Ouya Review

Ouya and controller

If you haven’t heard of Ouya, they had a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign to make an Android-based open gaming platform.  The idea was to be inexpensive and developer-friendly.  The console itself was designed as basically an android phone with no screen, so it would be easy for developers of Android games to port games to Ouya.

I backed the Kickstarter, and just got my Ouya this week.  It doesn’t launch officially for another month or so.

So, how is it?  Well, it’s kind of mixed.  Some of which may improve before the public launch, some of which may not.

The Console

The Ouya console itself is nicely minimal.  Just a small box with some ports on the back and a button on the top.  There are also the names of the top Kickstarter supporters etched into the side, at the top of that list is a familiar name – Notch, creator of Minecraft.

Ouya Console

Setup is simple, just attach it to your TV with an HDMI cable, and plug the power in.  Ethernet is optional, it has WiFi, though I opted to use ethernet.  USB port is also optional, for external storage and other USB stuff.

The small size of the box does mean it will be at the mercy of the cables plugged into it, if they aren’t completely slack they could tip the Ouya on its side.

The Controller

The controller looks nice, so much so that I ordered an extra one to use for a second player or to use as a controller for my laptop.  However, looks are not everything.

The controller is pretty big, somewhere between the Xbox 360 and Original Xbox controllers.  It feels decent enough, and holding it my trigger fingers naturally rest on the L2 and R2 buttons, as with the Xbox 360.

Controller comparison: PS3, Ouya, Xbox 360

The problem is not the size, though it could probably stand to be a little smaller.  The main issue with the controller are the battery placement and the responsiveness.  It takes 2 AA batteries, which are inside the handle parts of the controller.  To get to them, the silver front plates on the controller lift off, allowing access to the batteries.  It’s not a difficult process, although it’s not totally smooth, getting the plates off may take a little prying with fingernails.  The faceplates are held on with magnets, which seems like a good idea, but seems to cause problems.  The plates don’t sit completely snug, which doesn’t seem like a problem at first, but when I was playing a game and hitting the O button, it suddenly got caught under the faceplate, causing my character to die a horrible digital death.

Removable faceplates

The other issue with the controller is lag.  I was playing Pinball Arcade (which I have for iPad, so seemed like a good comparison) and the flippers would flip well after I pressed the trigger.  It could be an issue with that particular game, it doesn’t allow you to remap the controls, so I was stuck using the L2 and R2 buttons, which are analog triggers, so perhaps they weren’t calibrated correctly in the game code.  Whatever the reason, it made the game basically unplayable.

Luckily, the Ouya and PS3 both use bluetooth, so I paired a PS3 controller to the Ouya and gave it a try.  Suddenly Pinball Arcade was playable!  I played a few games with the PS3 controller and it seems to make the Ouya experience much better.  However, some games didn’t recognize the PS3 controller’s input and would only work with the Ouya controller, so it’s unfortunately not a cure-all, which is really too bad, the PS3 controller was better in pretty much every way otherwise.  The Ouya controller does have a touchpad-like surface in the upper part (probably part of why it’s so large) which can act as a mouse if you need that for something.

The Menu

The menu system on the Ouya isn’t bad, but it still feels beta-y.  It is sometimes unresponsive, and game thumbnails can sometimes take forever to load, and don’t seem to cache very well, so frequently I find myself browsing lists of games that are just titles since the images haven’t loaded.  Also navigating the menu is sometimes laggy, sometimes moving a direction seems to “stick” and move several times instead of once.  This seemed to happen less when using a PS3 controller, so maybe it’s partially a symptom of the controller.

The menu didn’t seem terribly well organized grouping games into large categories several of which were “featured”-type categories. The broad groupings works ok for now but I can see it getting cumbersome once more games are available.

The Games

This is the important part, right?  It’s still a bit slim and disorganized, and heavy on “indie” type games, which is fine but they often don’t show off the system very well, with simplistic graphics.  There’s also an interesting business model – all games are required to be free, and can optionally have an “unlock” option for money.  This results in many games with different approaches to paying – some let you play the first X levels for free, some have a timer that let you play the first X minutes for free, some have purchasable blocks of time rather than a straight unlock price, some have constant banners and messages perstering you to buy.  I can see what they were going for, but I’d rather have a more consistant model or just pay outright and avoid the pestering.

I haven’t played that many games yet, but did find a fun little one called Bomb Squad.  Picture Bomberman, but without the maze, everyone just running around an arena lobbing bombs at each other, and different types of bombs if you get powerup crates.  Simple, but fun.  Also the aforementioned Pinball Arcade, which does have control issues with the Ouya controller and even some when using a PS3 controller (the “pull back plunger and release” part is wonky and bad) but gameplay-wise is good pinball fun. There are quite a few games slated to come out on Ouya, so the library should flesh out soon enough.  Don’t expect AAA titles, but there should be a good supply of smaller titles coming.


One of the main things I was hopeful about with the Ouya was the potential for it as a retro game emulation box.  Sadly, not a lot has been ported yet, but I did find one good one: SuperGSNES is a well-done SNES emulator that played the few games I tried on it.  Rock N Roll Racing had a few graphical glitches on the menu screens, but was otherwise completely playable.  Chrono Trigger and Megaman X seemed totally fine.  There are more emulators on the way, I plan on trying them all. =)

To Sum Up

I wouldn’t call the Ouya a failure, but I wouldn’t call it a complete success, either.  Many of the issues could be fixed with software updates prior to the full launch, or even a little bit after, but some of the issues with the controller seemed like hardware issues that are unlikely to be fixed by launch.  And a flaky controller is a hell of an Achilles heel for a console to have.  It’s too bad some games didn’t work with a PS3 controller, otherwise you could just use a PS3 controller and never use the Ouya one.  I suppose it’s still possible for Ouya to do another revision on the controller to fix these issues, but hardware can be an expensive thing to do design revisions on when they’d already considered it “done”.

Would I recommend it?  Hmm, hard to say.  Right now I’d say “wait and see”, and if the controller issues get resolved, it could be a nice fun little system. At only $100 it’s cheaper than pretty much anything else out there.




Legend of Grimrock makes the old new again

Back on the Amiga days, one series I spent a lot of time with is Dungeon Master.  I played a ton of Dungeon Master I and II, more of the second one.

Dungeon Master is a tile-based dungeon crawler, where you move a space at a time, and can rotate in 90-degree chunks.  Combat was realtime, with enemies moving around and attacking even if you just stood still.

You control a party of 4 characters, you could choose from a selection to build your party.  Combat is based on the items in each character’s hands, if they are holding a sword you can swing it, etc.

Magic is a system of combining runes, you could find new spells through trial-and-error or find scrolls showing the sequence.  There was a certain logic to the combination of runes, for example, the fire rune + the wings rune would make a fireball.

The game boils down to exploring the dungeon, fighting creatures, and solving puzzles to get past locked doors.

Dungeon Master II came out in 1993, the year I graduated high school.  Fast forward 19 years (really?  ouch.) and enter The Legend of Grimrock by indie studio Almost Human.

Legend of Grimrock IS Dungeon Master, with updated graphics and sound.  The controls, inventory, and magic system are instantly recognizable to people who played Dungeon Master.  This is not a bad thing, this is an homage in its purest form, instead of derivative.  Grimrock is lovingly hand-crafted, with gorgeous graphics and atmospheric sound.  It’s clear these guys loved Dungeon Master, and wanted to bring that experience to a new generation of gamers, as well as a treat for those who played the original.

The plot of Grimrock is pretty basic, your party of 4 are criminals of some sort, exiled by the king to die in the depths of Mount Grimrock.  They dump you in a pit at the top of the mountain, and you have to make your way to the bottom to escape.  I’m only a couple hours in, but it’s looking like there will be a twist or two along the way.

The graphics are crisp, with special attention payed to lighting.  Most of the time it’s lit with torchlight, which flickers in a realistic and pleasing way.  Dungeon Master was 2D, Grimrock has made the jump to 3D but kept the style faithful to the original.

The audio is great too, with moody atmospheric sounds and sounds of monsters moving around gives you a good idea where they are, which helps you get ready for combat or find hidden areas.

Overall it’s great fun, and I look forward to playing it some more.

So far my only complaint is that I have to run Windows to play it, a Mac version would be cool.



Retro Game Challenge

Retro Game Challenge

Last night I started playing “Retro Game Challenge” for the DS.
It’s sort of a… 1980s childhood gaming simulator.

It does a good job of capturing the essence of gaming in the 80s – flipping through gaming magazines, talking about cheat codes, and playing the latest game while a friend cheers you on (his mom even comments every now and then “are you kids still playing that game?” from the next room).

The way it works is fairly straightforward – your friend gets a new game, and you have 4 successively harder challenges to complete in the game. Once you complete the challenges, the next game is unlocked. Your friend also gets gaming magazines in the mail, which you can flip through for tips and cheat codes for the games.

The games are not actually retro games, but invented games that are representative of the types of NES games of the era. I’m only on the third game, but so far they are enjoyable. The first game is a Galaga-like game with some nice touches to add depth, the second game is an odd elevator-action-eqsue platformer, and the game I’m on now is a racing game similar to RC Pro Am.

The game may seem somewhat restrictive, by only doling out games one at a time and making you unlock them, but that too hearkens back to the childhood days of NES gaming, where getting a new game was a big deal, that might involve weeks of saving (or begging). The challenges can also be… challenging, just like the games of the 80s were.

All in all, a good nostalgia kick. If you had an NES growing up, and have a DS now, give it a look.

Mass Effect

Got back into playing Mass Effect on the Xbox360 last night. I was playing it a while back but got distracted by something shiny, now I’m coming back to it.

It’s well-written, and very cinematic. And features some moral choices that are actual decisions… some games give you choices like “do you become an assassin or a bounty hunter?” but Mass Effect does it better, with some more subtle, or lose-lose choices. Like last night I was playing a level where two of my teammates are in different areas fighting off a lot of enemy forces. I could go provide help to one or the other, but the one I didn’t help would die.

Inventory management is Mass Effect, as in Fallout 3, is annoying. I guess Fallout 3 was more annoying since it had encumbrance rules, but in Mass Effect I’m constantly running out of room to hold things and have to melt them down for scrap. It wouldn’t be so bad if the interface wasn’t so clunky for it.

But overall, really fun. I’m about 24 hours in and feels like about halfway through.

Goal Setting

I set myself a goal of losing 6 pounds in 3 months, which should be easy. Realistically, I should be able to do it in a month or less. But I figure, start with a really easy goal, that way I can feel like I’m ahead of the game when I exceed my goal.

I’ve been doing the stairs at work, which is hell on my calfs, but will hopefully get easier.

This morning I fired up Wii Fit for the first time in 121 days (so the little animated balance board tells me). I promptly scored a Wii Fit age of 25 and easily beat my old high scores on several games. Yay! What was wrong with me 121 days ago? Maybe my gall bladder was throwing off my balance… =)

I’m going to do stairs and Wii Fit at least 3 times a week each.

Now if I could just work in going to the gym once and a while… maybe I’ll go on Saturday in the morning.

Feels good to have some motivation for a change!

Home, Home on the range…

Sunday night I thought I’d try out Sony’s “open beta” of “Home”, their virtual world app where you create an avatar and wander around, essentially a closed version of Second Life.

I powered up the PS3 and selected the “Home” app.
Not surprisingly, the PS3 told me “a system update is required”. Sony’s system updates are slow, so I groan and hit ok.

About 45 minutes later, the update is done. The PS3 reboots, and I again select the “Home” app.
“You must install Home” it tells me. Ok, so the menu item for Home doesn’t actually have the app, it has to download. I hit ok.

Half and hour later, Home is downloaded and installed. I once more select the “Home” app.
“System update required,” it alerts me. Yup, ANOTHER one. I sigh and hit ok. Twenty or so minutes later, it’s installed. But now it’s time for bed. I shut down the PS3 and go to sleep.

So last night, I power the PS3 back up and select the “Home” app, and… you guessed it. “System update required.” I mash “ok” and wait another 20 minutes.

It restarts and I select the “Home” app. It actually launches! Or rather, it launches the EULA. After a lot of EULA stuff, it then tells me Home needs to install an update and reserve 3GB of space on the HD. Gah. I hit “ok” and after hitting “ok” a few more times to prompts like “Home will be using your HD, so don’t shut it down while it’s saving”, I finally get to the starting point of Home, building an avatar.

It only took a massive number of updates and patches, but I was finally able to build my sims-esque avatar. The selection of clothes was very limited (about 5 choices for shirts, pants, etc) – I knew Sony would do this, to try and get you to buy virtual clothing for your avatar. Once my fairly generic-looking avatar was done, it dropped me into my apartment, an extremely minimalist studio apartment overlooking the bay, with sailboats moored to the docks. It was rendered well enough, but very antiseptic looking.

I then went to a new location, oddly they have FarCry 2 and Uncharted locations, so I went to the FarCry 2 train station. The map took a little while to download, then I was dropped into the level. Other people have ghost-like templates until their models are loaded. I found this odd, shouldn’t the standard model textures be pre-cached? There aren’t that many options available…

There was very little to do on the map, except wander around. There was an upstairs, but that required another map to download. People were generally standing around going “**** you all!!!” or using one of the dance animations over and over (such as using the Metal fist-thrust to appear to be punching each other).

I then switched to the “movie theater” location. A bunch of people were dancing in the front, and there was a bubble machine there for some reason. On the screen was a giant progress bar, which took a long time to load. Seems instead of streaming, Sony chose a “download and play” model. Finally the movie was done downloading, and turned out to be a clip, maybe 5 or 10 minutes long, of some new CGI Resident Evil movie, which looked like an in-game cutscene but apparently is a direct-to-video movie. Once played, it started again.

Lastly, I took a trip to the Sony Mall, which offers a scant selection of items to buy for your avatar. There is an alternate apartment for $5, clothing between $0.50 and $2, and furniture around $2. There were no free items.

I shut down Home, probably never to return. Definitely not worth the effort of installing. It’s basically Second Life without the user-generated content, which to me was the main interesting thing about Second Life.

To sum up: yawn.

Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead is a very intense game.

Adam picked it up, and we played 2-player co-operative split-screen on my projector. It plays out like a standard zombie movie. The scenario we played was “No Mercy” – we had to get to Mercy Hospital, and get to the roof to be rescued by a helicopter.

It’s very much a team game, there are tons of zombies constantly coming from all sides, so you have to cover each other’s backs, and sides, and don’t forget to look up now and then too! It’s 4-player, so the other two characters were bots. They did a good job of keeping up and not being too stupid. Mostly.

The zombies in the game are not the slow, shambling kind, no, they are the running-straight-at-you-at-full-speed kind, like in “28 Days Later”. There are also a few special types: hunters, fast leaping zombies who pin you down; smokers, with a rope-like tongue that can grab you at a distance, called a smoker because when it’s killed, it leaves a noxious cloud of smoke; tanks, giant hulking zombies; boomers, bloated fat zombies who puke noxious goo on you that blinds you and attracts zombies, and if you shoot a boomer it explodes; and witches, strong zombies who just sit there crying until disturbed.

The scenario plays out with chapters, at the end of each chapter the group gets to a safe room and can rest for a bit and resupply. Overall, I think the scenario was about movie-length when we played it, around an hour and a half or two hours.

It ended a lot like a zombie movie, too – the helicopter came to pick us up, and the roof was swarming with zombies. Adam got to the helicopter first, then I got there. One of the bots went down, and the other bot went to help. Then out of nowhere, a smoker’s tongue whipped out and pulled Adam out of the helicopter and back onto the roof, into the horde of zombies. Then I guess the helicopter had been waiting long enough, because before I could free Adam from the smoker, and before the two bots made it back to the helicopter, it took off with only me on board.

Adam and the others were, as the title states “Left 4 Dead”. =)

The game is not so much creepy as it is intense. When zombies attack, they come from all sides, fast, in huge numbers. By the end of the scenario, we had killed around 2500 zombies.

So many games, so little time!

Now is the time of year where all the games come out at once. Instead of spacing them out nicely, publishers seem to think the best plan is to all compete head-to-head with one another in a battle royale leading up to Christmas.

So right now, I’m playing Fable II, Final Fantasy III, and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, and I just got Fallout 3 and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, and Little Big Planet should be arriving any day now.

Fallout 3 looks really cool, but I may hold off on starting it, since I’m really into Fable II right now. Of course Adam’s gonna be playing Fallout 3 and telling me all about how cool it is…