"And so the revolution begins." These words, printed on a rather garish orange sheet of transparent plastic, are the first to greet you when you open the new Ouya console, which was quietly released last week.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, this young new pretender promises to "free the games" from their big-budget shackles, offering a more quietly confident indie-based alternative to the other all-screaming, all-breakdancing next-gen systems.
Package posturing aside, Ouya still has a lot to prove before it comes close to rivalling the mainstream alternatives in the eyes of consumers. Last week we got our hands on an early unit to find out if the pint-sized console really is worth considering...
Inside the box the first thing you see is that orange sheet proudly declaring the beginning of the revolution. Underneath that is the Ouya controller and the console itself, which is so dinky it's the smaller of the two. Also provided are a power supply, a HDMI cable and the world's least helpful manual, which instructs you to simply plug it in and stick the HDMI cable into your TV.
The cubic console is a delightful-looking dreidel-shaped device. It's got a decent weight to it despite its diminutive size and its brushed aluminium finish is pleasant. The back features ports for the AC adapter, USB, mini-USB, HDMI and ethernet, while four standard screws on the top make it easy for tinkerers to open up and mess around with the inside. After all, modification is one of the Ouya's founding principles... but more on that later.
Oddly, the fan vents are at the bottom of the console. We haven't experienced any problems with it so far but there are reports of some Ouyas overheating, with the solution being to simply lie it on its side. It's clear that the vents were put there so the look of the console wasn't compromised, but in this case form definitely shouldn't impair functionality.
The controller initially looks a little cheap but once you pick it up it doesn't feel too bad. The face buttons are satisfying enough to press and the analogue sticks have a good amount of give, though the rubber pads on them don't provide a great deal of grip. The D-pad seems fine at first but requires some firm pressing, meaning we already had a sore thumb by the end of the set-up process.
The four shoulder buttons are perfectly adequate, although the back triggers (the equivalent of L2 and R2) feel a bit cheap and springy. Rounding things off is a touch pad in the middle of the controller, which brings up an on-screen arrow. It's by far the weakest part of the controller and is a bit of a nightmare to use.
Setting up the Ouya wasn't quite the breeze we were anticipating, since you need an internet connection to do so and its built-in Wi-Fi receiver isn't exactly the strongest. The Ouya kept dropping the signal from our home Wi-Fi router, despite being slightly closer to it than our Xbox 360 slim, PS3 super slim and Wii U, all of which regularly connect with no problems. If your router is in another room (as ours is), pepare for the possibility of connection issues.
"Setting up the Ouya wasn't quite the breeze we were anticipating"
After finally getting a stable connection by moving the Ouya closer to the router and using a longer HDMI cable, we had to download and install a day-one system update, albeit a relatively small one that took around ten minutes in total.
Once that was out of the way, we were asked to create an Ouya account then either set up credit card information or add credit from a store-bought card. Annoyingly, this step can't be skipped, so if you bought the system with cash and don't have a credit card then you won't be able to progress past this point. Ouya assures on its website that it doesn't even store credit card information and only accesses it when you want to make a purchase, but it's still annoying that you can't even get to the Ouya store to download free trials without proving you have the ability to pay should you want to.
Once all the fiddly stuff is out of the way you're presented with the main Ouya menu, which looks surprisingly bare compared to the preview image shown on the console's Kickstarter page. Of course, it's still early days, and console dashboards frequently evolve over time (look at the Xbox 360, for example), so there's every chance the front-end will improve.
For now though, its options of 'Play', 'Discover', 'Make' and 'Manage' seem overly-simplified, a feeling that isn't shaken when you dive fully in to each option.
Discover is the first place Ouya owners will want to go, as this is the official Ouya store where all developers are welcome to submit their Ouya-created games. It's completely free to publish a game on Discover, and Ouya provides a free software development kit on its website, meaning anyone can release a game.
At first glance this may seem like a great idea, and the carefully-chosen games displayed on the store's main screen are proudly lined up in Netflix-like categories, each with their own well presented icon. Dig deeper, however, and it'll be obvious that there's some right chaff in there, making Ouya's claim of 200 games available (at the time of writing) seem a little less impressive. You can see a full list of games on Ouya's website.
To its credit, Ouya does have an interesting way of deciding which games end up on the main Discover screen. Every new game, regardless of how well-known it is, starts off in the Sandbox category at the bottom of the store. Ouya monitors a number of things like how long people play the game for and how many 'likes' it gets on the store, and uses this information to give the game a hidden 'O-Rank'. The higher a game's O-Rank, the more popular it is and the more likely it'll move out of the Sandbox and into the main store.
This is a good idea in theory and does ensure that the better, more accomplished titles are discoverable and will eventually rise to the top of the Ouya library.
It may not quite stop well-known developers publicising their games better than indie micro studios, but it's a good concept in theory.
There have also been early rumblings that Ouya may not be as free and open for anyone to submit games as suggested. Indie developer Terry Cavanagh (creator of cult platformer VVVVVV) has already submitted ten games to Ouya last week - eight of them are now available on the store, another is awaiting review and Bridge, his interactive music-based storytelling game, was rejected by Ouya's approval process.