Early Ouya reviews highlight panoply of problems
The Verge and Engadget point to issues with hardware, OS and game catalogue
The early reviews of the Ouya console are out, and they are less than encouraging about the Android console's chances of success.
The first public version of the hardware started shipping to Ouya's Kickstarter backers on March 29, opening what CEO Julie Uhrman has described as an " exclusive preview period" while the team adds and refines features.
However, that hasn't prevented some of the more prominent, taste-making tech websites from posting reviews - specifically The Verge and Engadget - and their appraisals are far from positive.
A common pain point is the controller, which suffers from problematic lag, though only on occasion. Both reviews also complained of sticky buttons and triggers. However, the console's re-skinned Android 4.1 OS is a greater concern, with both Engadget and The Verge highlighting a number of important missing features and counter-intuitive design choices.
"This is a product with some good ideas and a potentially promising future, but it's a million miles away from something worth spending your money on"
But the biggest problem is the games. There are 8,000 developers signed up to create products for Ouya, but neither site was impressed by the quality and variety of the 104 games currently available: for Engadget, anyone with reasonable experience of smartphone games will be familiar with the "vast majority" of the current catalogue, while The Verge pressed the need for either exclusive or name-brand products to sell the device.
"A surprisingly large number of high-quality games are available in the [Google] Play Store," the Verge said in its 3.5 out of 10 review. "But Ouya's going its own way with the Ouya Store, and it pales tremendously in comparison."
A related issue is the initially promising idea of every game being available to download for free. However, the reality is different: Engadget complained that there is no indication of how much any game costs until you're playing it, and prices range from freemium all the way up to $15.99 for Final Fantasy III. For The Verge, the need to offer free content led to every game suffering from an unpredictable stream of in-game prompts and pop-ups urging the player to spend money.
The one high point for The Verge - by far the most negative available review - is the way Ouya has delivered on its promise of being the "most hackable" console in history. The site's reviewer managed to get Netflix, Plex, Shadowgun, Mario Kart 64 and Angry Birds Space running on his console. But, he stressed, the complicated process required to do do will be beyond the capabilities of even its 60,000 backers, let alone a mass audience hungry for content. "They'll just want to turn it on and play some games," he said. "Boy, will they be let down."
Engadget finished its review with an acknowledgement that this version of Ouya should be considered "a beta release", adding, "It's simply not ready for retail." And with the console due to launch in June there is still time to make changes to the controller and interface.
However, The Verge suggested that the console is simply too far from its stated goals to realise them in the remaining months.
"This is a product with some good ideas and a potentially promising future, but it's a million miles away from something worth spending your money on.
"To its credit, the company says loudly and often that this is only the beginning of a long road for Ouya - and I'll be watching its progress with interest. But the device is currently being sold as a product, not a prototype, and that's just wrong. Ouya isn't a viable gaming platform, or a good console, or even a nice TV interface. I don't know what it is, but until Ouya figures it out, it's not worth $99."