Ouya: The Upcoming Console Wars' Not So Small Player

Matt Hawkins gets his hands on an Ouya.

by on 26th Feb, 2013

Everyone's talking about the PlayStation 4 and the next big console war, understandably. And unlike in years past, the living room will have more than just three principle players, as its been for the past twelve years (which, by most people's accounts, was too big of a number as is).

In addition to the three traditional home video game console manufacturers, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, you also have the PC poised to finally dominate the living room, thanks to the Steam Box. And let's not forget Apple and its mythical iTV.

But of course, there's one additional player: Android. As we all know, in recent months, we've seen a slew of low cost, yet moderately powerful console alternatives, all driven by Google's mobile operating system. Some are still in the midst of their Kickstarter campaigns, but at the end of the day, the one name that will become synonymous is the Ouya, because it led the charge last year.

And, it happened to make an appearance in New York City not too long ago, at the inaugural IndieCade East. Which is where I was able to give it a pat down. Or at least the controller.

Ouya dev console

Sadly, the Ouya rep would not let me touch the console itself. Which is not the final retail version, which will be draped in silver. Instead, it sported a see-through plastic housing, which is what developers all recently received.

The first thing that struck me was how big it was. Not that's it huge or anything, but I recalled that one image, of multiple hands all cradling the console, which left the impression of the Ouya being teeny-tiny. Oh well. But again, it's not like it's gigantic or anything, far from it.

I was allowed to pick up the controller. And the following is based purely upon the developer version, which again is covered in clear plastic, and not whatever they'll be using to create the retail brushed aluminum surface, but it needs to be said: the Ouya controller is one of the most fantastically comfortable controllers I have handled in recent memory.

Everything about it, such as the weight, and most especially the design, is simply a joy to behold. Much like the system itself, it's deceptively larger than what the picture might indicate. But the way one's hands wrap around the thing feels incredibly natural. The rep told me how team agonized every single nuance, and it absolutely shows.

One very nice detail was how the letters of the system itself is on the buttons. Though the big surprise was the touchpad in the middle of the thing. Perhaps this was a detail that was commonly known beforehand, but I was shocked to know of its existence.

It would be foolish to compare the Ouya controller to the just unveiled PlayStation 4 controller, but they are more similar than dissimilar. Though the touch surface of the Dual Shock 4 does seem considerably bigger than the Ouya's.

As one might guess, its use entirely depends on the game or software you have running at the time. At IndieCade East, there was a very rudimentary action game that had a man in a jetpack that you controlled with the aforementioned input device. You had to avoid falling rocks, and the tricky part was dealing with inertia.

Ouya dev console

Though on a system wide level, the touchpad could be used to navigate the Ouya storefront, since it otherwise controls an on-screen mouse. But the rep would not disclose many details about the store itself. Responsiveness of the touchpad was decent, yet somewhat sluggish in-game. But it was something created during a game jam, purely to demonstrate the controller's capability, so it's ultimately unfair to make a final call at this moment.

When asked if multitouch was possible, I was told no. But when asked if it could be added in via an upcoming software update, I got a noncommittal "maybe?" Again, when thinking of the Ouya controller, one can't help also ask these same questions of the PS4 controller. No word on if that 'll be multitouch either. But given how bigger it is, among other reasons, it's hard to believe that it wouldn't be.

Back to the Ouya shop, I tried digging deeper on that front as well, but alas, there's not a whole lot to say. Basically, it'll be a curated storefront; that much we already know. But when asked if any game or app from the Google Play store will work on the device, or conversely, if any game acquired for the Ouya will work on other Android drive machines that is associated with the user, the answer was an honest "we don't know yet, we're still trying to figure things out."

It'll be interesting to see if the Ouya simply taps into one's Gmail, which is the primary form of "identity" in the general Android ecosystem, or if Ouya has something more tailored towards their own walled garden, something similar to Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.

Naturally, I had to ask if emulators will work on the thing. Because any seasoned gamer with any kind of Android device has managed to get a NES/SNES/Genesis/etc emulator up and running on theirs. And those same types might be salivating at the chance to have something that's as open-ended as Android, but with the added appeal of physical buttons. And once again, its controller is simply the best.

To that, I got a very blunt "no comment." It's hard to say if he's at all familiar with that one video, of an Ouya dev console playing Street Fighter 2 TurboM for the SNES, or if he's all too familiar with it.

While the Ouya is technically not here quite yet… that'll be later this summer, when the general public can get their own at the store of their choice, it's fairly clear that the upcoming console wars are going to be a crowded and confusing one. Even at this early stage, given the potential of the Ouya, it's going to be a battle fought on multiple fronts. But in the end, the winner is us, the consumer. Since choice is good.

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