A Console With Quirks, for Tinkerers

The cube runs a version of Android, Google’s phone software. That’s no coincidence; its guts are about what you’d find in a phone or tablet.

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The Ouya gives humorous status messages and offers 200 video games to owners, like Final Fantasy III and Beast Boxing Turbo.

It connects to your television with a single HDMI cable. The controller’s top panels pop off magnetically, so that you can insert an AA battery into each leg.

When you turn everything on, instructions on the TV guide you through “pairing” the controller with the cube. Then you’re asked to help it onto your home Wi-Fi network. Finally, you’re treated to a long update process, as the Ouya downloads the latest software.

Someone put a lot of work and humor into the “please wait” status messages that appear beneath the progress bar during the update. They float by, offering notifications like these:

“Shifting bits … Reducing complexity … Opening flaps … Calculating odds … Refactoring Bezier curves … Herding cats … Rearranging deck chairs … To be honest, just downloading a firmware update.” It’s funny.

Finally, you arrive at the main menu. There, a Discover button reveals the Ouya’s main attraction: hundreds of games, instantly ready to download and play. (Unlike the Xbox and PlayStation, this console does not accept discs.)

Every game is free to try. Some are free forever. Some are free to play for an hour, then require payment (usually $5 to $20). Some let you play only the beginning levels until you pay.

Here’s the thing with Ouya games: You won’t mistake them for Xbox or PlayStation games. Many are terrible. Some are adapted from phone games. Some have jagged, bitmapped graphics like video games from 20 years ago. Some look like Wii games; some, like Vector (a parkour simulation, the acrobatic urban running sport), have a great…

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