It does, however, host several fantastic games.
I’ve said this several times, but the smaller-scale nature of Ouya’s catalog pretty much eliminates the possibility of a single, console-selling killer app. It needs an array of outstanding titles — a killer set, if you will — that it can heavily promote as the quintessential, must-play Ouya experience. Yes, you can get Final Fantasy III, You Don’t Know Jack, and The Bard’s Tale on Ouya, but it’s an indie platform, and indie games sell Ouya better than anything else in its arsenal.
Here are the five best I’ve found so far. They might not settle the argument on Ouya’s worthiness by themselves, but they’re a very, very good start.
Or you could get most of them on other platforms.
Developer: Matt Thorson
If I described what Ouya does best, “The illegitimate spawn of Smash Brothers and Hotline Miami” isn’t normally the first thing I’d say. But here we are, and TowerFall easily deserves to be the poster child for everything Ouya could be.
It’s not so much the setup — a four-player, fantasy 2D arena fight — so much as the execution. Players hop around a castle snatching power-ups and shooting one-hit-kill arrows at each other, and your ammo is limited. If you’re playing with a full crew, you don’t even start with enough arrows in your quiver to take everybody out. You’ll have to grab some off dead opponents (or missed shots stuck in walls) or get lucky with a treasure-chest pick-up. Or, as I found in one nail-bitter, tag an opponent by jumping on their head. That squeaker brought the room down.
TowerFall nails moments like those with regularity — long-distance shots, arrow-on-arrow deflections, you name it. The full game also offers a wealth of options and tweaks to personalize those matches, but like the best games out there, you can fire up Towerfall and it is immediately fun, win or lose. That helps during the instant replays where you see just how close you came to victory … or how you blundered into humiliating defeat.
Developer: Eric Froemling
The first Ouya game I couldn’t put down, BombSquad is another four-player arena battle game, only with high explosives. It’s also one of the best-looking games on the system, and I’m not just saying that because you get to blow up tiny Arnold Schwarzeneggers.
You and your amigos charge around various platforms holding and hurling bombs at each other, and aiming those big cannonball-type weapons — which roll drunkenly after you toss them — definitely comes with a learning curve. Lesson No. 1: Throw it and get the hell out of the blast radius before it takes you out, too. Add sticky bombs, freeze bombs, techno-bombs, mines, and environmental hazards like exploding barrels and it doesn’t take long for things to go completely sickhouse. In the single-player mode, you also face harassment from bare-chested melee fighters who speak exclusively in Schwarzeneggerian grunts.
Those wry touches add immensely to BombSquad’s charm. So does the marching-band soundtrack. It turns out nothing whips me into a bomb-hurling frenzy quite like The William Tell Overture. BombSquad even stretches out into some very well thought-out game types, including a Capture the Flag that better resembles 7-on-7 football. With bombs.
Honestly, if every game on Ouya felt as joyous and polished as BombSquad, it would fly off store shelves. It’s a standout on any system. Just try to play it without cackling evilly. I couldn’t.
Developer: E McNeill
Generally speaking, the more ambitious games trying to emulate big-budget Xbox and PlayStation hits suffer badly in the comparison. Ouya will not give rise to the next Elder Scrolls or Gears of War despite some fairly 1-to-1 attempts. It is, however, a place where matching smart design work to a good idea can seriously pay off, and that’s where Bombball lives.
It also gets some credit for not intercapping its title like so many other games do.
Bombball starts as a 1-on-1 abstract version of soccer — or maybe a really aggressive form of Pong. Players pick up the ball by touch and shoot it straight out with a burst move. Lining up a shot takes practice. Ah, but then you have power-ups that give you a quick hit of speed, fire off an energy wave that knocks the ball loose, or lets you drop turrets that steal the ball and fire it in random directions.
For something built on flowing, elegant movement, it’s surprising how fast-paced Bombball feels. Steals and breakaways induce panic. But you drag the ball behind you, so it’s not just a matter of rushing the goal and firing it in … you’ve got to turn around and face away from the target before bursting. And nothing screams “Denied!” like positioning for the perfect aim only to get slammed with an energy wave.
I can’t honestly say Bombball will stand up over the long term, but it’s an ideal pick-up-and-play time-waster, with more depth and style than anything created in less than two weeks deserves.
Super Crate Box
Supersimplistic. Superfast. Superaddictive. Vlambeer cut Super Crate Box from the same sadistic cloth as Super Meat Boy … and then added guns. You hop through a series of Mario Bros.-like stages collecting gun crates while unpleasant green monsters (and white ghost-monsters) drop in from above. If a monster reaches the fire pit at the bottom, it respawns at the top, red, angry, and five times faster than before. So you die, and you die, and you die, die, die, die.
Oh, but those crates are unlockable ballistic candy. You start with a weak pistol, but each crate you nab hands you a better, random weapon. Bigger and badder weapons open up as you hit milestones, including flamethrowers and one amusingly overpowered minigun with a kickback that traps you in a corner, helplessly stuck while annihilating everything else onscreen. Others, like a Tron-disc gun, slice through you and the monsters without discrimination.
So, yeah. You die.
And diving back into the carnage becomes an automatic instinct ten seconds into your first play. It’s a tough, heartless game, but nothing feels unfair. Outside of the micro-second delay between death and respawn, I never felt punished for my missteps … which is good, because I made plenty. In fact, Super Crate Box just rewards you with more machine guns, rocket launchers, and high-powered revolvers. And lots more monsters to use them on.
Hidden in Plain Sight
Developer: Adam Spragg Games
Price: Pick-a-price ($4.99 recommended)
Anyone who’s a fan of Assassin’s Creed’s multiplayer owes themselves a crack at this deliciously nasty number. Hidden in Plain Sight offers five variations on strategic action-stealth where you race your friends to complete an objective without giving yourself away.
This is easier said than done. Most of Hidden’s modes start by dropping you into a crowd, and your first job is to figure out which character you’re playing as … hopefully in a way that doesn’t draw attention. The second anyone makes you for a player, you’re a target. Frequently, a dead target.
It’s a pleasantly nerve-wracking juggle to stay hidden in the crowd, find other players and assassinate them, and tick off the mode-specific goals. Naturally, it’s tough to bump off a few nonplayer characters, touch a series of statues, or collect coins without looking a little suspicious. Modes like Death Race even have you control sniper crosshairs and your tiny avatar at the same time. That might sound like a nightmare, but smart, streamlined controls puts the difficulty right back onto the strategic level, where it belongs. Do you make a break for it and hope nobody picks you off? Do you exercise some patience and hang back with the crowd until you all get close to the finish line?
That’s the game’s true strength. I’m disappointed in the lack of single player and online multiplayer options, but unlike a lot of games, Hidden in Plain Sight gets in your head and stays there.