In these early pre-launch days, it’s tough to say how much success the Ouya will manage. What is clear, though, is the obvious tendency the system has toward fun local multiplayer experiences. It doesn’t have any unified matchmaking, sure, which probably helps. Mostly, though, it appeals to indies developing for PC and mobile, and the advantage it has over both of those is its TV-native comfort in supporting split-screen or same-screen play.
I’d like to take a look at three of the best already available, and point out what future developers can learn from them.
1-8 players, $4.99 with one-hour trial, also on: Mac App Store
Eric Froemling’s party-play showcase is an ambitious one, both in style and variety. The game sports a claymation style and a physics-based take on Bomberman-style powered-up explosions, but that’s not what makes it so special. (Though wow, does it look super-slick.) What makes it is the sheer breadth of game types. There’s a standard deathmatch and accompanying elimination, with similar gameplay but different scoring systems. (One has kills, the other a life count.) There’s also Capture the Flag and a get-there-and-don’t-return Assault variant, football and hockey-themed challenges, races, cooperative defense… much more. And it operates on customizable playlists that keep the action moving.
For a game about bombs, there’s a fairly compelling attack triangle: players can also punch for faster and less limited attacks, or use running momentum and arena borders to pick up and throw foes to their demise. And the different modes make each a potentially-dominant strategy! The more we play, the more we find we have different specialties, and with the robust team play options, we can specialize and cooperate.
The part of BombSquad that is most refreshing is its myriad controller options. Froemling’s game supports practically any controller you plug in, with default mappings for more popular options and customizability for whatever obscure thing you have. There’s also a mobile app to control it with Bluetooth, which is a nice touch, but lag can become an issue. The one thing holding back local multiplayer on the Ouya is simple availability and cost of those extra controllers, and this is the seamless type of support that should really be implemented at the system level.
The takeaway: Unless they’re using the Ouya controller’s built-in touchpad for some reason, developers should support more controller types. At least 360 and PS3 ones.
Hidden in Plain Sight
2-4 players, $0.99 with two of five modes free, also on: Xbox Live Indie Games
Adam Spragg’s project shares many similarities with Chris Hecker’s SpyParty, in that it’s a game about blending in with a crowd of NPCs and accomplishing things in the process. It’s more about fun than nuance, though; Hidden in Plain Sight is a no-frills, thrill-of-deception collection, with five variations on the formula.
The first game is the simplest: everyone tries to touch five points, while avoiding the attention (and attacks) of others. Attacking, of course, makes your presence obvious, though, so even a seed of doubt can be enough to keep from being targeted. Two modes have one team taking out NPCs or collecting coins and the other aiming with a spotlight and shooting potential assassins with limited bullets. With no light on the area, your actions aren’t revealed; coins disappear and NPCs fall when a line’s shown on them.
The fourth mode is Knights vs. Ninjas, which has one team blending in with NPC ninjas and moving in to assassinate the royal family and the other disguising themselves within bands of knights to fend the others off. The fifth sees each player performing both seeking and hiding roles, as you hit face buttons to walk or run from one side of the screen to the other, and aim at any suspiciously-moving figures you think could be your opponents.
They’re all simple in structure, but each plays with the traditional game dynamic in an interesting way.
The takeaway: With Microsoft neglecting and then abandoning the service, the Ouya is positioned very well to be a new, better home for XBLIG-type projects.
1-4 players, free with donations, also on: browser
Ouya worked with Kill Screen earlier this year to organize a game jam for the system, and Stalagflight, by Jacob Korsgaard and Emil Kjaehr, is literally and spiritually a part of this movement. Borrowing heavily from the mobile “jump” genre, the game has you attaching yourself to falling debris, rotating it and launching off them in the opposite direction in an attempt to escape oncoming lava.
That’s it. That’s the whole game. That’s okay, though, because it’s super-quick and fun. The multiplayer mode lets four jump at the same time, and it’s the competition for landing spots that makes things hectic. Why? Your launch is propelled by an explosion of the rock on which you’re standing.
Possibly the best part of Stalagflight is its distinctly-Ouya payment model. It’s a free game, but you can “buy pizzas” of various cost for the developer, donating what you wish for the game whenever you’d like. For small-scale, inexpensive-to-develop games like this, it may work well enough. (It’s pre-launch, though, so it’s probably not bringing in much yet.)
The takeaway: The system’s adept at presenting simple ideas well, and doing one thing admirably is just fine for a game that’s free and donation-driven.