Ouya excited. Ouya launched. Ouya failed, with critics and owners complaining over stuttering performance and shocking controller input lag. Does that mark the untimely death of the newborn Android games console scene?
Hardly - Mad Catz are ready to pick up the baton, with their forthcoming M.O.J.O. Android gaming console. We went hands-on at a recent Amazon "Christmas in July" press event, and came away impressed.
The console itself is fairly unassuming, a black wedge with the red Mad Catz logo on top and a small power indicator light around the front. Powered by a Nvidia Tegra 3 mobile processor, it has a HDMI output on the rear (supporting 1080p resolutions), two USB ports, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microUSB port. 16GB of built-in storage features, which can be supplemented by memory cards in the console's microSD slot. Though unassuming, it's not unattractive, easily fitting in the palm of your hand.
Mad Catz are probably best known for their third-party console controllers, and their expertise in this field is clearly evident in the M.O.J.O.'s controller. Riffing off the standard Xbox 360 controller design, the "CTRLR" feels reassuringly weighty in the hand, with rugged analogue sticks that have just the right amount of sponginess and give when pushing away from the deadzone. Though frustratingly battery powered, the wireless Bluetooth 4.0 connection employed by the pad should eke plenty of energy out of a pair of AAA batteries - as much as 77 hours according to the Mad Catz employee we spoke with.
As well as the usual array of triggers, bumpers and face buttons, the CTRLR also features dedicated media playback controls near its top edge, as well as a "mouse mode" letting you simulate finger input with the left stick for Android games that don't support pads. A central glowing button lets you jump between open applications and the Android homescreen. Being Android-based, all manner of Bluetooth powered computer mice and keyboards (including, but not limited to, Mad Catz' own) will also be compatible with the M.O.J.O..
M.O.J.O. runs a near stock version of Android (the precise version has yet to be revealed), another advantage over rival Ouya in that it allows players to quickly install any games already purchased with and tied to their Google Play accounts. Navigating the mobile interface with the controller is a little clunky, but not broken, and Mad Catz promise an improved interface with better shortcut support ahead of launch.
As for gaming performance, the M.O.J.O. looks more than capable at present. The demanding Riptide GP looked great and played smoothly on the console, feeling right at home with physical rather than touch controls. Of course, visually even the best Android games sit some way behind current-gen console titles, let alone what's set to be offered by the Xbox One or PS4. But considering the M.O.J.O. console will sell for closer to £100 than the £300+ asking price for the next-gen machines, such performance differences and hardware discrepancies are to be expected.
What may prove to be the Mad Catz M.O.J.O.'s true trump card will be its emulator support. While ROMs are still a legal grey area, emulator gaming is a key draw to the open platform of Android, and even more so when Android is used within a home games console environment. And the M.O.J.O. hardware seems more than up to the task - we played through a quick opening level of Mario 64 on the system, and while some frame skipping seemed to be in effect, it was still a great trip down memory lane. Emulating other hardware on Android phones can be a massive battery drain, but with the M.O.J.O. running off the mains, hours of emulated gaming will be possible. Though it's not a feature that Mad Catz will find easily (or even legally) marketable, many Android die-hards will already be well aware of the potential the M.O.J.O. has here.
Interestingly, though the M.O.J.O. was in a playable state at the hands-on event we attended, and though it's approaching its "Autumn/Winter 2013" release window, the console is likely to go through another design revision before hitting stores.
What will this redesign include? Speaking to the Mad Catz reps at the Amazon event where the console was being showcased, they teased that a processor improvement was on the way. Though they didn't give any specifics, with the current version of the machine featuring a Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, the implied upgrade seems to be to a superior Nvidia Tegra 4 chipset. To accommodate that jump, the console is expected to become slightly larger, with more ventilation ports on the rear. For those looking to emulate more technically advanced games, such as N64 or PlayStation titles, this could make a massive difference, not to mention improving already-solid performance for intensive Android games.
For now though, even in its current state, the M.O.J.O. is looking like the best realisation of an Android-powered mini console to date. We'll have more on the promising new machine ahead of its launch later this year.