Review: Ouya Game Console

The Ouya, the cheap little games machine produced by a company of the same name, turns out to be great for one thing: little games.

Despite launching only weeks ago, the $100, Android-powered games console already boasts over 200 games, some great, many bad. All of them are weird, and the best games are the silliest ones.

In Amazing Frog, you’re a very clumsy frog who gets points for hurting himself spectacularly. The Little Crane That Could is a way-too-fun construction vehicle simulation game. No Brakes Valet is a game about attempting (and failing) to park high-speed vehicles.

If you’ve got an Ouya, all of these games are free to download and try out, at least for a limited time. Some games allow you to pay to unlock full versions, but many are just plain free. Of course, the sleek little system is sporting an nVidia Tegra 3 processor and only 1 GB of RAM, so these free games aren’t like the big-budget cinematic games you’ll find on other consoles.

There are Ouya owners out there who will tell you that the best games on the system are Shadowgun and Ravensword. The former is a by-the-numbers space shooter with (admittedly) pretty Unreal Engine-powered visuals, and the latter is a fantasy action game which is almost as uninspired as it is broken. Both are budget versions of objectively better games — Gears of War and Skyrim, respectively.

These are ports of smartphone games that wanted desperately to be console games, and now that they’ve made it to a TV-based system, it’s clear that they work well as neither. Yet a significant portion of Ouya Kickstarter backers hold to these as being closest to the type of games they want to play.

This isn’t an audience with bad taste, per say, but with specific taste. They want big-budget Calls of Duty and Scrolls of Elder. They’re not interested in all the bizarre, pixelated indie games that the Ouya is actually best suited to host. The Ouya is, simply put, not for them.

The reason for this, of course, is that the Ouya is not actually a viable competitor to the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or Wii U, and everyone rushing to compare the devices is misguided.

The Ouya is more like a toy, a rad-yet-affordable hobbyist device. If Sony’s next big thing is a 747, the Ouya is a top-of-the-line, gee-whiz R/C plane.

Ouya’s marketing team hasn’t yet figured this out for themselves. In a since-deleted tweet, the official Ouya Twitter account sarcastically referenced the Xbox One’s $500 price tag in comparison to the Ouya’s $100 price, a move that didn’t go over well with customers.

Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman has, from the beginning, stuck to the line that consumers will want both an Ouya and one of the competing consoles, but so far hasn’t successfully made the case for what the Ouya can do that others can’t.

Certainly, the Ouya is the only big-name TV games machine capable of running games from other companies’ consoles, thanks to the magic of emulation. That rascally official Ouya Twitter account recently provoked controversy when it was used to endorse the use of pirated games on the system, although that was merely public acknowledgment of something that has been obvious from the start: the Ouya, with its endless emulators and 1080p support, will enjoy a very lucrative relationship with pirates and nostalgic copyright dodgers.

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