Ouya is cheap, runs Android and is totally open. Can it take on the Xbox and PlayStation or does it offer little more than mobile games on your TV?
After a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign which saw a whopping $8.5 million raised by the general public, the open-source Ouya games console is finally a reality.
This diminutive cube-like device runs Android 4.1, boasts a Bluetooth controller and costs less than £100 - little wonder then that many within the games industry are predicting that it could steal away precious market share from the likes of the Sony PS4, Microsoft Xbox One and Nintendo Wii U.
However, while Ouya is the most famous of a new wave of Android-based gaming platforms, it’s not unique in the field - this year will also see the launch of GameStick, Mad Catz has M.O.J.O. in development and the Nvidia Shield handheld console is also being prepared for launch in June - all of these rival systems are running Google’s OS as well.
Being first to market doesn’t always assure success, and while the concept behind the console is certainly exciting, it’s fair to say that Ouya comes with its fair share of niggles.
Ouya: Size and build
Created by renowned Swiss designer Yves Béhar, Ouya is a clean-looking cube fashioned from metal and plastic, and measures just 75mm x 75mm x 82mm. There’s a power button on the top, but aside from that there are no other physical keys anywhere on the console.
Around the back there’s a selection of ports, and a surprisingly silent fan resides in the base. Despite its small size, Ouya weighs a chunky 300g.
Ouya runs Google’s Android operating system, but comes with its own menu system and interface. Although the software running the system is the same as that found in phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, Ouya isn’t compatible with the Google Play market - so you can’t log in and download all your previously purchased games.
Instead, you’ll have to use the official Ouya store, which doesn’t have anywhere near as many quality games right now. This also means you’ll end up paying twice for some titles when they eventually get ported over, which is a bit annoying.
Under the bonnet, Ouya is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chipset. This ensures some pretty impressive 3D performance with HD visuals, but the tech feels slightly outdated these days - Android devices were running this chip last year, and Nvidia’s aforementioned Shield handheld console ships with Tegra 4, which will offer far superior graphics.
In terms of connectivity, Ouya functions very much like an Android tablet. It has built-in Bluetooth so you can pair keyboards, mice and other gamepads. It also boasts WiFi and wired internet, and a USB 2.0 port which allows you to plug in additional storage (the unit comes with 8GB of internal flash) and other wired USB peripherals. In terms of connectivity, Ouya really benefits from its Android ancestry.
Although it has been described by the team behind the console as the “Stradivarius controller”, the Ouya’s joypad isn’t quite as refined as that. Like the system, it’s a fusion of sand-blasted aluminium and plastic. The layout is clearly inspired by the Xbox 360 controller, but the build quality is slightly underwhelming.
The face buttons often become stuck when pressed down hard, and the metal plates which cover the battery compartments (it needs two AAs to operate) don’t sit entirely flush when locked in place.
Of course, when all is said and done, Ouya’s long term success rests on its library of games - and sadly at this point, the outlook is less than impressive. At the time of writing there’s a distinct lack of quality games available.
Legendary RPG Final Fantasy III is arguably the most famous game on offer, with mobile ports of Canabalt and Wizorb following in tow. Sadly, there’s nothing else here which will blow you away - or keep you occupied for more than a few minutes.
While developers like Sega are promising support in the future, Ouya doesn’t currently offer any juicy exclusives to tempt hardcore players. The notable titles on the horizon - such as Sonic CD, Shadowgun and Dead Trigger - are all available on iOS and Android, and have been for months.
The only real benefit of playing these old classics on Ouya is the introduction of physical controls, but many of the games were designed to work perfectly on a touch screen anyway.
At the end of the day, Ouya is unlikely to get any must-have titles in the same vein as The Last of Us, Halo 4 or New Super Mario Bros. U - for that kind of quality, player will still need to invest in a system from one of the big three manufacturers.
Another issue is the way in which the games are sold. Everything on the Ouya store is free to play, but many titles require a payment to unlock all of their content, while others resort to shady in-app purchases.
The trouble is, there’s no way of knowing how much you’re going to have to shell out at the point of download - prices only become apparent when you’re deep into the game itself. Even then, prices are all over the place - Final Fantasy III costs £10.99, while other titles are less than a quid.
On paper, Ouya is undeniably exciting - the scope of Android combined with a proper gaming interface and a super-low price point. However, a lack of quality games - not to mention an absence of AAA exclusives - makes the platform slightly less appealing.
The open nature of the console means that indie developers should embrace it enthusiastically, but with iOS and Android offering a larger audience, even that is far from certain.
When you consider that you can pick up a PS3 or 360 for just a little more cash than Ouya costs, it’s hard to recommend the console at this point in time. Hopefully Ouya can pick up more support towards the end of the year.
Ouya release date: 25 June 2013
Ouya price: £99 ($99)