OUYA Impressions

OUYA - Console My Kickstarter funded OUYA arrived today. I can say that my experience is in line with most other reviews I’ve seen. Here’s a somewhat quick set of first impressions.

Unboxing and Physical
I had opted for an additional controller when pledging and the 2nd controller comes in thin foam bag alongside the main console box. Padding was sufficient but there was certainly room for the controller to move around.

Inside the OUYA box, there are just the essentials: console, controller, power adapter, HDMI cord and a thin booklet with some regulatory information. The included controller was intact, unlike the experience of many game reviewers a couple of weeks back. I appreciate having an HDMI cord in the box. Why can’t a popular console costing $250 to $300 pack one in?

I’d have to agree that the controller build materials aren’t as refined as mainstream consoles. I don’t like the seam along the controller handles. Spring action in the left and right triggers also isn’t as smooth as the OUYA’s big brothers. Overall the controller is workable.

Setup and Getting Started

Setup was straight forward, starting with specifying Wifi settings and the system making an unsurprising software update. A a Kickstarter backer, I already had a username selected and signing in was quick.

OUYA has custom menus for the most common functions but setting up Wifi as well as some other more “advanced” settings will throw you into a standard Android UI. It’s not a good experience as basically you’ve got a phone / tablet oriented menu system on the big screen.

This is where I first encountered one of my main issues with OUYA. There apparently is no way to compensate for TV overscan and OUYA seems to not have tested with TVs that have overscan on by default. My own TV is getting on in age at almost 8 years old now, overscans the picture and has no options to fit the image to the visible area of the screen (probably because it’s a rear projection model).

The main side effect of this is that not only do the Android menu screens all get clipped but almost all the games I tried get their UIs clipped. Apparently, OUYA doesn’t have guidelines to just use 90% of the screen like the major consoles or doesn’t enforce them. I’m sure I’m part of a shrinking minority in this situation but it’s still a poor experience.

The UI itself feels sluggish. It’s hard to tell how much is controller latency and how much is the system not pushing the menu’s pixels quick enough.

The Games

I downloaded and played a few games. It was a generally smooth experience though you’re thrown back into the Android UI when it’s time to install a game or app. The games were as you would expect: entertaining but that impressive. The positive is that all games are available as a free download to start with some kind of limited play mode built in. At various points such as completing a level or trying to activate some function, the user is prompted to purchase the full version. I’m sure there are freemium games too.

Here’s what I played:

iMech Online — A mech-based 3rd person shooter. Gameplay feels like from 15 years ago as it’s just a free-for-all destroy as many mechs as you can arena. Mechs and weapons are limited in the free trial version. The UI feels like it was unchanged from it’s original touch interface with just a highlight cursor added. If they improved the mech animation and added team or objective play modes, it might be interesting.

Vector — Basically like Canabalt but with parkour elements. The animation is smooth and there’s a decent opening animation that gives some background on what you’re running from. After a few runs I still hadn’t figured out how to do the first special move which left me a bit discouraged.

Radiant HD — I actually got this retro styled shooter from Amazon’s App Store a long time ago. It’s basically unchanged but with controller input. The overscan issue caused problems in seeing the score and remaining ships.

Twitch — This is a gaming oriented streaming video app. The UI seems to have no alterations from it’s mobile device version. I spent time watching some Injustice: Gods Among Us matches broadcast from a fighting tournament. I enjoyed it more than playing the games.

Flashout 3D — Basically a Wipeout clone where you race sleek flying cars (or maybe hover jets) in futuristic environments. The free version seems limited to a single track and vehicle. I’m not sure how to describe it but the physics seem a bit off… racing feels too smooth, compared with how racing in the Wipeout series feels.

I downloaded a few others like Amazing Frog but haven’t played them yet.


OUYA right now feels like more potential than fact. The UX overall is a little rough and most of the games I played could have used more tuning and polish. The Tegra 3 graphics are solid for 7″ or 10″ screens but when blown up to 50″ or 60″, it loses its punch.

It’s best to think of the OUYA as showing where home gaming can go. It used to be just a few big companies that can compete. The mobile space has demonstrated that people don’t necessary need what’s termed a AAA gaming experience to be entertained and invest a lot of time. If performance can be improved and the games on the device polished more, it might make a convincing argument that you can fill your time between Netflix sessions with home gaming from someone other than the big 3.

Updated 2013-05-11: Added OUYA controller image.

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