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Review: PlayJam GameStick

The $79 PlayJam GameStick is an entertaining Android console for kids and casual gamers, but it needs more software to become a must-buy.

Gaming Performance, Built-In Apps, Configurations, and Verdict

Gaming Performance

The GameStick is an Android-based device powered by a 1.5-GHz dual-core ARM Cortex A9 CPU with a MALI-400 graphics chip. In comparison, the Ouya operates on Nvidia's Tegra 3 chip. While we couldn't run our standard benchmark tests due to the GameStick’s customized operating system, the device held up fairly well as we blasted, raced and jumped through various types of games.

Retro-style action game "Fists of Awesome" ran without a hitch on the GameStick, allowing us to pull off fluid attack combos on a massive bear. The console was equally adept at handling the bullet hell of classic shooter "Raiden," as we experienced no slowdown, even with dozens of explosions and enemy ships on screen.

The GameStick's left and right shoulder buttons made for responsive pinball bumpers when we played "Momonga Pinball Adventures," which looked crisp and colorful in 1080p on our 23-inch LG HD monitor. The Bluetooth controller was just as reliable in endless runner "Vector," allowing us to perform virtual parkour with ease.

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The GameStick's graphical quality dipped a bit when we played on a 55-inch Samsung television in 1080p. "Momonga" looked just as colorful and vibrant as it did on the small screen, but the larger screen showed some pixelation on the game's trees and characters. The same was true for "Smash Cops," as the interface remained sleek but our vehicle became a bit jaggy on the big screen.

While the gritty hues and console-quality details of "ShadowGun" translated well to both screens, our protagonist's bald head got slightly bumpy on the Samsung. We experienced our only major gameplay hiccup when playing this title, as there was significant lag when we tried to aim our weapon using the gamepad's control stick. A PlayJam rep noted that this problem can be fixed by lowering the game's aim sensitivity, though we still had trouble aiming after following his directions. An official patch for the game is coming soon, which will hopefully remedy one of the console's two free games.

While the GameStick supports up to four controllers, there aren't many multiplayer offerings currently in the store. According to PlayJam, both offline and online multiplayer options are being worked on for future release.

Marketplace

As of this writing, there are 32 games available in the GameStick marketplace, ranging in price from $2 to $6. Most of these are kid-friendly titles, with racing games such as "Slingshot Racing" and "Riptide GP," as well as lighthearted action romps such as "Catcha Catcha Aliens!" and "Muffin Knight."

While the price range of GameStick games is similar to that of Google Play, the selection is missing some of the more popular Android games out there. None of the top 10 paid Google Play games, such as "Plants vs. Zombies" and "Minecraft," are available on PlayJam's console. As of this writing, there is no way to log in to Google Play on the GameStick, and the device does not support sideloading.

The GameStick's library looks especially small when compared to the Ouya, which boasts 490 games at the time of this review. Ouya games generally range from $2 to $10, with the occasional premium title going for $20. However, all games on Ouya can be sampled for free — a feature notably missing from the GameStick. Ouya also offers such big-name titles as "Final Fantasy" and "Sonic the Hedgehog" in addition to many of the games available on the GameStick.

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While the GameStick's selection is slim, PlayJam has a steady stream of content planned for the device over the next few months. A few dozen titles — including "Zombie Kill of the Week," "Bridge Constructor" and "Tennis in the Face" — are on the horizon. Many of the current and upcoming GameStick games are already available for Android devices, though a PlayJam rep noted that developers will soon be creating content specifically for the console.

You won't find the likes of "Call of Duty" and "Assassin's Creed" on GameStick, but that's not the point, according to PlayJam. The developer mentioned that the console is designed to bring casual mobile games to the living room television, though the Ouya manages to offer both kid-friendly and big-name games in a similar format.

Built-In Apps

The GameStick offers third-person shooter "ShadowGun" and car-chase game "Smash Cops" as free downloads. The included GameStick Media Player can display images and movies that are loaded into the device's microSD slot or the USB port on the optional GameStick Dock, which is sold separately for $39. The free ToFu Media Center allows users to stream content from external storage, local networks and the Web via IP address.

The two included media players seem built more for viewing content you own, and there's no app for watching YouTube or Netflix. With no access to the Google Play store, you'll likely be using the console strictly for games until an update arrives.

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Configurations and Accessories

The basic $79 GameStick package includes the console, one controller and microUSB power sources for both. An extra controller will run you $39, which is a bit cheaper than the $45 Ouya gamepad.

There's also the $49 GameStick Dock, which has two USB ports and a 64GB SD-card slot, and works as a charging station for the controller. The $9 GameStick Case is simply a plastic container for your controller and console.

Verdict

The PlayJam GameStick has launched at a time when Android gaming consoles are becoming ubiquitous. The Nvidia Shield and upcoming Mad Catz M.O.J.O. offer the full Google Play experience and more entertainment options, but those consoles will run you up to $299.

The GameStick has a far different purpose, with a $79 price tag and a library of kid-friendly games that don't cost more than $6. Its biggest competitor is the $99 Ouya, which offers a much larger game library, complete with free samples. The GameStick is a sleek, intuitive alternative that could catch up if it had the right software, but right now, it lacks enough titles to make it competitive.

Follow Mike Andronico @MikeAndronico and on Google+. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebookand on Google+