December 1, 2020

SFTW: So this is an Ouya. And it reeks style.

Ooooh, yeah…

So my Ouya arrived this week. And I decided the best thing to do was… take some photos of it.

Actually, the first thing I had to go through was not getting the package, but – rather frustratingly – paying the import duty tax on it of £16.76. Now, in the grand scheme of things this is not terrible and yes, I have enough in my savings to ensure this is not the most crippling monetary loss in recent memory. However, considering that people outside the United States had to pay an extra amount for international shipping and handling, it does beggar the question as to why this fee was not taken into consideration from the start. Those who will be getting their Ouya consoles from the store may actually be paying more or less the same amount a lot of people globally have overall ended up paying for their machines. It’s not the end of the world, but it makes us feel less special and is a minor annoyance.

On the upside, the DHL guy had been to my property before several times with packages and had no qualm with me paying over the company mobile for this. Ordinarily, you would get a letter about import duty needing to be paid – this has been the usual method for multiple purchases I have received from America (because no-one in the UK does or sells geeky T-Shirts or awesome Steampunk jackets like the Americans do!). So I consider myself rather fortunate that I was allowed to do that. It was certainly refreshing to simply be able to pay it on the doorstep and take my package inside immediately, without the wait.

The box wasn’t as big as I expected, which is rather saying something, but it was pleasantly well-packed. So I took it into my bedroom – and began unboxing it on my bed.

ouyabox
Oooooh… yeah.

The first thing to note is just how understated and clean the actual box is. There it is. Just… just look at it for a moment. I’ll give you a minute or so to admire it.

It’s a very stylish little box, when you consider the usual brash and bold boxes that games consoles typically come in. My Wii U box, for example, is a bit of a ,ess of regulations and laws and fine print over the sides. The Ouya just looks slick and clean, professional to the point of insanity. It’s a glorious little box. The matte finish of the board with the glossy “Ouya” logo in the middle reminds me somewhat of when I got my Samsung Galaxy S2. But even then, the black box on the sides was covered in a swathe of stickers and labels that kind of took away from the prettiness of the actual packaging.

It’s of course true that packaging maketh not a product, but you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And right from first sight, it’s clear that aesthetic value has accounted for an awful lot in the grand scheme of things. Whereas the new XBox One looks very blocky, with that hideous green tint that Microsoft insist on using, and the Wii U looks like a squashed shiny black tube on a gaudy black and blue box, visual impact has clearly been high on the agenda with Ouya in every stage of its conception. And really, that’s lovely, because if you want to stay on top of my desk and not be relegated to inside one of the cubby-holes to be covered and obstructed with books and letters, aesthetic impact matters.

Anyway, enough drooling over the box.

outathankyouphoto
D’aww. You’re welcome.

The next step is the big little note they stuck inside.

D’aww. Bless. Call me crazy but I thought this was a really nice little touch. Admittedly, I am perfectly aware that this was included in every single backer package in a multitude of languages but there’s something really rather pleasant about a little touch like this. Admittedly, I think the red was a little unnecessary but that’s just my take on it. They could have simply just packaged it as normal, and we’d have been absolutely none the wiser, but it’s very small and almost unthinkable little touches like this that make unboxing a machine of this kind rather special.

(As for the little brush next to it, that’s how I loosened the tacky seals on the sides.)

I did note that there wasn’t the usual musky and musty plastic-chemical smell that arises when you usually open a new piece of consumer technology, so this was likely either not left waiting around very long or they found the means to ensure that the smell wasn’t going to be an issue. And I find that a bit of a shame, because in a life where you enjoy the small pleasures more than anything, the smell is unmistakably nostalgic for me. Without it, some of the magic is kind of missing. It’s a small detail, I know, but one that matters to me.

Those little details are important.

ouyacontroller
It’s a very nice controller.

From there is the actual machine and the controller. So let’s just start with the controller for a moment – I think it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen something that looks this desirable in the box, and lends some further weight to my thought that aesthetic beauty was a massively important part of the whole thing.

The controller isn’t too heavy or lumpen – the silver panels come off with a slight pull from the shoulder buttons, where one AA Battery is assigned to each handle. This isn’t just for aesthetic beauty purposes either; it lends the Ouya controller a surprisingly pleasant weight balance in your hands, which surprised me. Of course, the manual doesn’t actually say HOW to get the batteries in, so yeah, it took me a few minutes to work out the front panels came off. But on the other hand, this also lends it a customisation ability that is usually only possible with sticky-backed plastic. I expect in future if the Ouya takes off to see customised panels and themed plates become the norm, so that anyone with a desire to change up the controller or just change something about it can do so without much time, expense and without the fiddly, sticky cautious desperation that often accompanies putting a big sticker on something, worried about air bubbles and positioning and whatnot.

I also quite like the O, U, Y and A buttons. It’s a clever little incorporation that makes everything a little more coherent.

From there is the machine itself. And Nintendo, we need words. You know you took out the Ethernet port idea to save money?

ethernetportlook
It’s an ETHERNET PORT! Filth! FILTH!

Yeah, the budget Ouya has one. Nintendo, there is absolutely, categorically and completely no freaking excuse on this or any other world for you to have not included something as painfully basic as this!

The shape of the Ouya is quite nice, offset by my fuzzy blanket (it’s actually a wildlife scene, if you must know, and no, it’s not a childhood blankie. It was a present and is lovely and snug and warm. #dealwithit).

It is a little bigger than I anticipated, but that said, it’s certainly a fraction of the space of any other machine. That said, it’s noticeably a fraction of the power too, with the LED power button emitting a subtle glow rather than a clear light, but hey – some would consider that stylish too.

Gripes – the HDMI cable that comes with it is crushingly short, less than a metre, which is disappointing considering but that said, it does look good next to the TV. So I find myself slightly wondering if this is entirely a bad thing to be angry at. The plastic protection is flimsy and tears and you end up with little bits left behind which are fiddly to remove. Which is annoying, but not overwhelmingly awful.

I guess the next stage is to link it all up and turn on the machine. Which doesn’t take too long when you’ve gotten used to it, fortunately for me the power cable and plug worked perfectly fine out of the box but a friend of mine from the Netherlands told me that he needed to find a universal adapter from a shop to get it to work. Universal adapters… jeez. They still make those?

menu
Simple and elegant. Although the colours are a bit gaudy.

The menu system and the getting updated and connected is a doddle, alongside plenty of nerdy and geeky jokes and references, including the amazingly insider “We must perform a Quirkafleeg!” (Man, Jet Set Willie, we’re going back some ways now…) – however, to me, whilst it’s nice to have a silent update, I could have done without all of the jokes like, “Tasting rainbows!”, and “Being awesome in spaaaace!” I am usually a big fan of extreme nerdiness, but there’s a level of desperation within the quick switching of notes that just made me aim some distrust in its general direction. However, as I said, considering the usual music or sound effect for updating things on consoles to remind you it’s doing something, there’s a degree of pleasing assurance in the sweet sounds of silence.

The menu is Metro in style, it’s true. And it needs some refinement, but it’s a minimalist and, here’s that word again, stylish little affair and I found it a pleasant, pleasing and calm affair. I again also appreciate the silence and quiet, muted sound effects that give you some sensory feedback without going over the top. It’s nice, but the search function is currently rubbish and there’s obviously content that feels somewhat gated away as a result, which makes me rather sad. Still, the only truly big-name game I am seeing from the off is Final Fantasy III, the little 3D update from 2006, so my fears the menus would end up cluttered by brand name content hasn’t been immediately realised.

Still, the main reason to buy the Ouya was the games in the first place, so it’s time to discuss the ones I have been able to play – freely so far, although I have paid for one because I really, really enjoyed it.

dungeonsofdoom
Deep Dungeons of Doom. A blast from my past, anyway.

Game #1 – Deep Dungeons of Doom (Bossa Studios)

It’s a modern retro take on the classic early 8-Bit 80’s dungeon crawlers, when we didn’t have fancy 8-ways controls and snazzy speedy machines. You have some story screens, then you enter a dungeon. Each floor usually has an enemy and a chest. Beat the enemy, get the chest. Attack enemies, block their attacks, fight your way to the bottom.

The game is deceptively simple but gloriously addictive however, and after the healthy multitude of dungeons I participated in, I was only too happy to pay $2.99 to continue onwards. It’s relatively more straight-laced than you’d expect, but there are some subtle jokes and humour woven into the story and the enemies themselves which ensures that it’s not too boring overall.

I sort of admire the 8-bit retro look, but I can definitely say that it sure as heck won’t be a universally loved taste. What reminds me of Castlevania and Spellcaster won’t fly with someone who didn’t grow up in the earliest of gaming days, so this is a terribly niche sort of title. I personally approve. Considering games are free to try, however, it’s worth a punt.

Game #2 – SATURDAY MORNING RPG (Mighty Rabbit Studios)

I remember the early Saturday Morning TV games that people used to call in and play, and sadly in my view this holds nary a candle to any of them. It’s far too interested in being bluntly humorous, self-referential and ripping on other things to really last very long. I tried to like it, but the combat system is limited, the touch-panel minigame is hit and miss at the very best of times and the whole thing just reeks of a company trying to appeal to a market it knows nothing about in reality – I hope I’m wrong, but this is just the sort of game that irks me. I decided to not proceed much further into the game, try it but in spite of its visual charms, it never grabbed me.

Game #3 – CANABALT HD (Kittehface Software)

Canabalt was an impressive game for its time and for the hardware. On the Ouya, in HD, on a large screen, it’s disorientating to say the least and just an example of a game stretched to the very limits of what it used to be about. The limited tries per day until you pay for the software makes sense, but in this case a few runs and a sense of utter bewilderment and I just abandoned this one. It doesn’t feel right on an HDTV. Sorry, but it is wrong.

Game #4 – Vector (Nekki Ltd)

And this is almost how to do it right, Large, interesting characters, a clean and understated backdrop and plenty of stunts and tricks and challenges to pull off in your race to not be caught by bad Mr Tazer guy, the only thing that genuinely ruins Vector, for me, is the huge slowdown that keeps insisting on turning up when you don’t want it to. It’s lack of responsiveness can be a pain as well. That said, it is better at what it does than Canabalt HD. Which isn’t too difficult, but still…

I also noticed a lot of emulators on the service, emulators for Nintendo devices primarily and I am pretty damned sure that this is going to get the Ouya people into hot water at some stage. There’s freedom and an open platform, and then there is allowing arguably dodgy software like an emulator on it. Especially considering Nintendo’s eShop is slowly piling on the retro games, it’s a legal can of worms that the Ouya platform owners are going to have to address at some stage. It would be a terrible shame and a total waste of everybody’s time and money if the Ouya were to be crippled by legal wrangling over a few stupid SNES, GBA and DS emulators. Anyone encouraging this software may want to ask themselves why they didn’t simply buy one of those machines in the first place with their money. Just don’t.

There are some other slicker games I have yet to try, and I noticed that the much-trumped OnLive app is currently conspicuous in its absence. The OnLive app is kind of the big deal with the Ouya; the cloud-based gaming platform that supposedly could end up making the Ouya a viable competitor to the upcoming next-gen platforms. That it currently isn’t in operation or even on the storefront is troubling. Again, the actual hardware isn’t officially released for a couple more weeks yet but it’s still troubling and it was a big part of the pitch to have this cloud-based gaming platform on the hardware. It made the Ouya more desirable because it lent it a competitive edge, and I hope that deal has not fallen through because I genuinely doubt people will take the news favourably.

So it’s a mixed bag of games from the off, however considering the marketplace and the breadth of content on it already I am pretty sure that there will be plenty of good things to come on it in the future – this is the beginning, not the end, and beginnings are always troubling and unsettling. With that said though, the overriding sense of the hardware is one of quality, of considered design and impeccable taste. The games and the firmware need to be addressed – of course, the machine isn’t officially released as of yet so there’s plenty of work still to come on it – but it’s not a terrible offering and above all else, it’s nice to see a company actually consider the size, shape and weight of items as well in their designs.

The Ouya is a desirable little device. A pity the software on offer so far doesn’t quite live up to the delicious design but early days of course. Things will come in time.

I’m hopeful. The Ouya clearly has been a labour of love, and now I have it, I do not feel disappointed or cheated out of my money. And if that love and passion can now be put to work on the firmware and its current software issues, the Ouya should have a rather brighter future than many would have anticipated.

It may not replace my 360, my PS3, my Wii U or my PC. But it was never meant as a replacement for me anyway.

Time will tell if OnLive and other cloud services broaden the Ouya’s appeal. Here’s hoping!

Just to answer a question; there is no NDA on the Ouya.
I am not the first nor the last to do a first impressions of the hardware unboxed and ready to go.
I think we all sort of knew the start would be a little sketchy anyway. All new hardware releases are.
But even if it goes no-where, it’s something for my collection.
I might do a game follow-up in a week or two once I’ve seen more content.
Have fun and thanks for stopping by!

Kami

Kami

I'm the big cheese here. Comment, subscribe, direct waves of hate at me - all the same. Just hope you've had some partial enjoyment here!

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