The author. Image: Ben Turnbull
When I unsheathed the Ouya from its box, its insert packaging read "And So Begins The Revolution."The revolution had to wait until I finished installing an update, which took two whole days.Since then, it has been a bittersweet gizmo, and with the recent news that gaming peripheral company Razer acquired its software and part of its team, not the hardware itself, its time seems to be coming to a close.
A lot of you are probably wondering what the fuck an Ouya is and if it's any good. Even I, a proud Ouya owner, am not quite sure, but I'll attempt an answer.What is Ouya?The Ouya is an Android-based, open-source, $99 little console, that infamously raised $8.5 million through crowdfunding in 2012. It promised to meet all your weird gaming needs, from game making, to emulating, to a sleek door stop.The problems with the cutie lil' console are well documented. The Ouya controllers—clunky, heavy, with shoulder triggers bend and screech like a cheap toy—often failed to connect wirelessly. There was nothing elegant about clawing the faceplate off to replace the batteries. If you decided to connect controllers from other systems (a big selling point at the time), it wasn't much better.It wasn't just hardware. When Ouya debuted, it prided itself on having free games above anything else, a lunkheaded posture given that free games would become commonplace and often hated for their sleazy free-to-play monetization methods. Eventually it would stop waving that banner and focus on its treasure chest of hidden gems, but by that point it just seemed like people had moved on. But let's not erase history and pretend those gems weren't there. Let's reminisce on the good times with this tiny idiot.The goodBig familiar faces like Final Fantasy, Sonic the Hedgehog, You Don't Know Jack, Pinball Arcade, Alien Versus Predator, Joe Danger and other homogenous titles were there. But those aren't the selling points. Well, maybe they were, but they shouldn't have been.
No Brakes Valet, a chaotic multiplayer game about parking in a way the title suggests, Amazing Frog, a worbly controlled jaunt through a town as a gassy amphibian, and Gauradan, a retro-style rampage as a knock-off Rodan, are unique, surreal wonderful oddballs.Ouya was an ongoing beautiful clusterfuck, an egalitarian game library that, because of its oft poorly curated shopping system, would showcase a slickGears of War-style epic right next toan utterly useless sailboat sim.It was as if Xbox Live Indie Games, a tire-fire of a digital, indie game store, didn't have to compete with the safe, civilized blockbuster Xbox store, where normal people bought games. As a user, it meant that surfing the database could sometimes be as fun as playing some of the actual games. Its ambivalent politics towards nonsense and oddities, all just a few button presses away, made it the perfect console to turn on after you got properly baked.
You could tell the relaxed ethos was somewhat liberating to developers. Ouya hiring Kellee Santiago, co-founder of the well respected indie developer Thatgamecompany, seemed to boost developer confidence, regardless of maligned performances. TowerFall, easily Ouya's biggest darling, got to shine by being a big fish in a small pond. But even when it outgrew the platform, where it reportedly sold a measly 7,000 by the time it was ported, it would still update and improve itself, like a butterfly that isn't above hanging out with its awkward caterpillar buddies.
Other games in the catalogue would do the same, tinkering and updating over time, informally episodic, making it hard to parse the line between proof-of-concept and finalized product. Sometimes you could tell a game jam just wrapped up because a bunch of likeminded titles would sit side-by-side. The library was once flooded with Flappy Bird riffs, some of them pretty exceptional.I played Ittle Dew, Chess 2 and Potatoman there first, because other platforms wouldn't give them a chance to shine. I discovered a game about a cartoon wiener dog rescuing puppies that I fell in love with, and I could, because the Ouya doesn't fucking judge me.Not every game that had a stronger presence on Ouya deserves a shot, Neverending Nightmares, Whispering Willows and Portal creator Kim Swift's incredibly disappointing disco roguelike Soul Fjord didn't do the system much favours, but crowd pleasers like frantic party game Toto Temple and scenic runner Fotonica made the world a little better. I hope we see the more seriously inclined That Dragon, Cancer, a retelling of a father's experience with a dying son, and Thralled, about escaping Portuguese slavery, regardless of system.Moving onAll of these weird and wonderful reasons to like the Ouya have become somewhat outdated. I barely booted it this year up this year, and I know why. Services like Itch.io satisfy the desire for a space for games of absolutely any flavour, without also requiring dedicated hardware. Razor's acquisition seems to mirror this tonal shift, it's more interested bolstering its own hardware with Ouya's catalogue and store platform, than it is in the little box and whatever it meant to represent.
Every update about the mini-platform in the last year has been called a death-rattle, but Razor purchasing parts of the outfit seem like the most certain nail in the coffin. The concern over all the unpaid dues to developers part of their "Free the Game" campaign didn't help make this a gentle passing, either.It can seem like its faults outweighed its charms, but the Ouya did have a purpose, however brief, however specific. It was not a place for "free games" but a place where games were free to be anything, and in that sense it was prolific, opening its doors to whoever came. In most other senses, it sits on my desk, mostly mistaken for an external hard drive. So here's to that.