what the Ouya folks set as their goal, the race was on to get this Android 4.1: Jelly Bean-based console to market.
Now that the Ouya's official release date has been set for June 4, with early versions of the system going out to Kickstarter backers as early as this Thursday, all eyes are on Ouya to see if it can really shake up the video game market. It should be noted that our early look at the Ouya opened with the caveat that everything we saw has the potential to not be final. The Ouya team has reserved the right to go back to the drawing board on pretty much everything.
|This is OUYA|
While big changes seem highly unlikely with the June release only a few months away, it adds to the rather unknowable nature of this bold new project. With the Ouya, we have the feeling that consumers won't know what they have until they have it, but here nonetheless are our cautiously optimistic impressions of the Ouya.
The Ouya console is smaller than you'd think. About the size of an orange, we'd say. It's sleek, not flashy, but definitely going for style. Its brushed aluminum body is slick and we imagine it'll look nice sitting on your average entertainment center.
|Tiniest Gaming Console With A Beast Within|
On its backside it has five basic ports: Ethernet, micro-USB, HDMI, USB and a port for an AC adapter. Uhrman mentioned that the USB port would allow users to add external storage to the device. Inside, I've been told the Ouya has an Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset, likat you'd find in a Nexus 7 or HTC One X+.
|OUYA has been provide many connectivity options|
The first wave of Ouya consoles will have the names of the $10,000 Kickstarter backers etched into the side, as well as their backer numbers. At the top of the list is Notch, creator of the indie phenomenon Minecraft.
With its dual analog sticks and two sets of shoulder buttons, the Ouya controller doesn't stray far from the Xbox and PS3 examples, and why would it? In fact, it even proved to be somewhat prescient; that black space in the middle of the controller is a touchpad, much like the one we've seen on Sony's recently unveiled DualShock 4.
Like the Ouya itself, the controller has aluminum panels. They were smooth and cold to the touch, and we were surprised to see that the plates on either side were removable, each hiding a AA battery.
|Normal AA batteries a required|
The controllers sync to the console with Bluetooth, and Uhrman noted that pairing other accessories would be possible. The Ouya team has been testing other peripherals, and plans to publish a list of accessories that "work really well."
The twin sticks and four-button layout were immediately familiar. The sticks were grippy and accurate, and the buttons felt like the kind of quality jobs you'd find on any first-party console controller.
It was the triggers that disappointed us. A trigger pull on the Ouya controllers we used didn't feel smooth. Instead it was sticky, offering uneven resistance that didn't feel nearly as nice as the rest of the build. Not what we'd expect from a $50 controller.
Our demo featured eight games selected by the Ouya team as ready for prime time. A mix of old school rereleases, PC ports, Android titles and original games, they were: Final Fantasy III, Saturday Morning RPG, The Ball, Puddle, Wizorb, Gunslugs, Fist of Awesome and Stalagfight.
It was an eclectic line-up to say the least, a mix of clever indies and tongue-in-cheek faux-retro fare. The games would have seemed more at home on the show floor of PAX East than in any console launch line-up.
The Ouya is not your typical console, and with systems shipping to early backers in late March before the real launch in June, it won't have a typical debut. Still, as we sat there punching, jumping, running and shooting our way through the handful of oddball titles, we had to wonder what would become Ouya's killer app.
Still, every game we tried controlled very well, and looked great on an HDTV. Even the purposely blocky, eight-bit-esque Fist of Awesome benefited by a 720p presentation. And after experiencing the Contra-like chaos of Gunslugs on a 36-inch TV.
So every game controlled well, except for one. The Ball, a first-person puzzle solving title with an air of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" mashed up with Portal, had serious control stick lag. As the most graphically pronounced game in our demo, it felt pushed out the door to show the Ouya's rendering capabilities.
And the Ouya did perform in those regards. While The Ball and other titles were far from visually advanced compared to PC and mainstream console titles, the Ouya managed smooth frame rates throughout.
The Ouya's main menu is pretty reigned in compared to the Xbox 360's dashboard. Play, Discover, Make and Manage are the four basic options. Play lets you access everything that's already on your system, such as games and the Flixster app we were shown.
Discover is the store, which the Ouya team will curate. Besides the typical breakdown by genre, there will be themed categories like Now Hear This, a selection of games with stand out sound design.
Games that achieve a high level of engagement, determined by hours played by gamers as well as user ratings, will earn featured spots. This is Ouya's way of ensuring the cream rises to the top, and no good title ends up buried.
Make is the developer channel. This wasn't ready for our eyes, but we were told that it would be different, depending on whether a user had a gamer or developer account.
Despite having actually seen, touched and played an Ouya, the console still feels pretty enigmatic. Like any video game system, it's going to live or die by its games, and we're still not sure what those will be. While we found the titles from our demo to be well adapted to the console and charmingly odd, none of them struck us as system sellers.
Of course, this was not the final launch line-up. Team Ouya could blow us all away next week with an amazing, must-have title. In fact, next week would be great timing, because with the launch scheduled for June, the Ouya is running out of time to garner true mainstream appeal.
The Ouya needs a Halo. Not a first-person shooter necessarily, but something appealing and highly replayable to make people really feel that they need this system. It needs a blockbuster to bankroll its more artistic endeavors.
If the Ouya were to launch in the state that we saw - with no true streaming video service, a smattering of dark-horse titles and games already available elsewhere - we'd say that team Ouya has sold all the systems it's going to sell through its Kickstarter campaign.
But we doubt that's going to happen. If there's one thing that the Ouya has proven to be good at, time and time again, it's surprises.
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