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Ouya review - Controller, Software and Setup
Ouya - ControllerWhile the console itself is attractive and well-made, we can't say the same for the controller. In fact, it's one of the weakest parts of the Ouya.
It's a conventional design but for the black segment in the middle, which acts as a touchpad. It's the least useful feature, however, since so far it seems limited to aiding navigation of touch-based apps rather than any interesting gameplay applications.
Besides this, the controller has four main face buttons, two analogue sticks (both clickable), a D-pad and four shoulder triggers - two basic ones, and two analogue ones. It's a wireless controller that uses Bluetooth, and it's powered (in true retro fashion) by two AA batteries that sit in each of the two handles.
The button layout is fine and the controller feels good in the hands, but there are rather too many build quality and fine detail issues to ignore. On our version the left-side analogue trigger has a slightly sticky action, as if it's rubbing against its housing.
The two analogue sticks, meanwhile, are adequate, but they lack the fine control needed for satisfying control of any third- of first-person action or shooting game. There's a noticeable dead zone, and it's all too easy move way past your intended target. At times they feel more digital than analogue.
And in one respect that's just as well because the actual digital four-way D-pad is dreadful. It feels mushy and imprecise, and requires more pressure than we're accustomed to when using a D-pad. The upshot is even where a D-pad ought to be preferred option, such as in Vector HD or Cannabalt HD where the primary action is jump using the 'Up' action, we prefer to use the stick and not the D-pad. It ought to be the over way about.
At this point we should stress that none of these failings make the Ouya controller unusable, particularly for the kind of games currently available on Ouya - with one or two exceptions, 3D action shooters aren't its stock in trade. But they are symptomatic of its 'version one' status, and it's irksome that additional controllers demand the princely sum of £40. It's just as well you can use wired Xbox controllers, and PS3 controllers via Bluetooth.
Ouya - Software and SetupSetting up the Ouya is much like setting up any modern gadget: connect to Wi-Fi, setup account, setup payment details and... check for a software update. The latter part takes a while, but it's all straightforward enough.
The basic interface gives you three options: Play, Discover, Make and Manage: Play takes you to your downloaded games and apps; Discover, to the app store; Make is where you can load your own creations and access side-loaded apps; and Manage is where all the settings live.
So far, so straightforward, and the basic interface is intuitive, friendly and responsive - more responsive than the Xbox 360's dashboard most of the time, which despite all its power still struggles to load actual apps in a timely manner. It does, however, have similar 'version one' pitfalls as the controller.
The largest problem is the lack of any download queue. This is particularly annoying given the Ouya's admirable (and mandatory) 'free to try' policy, which encourages you to download loads of games and give them all a go. It means you tend to 'binge download', scanning through the store and selecting three or four games to download at a time.
The problem arises where the game you're most interested in is the last in the queue, and the only way to make it first is to cancel all the others. Moreover, as there's no 'downloading' list you have to hunt down each game in the store to cancel the download.
Another potential issue is the lack of any up-front pricing on games and apps. We say 'potential' because it's a matter of opinion whether this is necessary or not. We actually fall in favour of the Ouya's approach. While it does mean you won't know how much you'll pay if you want to buy a game after the trial finishes, we prefer that to not trying a game because you're put off by the price. But that's just one view, and there's a reasonable argument to be made for greater transparency, too.
These are tangible, obvious problems, but our other complaints are more opportunities than failures. As yet there's no unifying online profile, multiplayer matchmaking system that's now the standard for other home consoles. We understand why it's not there right now and we'd be immensely surprised if it's not on the Ouya team's 'to do' list alongside 'find games' (more on which in a moment), but it's a further reminder were it needed of a 'to be completed' feel about Ouya as a console and a platform.