Ouya: Take Two

I haven’t used my Ouya much since writing my original articles about it. I don’t have much time to play games over the summer, as work keeps me swamped until mid-September… which is now. I thought I’d take some time and revisit the console, now several months into its first year, and re-evaluate it.

Let me begin by pointing out that the controller still isn’t great. I gave up on an improved experience via software updates, and got my hands on a used PS3 controller. I am happy to report that things work much better once you start using a good game pad. Games like League of Evil start to play better, and emulators feel “right.” It is an unfortunate mar on the system’s reputation, but one that can no longer be ignored. The cost of an Ouya just went up by the market price of a PS3 controller. Since the Ouya does not support force feedback, you can at least save some money and buy a Sixaxis instead of a DualShock 3.

There are still lots of system updates, which can be seen as a good or a bad thing. It could just have been the fact that I haven’t turned my Ouya on in over a month, but I wound up getting two updates over the course of less than a week. They don’t seem to have fixed two of the Ouya’s most glaring annoyances: that games don’t seem to download in the background, and updates fail more often than they succeed. I’ve spent over an hour sitting at the menu screen, trying to download updates and watching all but one or two fail. It’s maddening.

There’s also the issue of Ouya’s extremely limited storage space. Although you can add an external drive, games must be programmed to support them. This limits you to around 8 GB of useable space. The amount of space a game takes up can vary wildly, from a few megs to over 1 gig. This wouldn’t be a big deal if you could easily expand the storage size. However, you cannot. You may find yourself deleting games you’re not as interested in to make room for new ones. You may find that you don’t want to try any new games, because your Ouya is filled with games you really like, and don’t want to lose any of them. It’s a hassle.

The Ouya does still work, however, and there are still games being released for it. Let’s take a look at a few more.

Freedom Fall

Freedom Fall. The Princess' messages are a disturbing delight.

An interesting platformer marred by stiff controls and a broken wall-jump mechanic, Freedom Fall is something I’d really like to get into. The general concept is great: you play a medieval prisoner whose tower cell is opened up, only to discover your way out is a winding fall designed to be the ultimate deathtrap. The course is lined with amusing notes from its designer, a demented princess who derives great joy from torturing her father’s prisoners.

I am on the fence about this game. I really like the idea behind it, but one of its core mechanics just does not work. I want to purchase it and keep playing, but I know that the wall jump difficulty will make me hate it. Freedom Fall would be a must-buy if they could get the timing on such a critical move right. A platforming game’s controls should not fight the player; that’s the job of the level design. It’s a pity. I want to buy this game. I want to play more. But it’s broken, so the developer doesn’t get my money and I don’t get my fun.

The Life of a Pacifist is Often Fraught With Conflict and Enemy of the Solid State

The beginning of Enemy of the Solid State. 

Both of these games are visual novels created by bentosmile. Visual novels, for the uninitiated, are semi-interactive stories. Most of the game involves reading, and occasionally making choices for the character. These two visual novels in particular are clever, with just the right amount of wit. They are also quite short, but since they’re free I can easily recommend them if you’re looking for a nice quick story.

Sine Mora

Fighting a boss in Sine Mora .

Sine Mora is a bullet-hell shoot-em-up(often truncated to shmup) by Grasshopper Manufacture, and it’s probably one of the least-weird games they’ve ever made. The story is nigh-unfollowable, but I think it’s fair to say no one plays shoot-em-ups for their plots. The game features an interesting time control mechanic, which helps you weather the storm of projectiles rushing toward you as you fight through enemy lines and take down massive bosses. Grasshopper Manufacture has a great reputation, and this game does not disappoint. If you are a fan of side-scrolling shmups, you should definitely check Sine Mora out.

I missed Sine Mora when it was previously released on XBLA, Steam, PSN, and iOS. In this instance this is a case where being on the Ouya helped the game stand out. I purchased it after playing through a single level. However, since I do have access to these better consoles, I may start playing it on them, instead.

Shuttle Rush

 Shuttle Rush  in action.

Shuttle Rush is a fast-paced puzzle-platformer where time is of the essence. Your character, Space Taxman Bob, punctured his space suit and must make it back to his shuttle before all the air leaks out. The denizens of the ship he’s aboard don’t care much for him, and will attack him on sight. As you progress, stages get larger and the puzzles more difficult. You will occasionally run across air pumps, where you can spend the coins you collect while playing to have your suit refilled.

Although it wasn’t really my cup of tea, Shuttle Rush is not a bad game. The visuals have a fairly unique style to them, and while the animation is not great, it’s certainly acceptable. It was the jumping mechanic that bothered me. I felt like I could never get the hang of it, and was regularly mis-timing my leaps. There isn’t much of a story to speak of, so the only thing to keep you going is figuring out each level’s layout, and perhaps beating your old score. The developer, Takusan Works, was very generous with the amount of free demo gameplay they provide, so it’s worth checking out if you are a fan of games like Braid.

The Vestibule

A promotional image of The Vestibule.

Another visual novel, this one from Project BC. It tells the story a Gale, who is traveling a great distance via rail to their lover. Gale shares a pair of cars with two passengers: a young woman visiting her mother, and a lawyer on his way to represent an old friend. Each of them is as anxious about arriving at their destination as Gale. Like bentosmile’s offerings, The Vestibule can be completed in a single sitting. It’s interface felt a little unresponsive, but because timing is hardly of the essence it wasn’t enough to keep me from enjoying the story.

Reaper

The player fights Natives in Reaper.

Reaper is a moderately fun game that would probably be more compelling if it wasn’t built around an auto-attack mechanic. Your character will automatically attack any enemy right next to them, but these attacks are weak. When your character does enough damage, they get a rage tokens. There permit them to use powerful forms of your manual attacks. You’ll also collect money and experience for defeating enemies, which allows you to level up and buy better equipment. The demo mode limits you to gaining ten experience levels. I lost interest before I hit level three.

This game is an example of a mobile game being shoehorned into a console form. It is designed to be played in small bites, and with simple controls. However, console games and smartphone games are not the same, and need to be approached differently. There is no better example of this than the much-lauded console version of Diablo III, which greatly changed its play style to suit the change in input. Reaper doesn’t do this, and suffers for it.

Rush Brothers

The madcap platforming of  Rush Brothers.

Rush Brothers is a multiplayer platforming game where you race an opponent to the finish line. Each course is filled with traps and items that will either help you or hinder your opponent. The game is tied in with Reverbnation, and features a fast-paced techno/electronic soundtrack that fits the style perfectly. Rush Brothers combines the fun of a frantically-paced platformer with the joy of sabotaging your opponent, Mario Kart-style.

The biggest flaw in this game is that it does not support ps3 controller. You must use the Ouya controller, which means that you’re at an instant disadvantage. Granted, your opponent must, too, but as soon as they trigger a control swap switch, you’re fighting both the game pad and reversed controls. Its other flaw is that it requires you to play online. If you don’t have an opponent, you can still play, but if there is an issue with their servers, you can’t. In addition, lag between players can steal a victory from you. I once crossed the finish line several seconds in front of my opponent, and yet the win went to them.

Rush Brothers offers a 30-minute timed demo, which is plenty of time for you to figure out if these issues are deal-breakers for you. They were for me.

Polarity

Polarity.

Polarity is first-person puzzler in that feels a bit like Portal minus the portal gun and snarky AI goading you on. You play as a hacker hired to steal data from a super-secure virtual bank. By toggling your polarity — red or blue — you can navigate its labyrinthine halls and circumvent its security. Polarity’s concept is sound, and its visuals, though simple, are the good kind of sparse that set a consistent tone. It feels like Tron invaded Aperture Labs, and it looks nice.

The only place Polarity falls short is the controls department. You are again limited to just the Ouya controller, but that’s not the biggest issue. My real complaint is that you can’t change the control stick sensitivity, which I found to be way too high. I was constantly overshooting targets with the right stick. If I could reduce that sensitivity, I would buy this game at its $4.99 price in a heartbeat.

Fallen World

Defending your partner in Fallen World. 

A combination of tower defense and hack-and-slash brawler, Fallen World tasks you with protecting a young cyborg from waves of enemies. You can place automated defenses around the battlefield to slow the tide and slowly reduce their numbers, and directly attack enemies to more quickly dispatch them. Knowing when to rely on automated defenses and when to interact directly is the key strategy you’ll need to develop.

Although its graphics can only charitably be describes as "sparse," Fallen World is interesting. However, I found the controls frustrating. The player character moves with an odd sort of inertia that I found distracting. I played enough to get to point where I could level up the character’s speed, but the game would not allow me to do so without paying to buy the full version, so I can’t tell if it gets better. I did like the theory behind the game, but without knowing if the controls improve by leveling up, I can’t really recommend it. The game is too restrictive with its demo. It also doesn’t support third-party controllers.

Abbigale and the Monster

One of the many single-screen puzzles from Abbigale and the Monster.

This is a top-down puzzle game where you must simultaneously maneuver two characters to their destination. Gameplay takes place on a simple grid, with varied obstacles on either side of the board. You directly control the monster, and Abbigale’s movements mirror yours. This means that when the monster moves up a space, so does Abbigale, but when the monster moves left, she moves right. It takes a moment to get used to, but it makes sense very quickly. As the game progresses, enemies get added to the mix. They move when you do, so the challenge becomes accounting for their patterns while navigating the maze. The game’s plot revolves around the metaphor of the monster within Abbigale, but outside of the introduction, my short time playing it did not delve any deeper.

At first glance, Abbigale and the Monster reminded me of The Adventures of Lolo. However, this is an unfair comparison. While Lolo is very much about pushing blocks and preparing a room, Abbigale and the Monster is more about the challenge of navigating its boards. Like many of the other games I’ve reviewed here, this game did not support the PS3 controller. However, due to it’s turn-based movement, this does not affect play at all. This not the sort of game I enjoy, but I can see the appeal. I definitely recommend giving it a shot.


There are still lots of games on the Ouya I have not played. Although I was not too impressed with most of what I played this time around, I will go back and try more. So far, though, I’d have to say the Ouya remains a cube with unrealized potential.

 

Posted on September 22, 2013 .