As anyone who has attempted to court the locals on an amorous trip to Bangkok will tell you, looks can be deceiving. Awesomenaut’s visual style is reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon: bright, colourful and fun – it even opens with a theme song that would fit perfectly were this playing alongside Bucky O’ Hare or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on children’s TV. However, just like those ill-fated nights in Thailand this is not something for the kids. While it might look like a simple 2D shooter, underneath its lighthearted exterior Awesomenauts is a game requiring a great deal of thought, planning and skill; it is at its core a very carefully crafted Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA).
Following the formula laid down by PC strategy juggernauts like Defense of the Ancients or League of Legends games play out as 3 versus 3 wars with the ultimate goal to infiltrate and destroy the opposing team’s base. Stationary turrets defend each base doling out massive amounts of damage and making team work essential to progressing across the map, destroying the emplacements and the opposing team. Taking on a turret solo is tantamount to suicide so they are best approached with team mates and an accompaniment of CPU controlled droids which periodically march across the map.
The maps, of which there are three, are beautifully drawn and offer different layouts to master and unique environmental hazards like a summonable worm that will destroy anyone in it’s path. Awesomenauts is a pleasure to look at and runs incredibly smoothly considering the amount of activity going on in such a small area. Despite the mayhem on screen it is easy to maintain a grasp of where each character is and what is happening to them, mastering what to do amidst the carnage is the tricky part.
The cast of characters on offer are a diverse bunch and perfectly fit the cartoon styling. From the lumbering robot Clunk whose mechanical nature allows for a larger health pool but is slow and ponderous to the positively nimble amphibian Froggy G who dashes across the map with speed. Each of the six characters has their own style and is instantly recognisable, they even have their own theme music and unique abilities. Depending on how you want to approach each match, there will be a character to suit. The floating brain in a jar Voltar can drop healing bots to offer health to allies but is relatively vulnerable when on the offensive while jetpack wielding monkey Yuri can freely fly around the map, dropping mines to bolster defensive positions but must be stationary to fire his laser at opponents, again leaving him vulnerable.
It is unfortunate for a game so predicated on online team play that there seems to be some problems with the networking. Although I personally haven’t been disconnected too much it is common to see players drop in and out of games. Although, to Ronimo Games’ credit the battles always rage on with CPU controlled bots taking control of disconnected players until a replacement is found.
Although the AI bots function adequately playing with other human players is recommended. Working together with human allies allows for a greater degree of strategising and combining the strengths and weaknesses of characters for maximum effect. Utilising Sheriff Lonestar’s rampaging bull to force enemies in to the path of a self destructing Clunk or luring enemies in to a trap with a cloaked Leon require a bit of coordination. Devising and executing a plan successfully with teammates is one of the most satisfying parts of Awesomenauts and while the bots go about their work diligently, it’s just not the same. If barking out orders through a headset proves not to be effective enough you can gather friends around to play cooperatively from the same console with split screen mode.
In order to be successful it is important to grasp the importance of survival over out-and-out assault as early as possible. Retreating behind a friendly turret when under the cosh or teleporting back to home base is not a cowardly trick but a requirement for success. The importance of survival is underpinned by each map having been created with neutral areas stocked with enemies that can be killed in return for health, these areas can offer some respite from the ongoing battle but are open to both teams so it’s not uncommon for fresh battles to spring up over the control of the health replenishing enemies.
Staying alive is particularly important as each death rewards the opposing team with Solar, the currency of choice in Awesomenauts. Solar is also dotted around each map to be freely collected. Amassing Solar and using it wisely is another important skill to master. When back in your own base it is possible to exchange Solar for new abilities and upgrades. Controlling the flow of cash, ensuring your team is the richer of the two and needless deaths are not bolstering the opponents coffers can tip the balance in tight matches. Typically matches are lengthy to and fro battles with each team prodding and probing the opposing force for a weakness or an opportunity to exploit. Awesomenauts is a game that requires careful consideration. Knowing when to attack and when to retreat, when to spend Solar and when to stockpile it for a more expensive upgrade are key skills to master.
Completing games awards experience points which contribute to your overall level, unlocking new characters and abilities. There is a wealth of unlockables to earn through 45 levels of experience. Prior to each round there is an opportunity to mix and match the bonuses your hard-earned Solar will be spent on during the battle allowing each character to be customised to suit the way you want to play.
The complexities of Awesomenauts are not grasped so easily and will require some patience to learn before you are regularly entering games with a good chance of victory. A few hours of initiation is required to fully grasp the mechanics and to get to know each character and their abilities. It could be daunting for those unfamiliar with the MOBA genre but it is well worth the effort to spend those few hours honing your skills. When comfortable with a character and confident you understand what is required for victory you will find that Awesomenauts takes a classic PC formula and replicates it beautifully on a console providing a fantastic platform for deep and rewarding competitive multiplayer.