Awesomenauts – Impressions

Platform | Release Date
XBLA, PSN | May 1, 2012
Developed by Ronimo Games
Published by dtp entertainment AG

The Pitch:

It’s the year 3587, conflict spans the stars. Huge robot armies are locked in an enduring stalemate. In their bid for galactic conquest they call upon the most powerfull group of mercenaries in the universe: the Awesomenauts!

Awesomenauts brings team-based competetive arena play to a platforming perspective. Play and customize several Awesomenauts as you storm the online battlegrounds and unlock loads of new abilities and characters for your arsenal. Coming May 2nd 2012 to Xbox LIVE Arcade and Playstation Network!

MOBA, DOTA, ARTS. No matter the acronym, the underlying genre is one of the fastest growing segments of online gaming. If you haven’t jumped in by this point, it’s hard not to take notice and wonder what you’re missing. In a genre awash with strategic min/maxing and obfuscated by endless jargon, is Awesomenauts the accessible title the average gamer has been waiting for?

Multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBA’s) cut a wide swath these days, but all tend to share a handful of fundamental mechanics. Two teams of players control individual “hero” units supported by weaker AI controlled drones in an attempt to ravage the opposing team’s base. The relatively simple power set of each hero is bolstered through an in-game upgrade system. Dying costs players both in-game currency and, more vitally, time. There are usually a few different pathways, or lanes, to the enemy base, so map awareness is vital. A team must work together, falling back to defend a threatened lane or pushing the attack as a cohesive unit.

Awesomenauts includes all of these base ingredients, but it adds enough of its own spice to differentiate itself. The most noticeable difference – the two-dimensional perspective – may be Awesomenauts’s biggest advantage for making inroads with MOBA virgins. Knowing the location of your hero, your team, and your opponents is half the battle. Instead of a traditional top-down or isometric perspective, with lanes running in parallel, the Awesomenauts battle it out in a single plane. The top, middle, and bottom lanes are quite literally positioned thusly.

When a match starts up, the teams are rocketed to their respective bases from orbit. As the heroes rush in to attack enemy turrets or defend their own, they accumulate Solar, the in-game currency. This Solar can be used at a vending machine upgrade center to unlock special powers, increase fire rate and damage, or add secondary effects to attacks. Choosing the right buffs, at the right time, can be crucial.

All of these superficial elements work together in a very capable manner, but dig a little deeper and missteps are apparent. As tempting as it is to measure MOBA’s by traditional strategy game standards, they seem to share as much in common with fighting games. The thrill comes from looking at a diverse list of characters, picking one, and devoting yourself to learning their ins and outs. Awesomenauts provides players with just six potential heroes – though more are promised in the coming months. To make matters worse, it will take you dozens of games to unlock the full roster. And because there are only three maps – which again require unlocking – those are dozens of practically identical games.

As a trainer for MOBA newbies, Awesomenauts capably guides players through gameplay basics. However there’s a line somewhere along the player development spectrum when the training wheels need to come off. Once you understand what’s going on, you want access to the full toolset immediately. If after a half dozen games the roster opened up and gave me free reign to develop the heroes I wanted, instead of doling them out every few levels, I could have been hooked. Instead, I felt patronized and restrained. These limitations also create a sense of arbitrary hierarchy between the heroes. Sure, Sheriff Lonestar might be every bit as capable a character as Yuri, but one’s available from the start and the other unlocks 10 levels down the line. Going back to a hero that unlocked earlier feels like a power-down, even if it’s only psychological.

All of these complaints aside, Awesomenauts is a real thrill when played with friends. Couch co-op and competitive is a blast, reminiscent of time spent with Castle Crashers and Fat Princess. In a stroke of genius, when three players battle it out locally the fourth section of the screen displays the map for everyone. Frankly, this is where Awesomenauts should succeed, and if you want to have a couple friends over to game, you’re not exactly awash with other options. In this niche, Awesomenauts is awesome. Alone, or online with the general population, it’s naut.

About Adam Bash

Adam Bash was the host of the Fall Damage podcast and is currently a contributor to Splitkick. He helps make the site do things.
Bookmark the permalink.