Back in late 2011 I found myself spending a weekend in London to preview some of the biggest titles hitting our shelves; Skyrim, Dark Souls, Mass Effect 3 – but amongst these mainstream gems I stumbled upon a small time indie dev stand looking somewhat lonely but brilliantly colourful, and truth be told I spent more time at this stand than I did previewing anything else that day. It belonged to Ronimo Games’ MOBA: Awesomenauts which was recently released on both PSN and XBLA.
To start with I should clarify that the term MOBA is used in its lightest form when referring to Awesomenauts. Whilst it contains aspects of the genre, I wouldn’t compare it to Dota, League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth – Or even Super Monday Night Combat. No, Awesomenauts represents the MOBA at its most innocent and entertaining; baby’s first “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena” If you will. This is actually the game’s key selling point, allowing both veterans to the genre to feel at least partially at home, whilst letting the newer players foreign to the concept get their bearings in an idiot friendly environment.
The game takes place in a distant future where corporations fight on a regular basis for energy. Cue the Awesomenauts: six mercenaries set out to viciously destroy their opponents in a three on three battleground, making sure they not only protect their own base, but demolish the enemy’s. To do so they must break through the enemy defense with the help of computer controlled droids providing cover and offense. This is where the MOBA aspect comes in, but rather than being reliant on strategy like other genre entries, the game also relies on your level of skill in 2D side scrolling shoot ‘em ups. Whilst MOBAs have begun to differentiate themselves from the classic gameplay, it’s quite refreshing to have something that’s so easy to get the hang of, the stigma attached to the more complicated games such as DotA or LoL isn’t here, with 2D side scrollers it’s a matter of “Can you jump and/or shoot? good. can you do it without getting shot?” – and with that you’re off to a good start.
However whilst the game avoids strategy, it does have certain features that may allow you to get the upper hand on opponents. The available cast of characters characters each have their own variety of powers, allowing you to play either up close as a Lizard with one arm who specialises in stealth or as a Yosemite Sam knock-off with talents intended for a defensive play style.
Awesomenauts also allows you to take up the reins as a German healing robot, a Hiphop frog, a Russian space money with a jetpack or a suicidal tank robot with a taste for flesh; interestingly each character has their own way of helping the team out but with a three man team, tactics generally get shot to hell as everyone just plays as their favourite instead. The cast of characters reflect quite well upon the entire game, resembling something extracted from Bucky O’Hare (There’s a reference that six people will get)
Sadly the game’s biggest and only real downfall is its lack of variety. It’s a very barebones set up with only three maps, one game type and six characters; meaning that after a minimum of six games you’ve practically explored everything the game has to offer. Obviously as a multiplayer title you could potentially play until everyone else stops playing, but in general most games will end up becoming the same stretch of the same action – however, Awesomenauts manages to capture you, forcing you to return every day or two for “just a session or two”.
Outside of gameplay this title must be praised for its determination to not only mock itself, but to do it extremely well, with an intro akin to something directly from Saturday morning circa 1985 and aesthetics that look like The Lost Vikings got a hip cartoon upgrade.
The game’s strengths come from its addictive but simple gameplay, but with its biggest downfall being its lack of variety. With only three maps currently available and six characters in total the game seems somewhat lackluster in comparison to its bigger brother MOBAs which feature nearly one hundred Champions/Heroes to choose from (even Super Monday Night Combat offers over double the amount that Awesomenauts currently has), but with more DLC planned for future release who knows what is in the cards for Awesomenauts.
The game has me confused; my feelings on it are all but negative, yet I find myself bored of the premise within a match or two, but craving that same boring premise 15 minutes later. All in all it’s a tidy little PvP shooter that might keep you entertained for an hour or two a week, worth the price tag for a great downloadable title. It’s hard to find fault with the game in general, it fills a very simple slot in terms of gaming and that’s most likely the area that most people will love.