Developer Ronimo Games proved with Swords & Soldiers that they’re adept at merging real-time strategy gameplay with a two-dimensional world. But how did they do marrying MOBA mechanics with frantic side-scrolling action? The following should give you a hint:
When you start playing a game that features a giant robot, a space cowboy, a monkey with a jetpack, and the word “awesome” is mentioned well over five times within the intro movie, you know you’re in for something out of the ordinary. Welcome to the world of Awesomenauts.
The first thing you notice about Awesomenauts is its fantastic art style. Reminiscent of over-the-top 80s cartoons, the characters and environments hearken back to a time when GI Joe was on TV and hair metal was popular.
The intro movie sets the stage–there’s an interstellar war with two sides locked in a robotic stalemate; only the elite mercenary team known as the Awesomenauts can break it. That’s really all you need to know. There are robots and bad guys to fight. Get to it.
Awesomenauts is a 2D MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) style game that combines some of the deeper genre nuances seen in titles like League of Legends with some of the more whimsical sensibilities of side-scrolling brawlers.
Each team of three starts out in their home base on opposite sides of the map, and the objective is to destroy the enemy’s “drillcore” located in the middle of their base. Sounds simple enough, except that you have to contend with automated turrets, computer controlled droids (creeps to those well versed in MOBA nomenclature), and of course, the enemy players. You accumulate Solar–the game’s currency–over time and when you destroy enemies. This currency is used to upgrade your character’s abilities and unlock new ones.
Players can choose to play as one of the six Awesomenauts: a self-destructing robot, a space cowboy armed with dynamite, a monkey with a jetpack, an alien brain, a frog with a laser gun shaped like a fish, and a French lizard with a sword. Each character looks visually distinct and handles quite differently. For example, the robot functions as a tank and has a bite attack that can steal life from opponents. On the other hand, the lizard has no ranged attacks but can cloak himself and move around the battlefield like a stealthy assassin.
While it’s cool that all the characters play pretty differently, some of them feel more useful than others. It feels a little unfair when the cowboy can throw multiple sticks of dynamite, shoot you with a gun, and then knock enemies back with a ghost bull, but the lizard is stuck with a tongue move that works like Scorpion’s harpoon and no ranged attacks.
Plus, the characters you unlock as you level up seem to be better than the original starting three. Zoltar, the alien brain, has abilities that let him heal his allies. It makes certain matches feel a little unfair if you’re facing an enemy team that can heal itself in the thick of battle and your team can’t because all three of you are playing with the starting characters.
However, as became the case with most my time with Awesomenauts, I couldn’t tell if my struggles with certain characters had to do with my inexperience or actual imbalances in the game. The developers have already announced that a patch is on the way to address balance issues brought up by players in the forums, so it will be interesting to see what they tweak once the patch is released.
While Awesomenauts can be played alone with bots (why would you want to do that?), it’s much more fun to be played with other players. The game features up to three player split screen and drop-in/drop-out functionality. All of the games I played online took almost no time at all to get set up, and there was virtually no lag to speak of.
While MOBA purists that cut their teeth on League of Legends or Defense of the Ancients might complain that Awesomenauts is too simple, there’s plenty of depth for both more casual players and seasoned veterans. Each character has two main skills and several different ways to level them up. For example, the frog character has a dashing, lunging attack and a tornado attack. By spending Solar you can upgrade the range or damage of the dash attack, or if you’re feeling fancy you can add a damage-reducing shield to the tornado attack. The multiple tiers of upgrades give Awesomenauts a lot of depth.
In my case most of my first ten matches were spent learning how the characters work, and even after that, my time with the game still feels like a learning process. Occasional hiccups like strangely large hitboxes–being not close to an enemy but their special attack hits anyway–lead to some head-scratching moments, by doing away with the inherent seriousness in some MOBA-style games, Awesomenauts makes learning to adjust your tactics fun. If you were killed by that special attack the last time, make sure you’re anticipating it the next time.
Some gamers might get a little frustrated when they win their first match and then go on to lose ten more in a row. But at the same time, because Awesomenauts is so inviting with its ridiculous aesthetic, it’s hard to resist the temptation to play “just one more round.” With Ronimo promising that more characters are on the way, there’re plenty of reasons to stick with the game. You will lose matches; you will feel like other players are so much better at the game than you, but Awesomenauts will make you want to learn its intricacies and improve.
This review is based on review code of the Xbox 360 version of Awesomenauts, provided by Ronimo Games.