Saturday, June 29, 2013

First impressions: OUYA

Yes, we have an OUYA now:


If you're not sure what I'm talking about, you can get the lowdown on their website; the quick explanation is that the OUYA is a $99 Android-based gaming console, focused on independent game developers, where all games have some amount of play available for no cost.

The question I hear most about the OUYA is "Why should I bother getting an OUYA when I can just play Android games on my phone?" I have three answers for that:

  1. Exclusive games. Some of the games available on the OUYA system are only available for OUYA.
  2. Controller support. Many of these games are developed to either support or to require a full game controller.
  3. Multiplayer. There are several multiplayer games for the OUYA that allow you to sit on the couch and enjoy the game with up to three of your friends.
Right now there are a few great multiplayer games that are quick to learn and quick to play:
  • Stalagflight: this is a game about jumping from falling boulder to falling boulder, trying to get as high as possible without falling in the lava. I tried it by myself and thought it was frustrating and pointless, but when one of my friends joined in, suddenly it was challenging and hilarious.
  • Towerfall: this is a 2D retro-styled deathmatch game about bouncing around the screen and shooting arrows at your opponent. It's the kind of game that will get more interesting as you and your opponents practice and develop your skill. It was amusing with two players; it would probably be even better with three or four players.
  • BombSquad: this game is mostly about running around the screen throwing bombs at bad guys, though there are supposedly a number of game variants. I say "supposedly" because we haven't been able to beat the first level yet.
  • No Brakes Valet: this is a super-simple, low-tech game that probably took less than a day to develop, but practically justifies the purchase of the OUYA by itself. It's a game about trying to park cars that come flying into a small parking lot at high speed. The two-player version is pure vehicular mayhem. We've played this dozens of times and we're smiling and laughing every time.
I've also been enjoying Deep Dungeons of Doom (a simple but challenging RPG) and the Secret of Universe Alpha (which is a bit amateurish and unpolished, but somehow addictive all the same). I'm looking forward to trying The Ball (a first-person puzzler) and Rose (a point and click adventure game)

Not every game is a winner. Pinball Arcade doesn't respond quickly enough to the controller triggers to make the game playable; Wizorb would work much better with a real mouse. And since it's very easy for folks to publish a game on the OUYA, there are one or two games that don't merit the effort of downloading, like BarleyBreak (an extremely no-frills version of the 15 puzzle).

There are a number of features of the OUYA we haven't tried yet. It's supposed to support alternate Bluetooth controllers such as the PS3 controller; the OUYA controllers work fine (now that some of the pre-launch issues have been resolved) but they're not the fine-tuned works of engineering that the PS3 controllers are. Also, there are a number of media-streaming applications for the OUYA, like Plex; it will be interesting to see how the OUYA implementation of Plex compares to the PS3 version that we're currently using.

Overall I'm very satisfied with the console, and I hope that it's a success for the game developers who chose to support it, because I'd love to see the console mature as developers continue to explore the potential of the system. Personally I'd like to see more turn-based RPG's and strategy games; we'll see what the future will bring. And since I have all the tools I need to write my own games for the OUYA, maybe something I've written will one day appear on the OUYA download screens.