The MOBA genre of games have become increasingly popular on the PC with games like League of Legends and the original Warcraft 3 mod Defense of the Ancients being the two most popular. These game pit two teams together and force them to use teamwork and their AI creeps to take out the other teams base. This style of game has not successfully transitioned over to the console scene mainly because no one has really tried it before. Monday Night Combat attempted it and though fun and successful in its own right, it still didn’t grab the attention of most console gamers. Ronimo has brought the genre to the consoles once again but this time with a twist. Putting faith in the bread and butter style of 2-D gaming that consoles have nailed for years, Ronimo’s Awesomenauts sets it’s sights on becoming the king of the MOBA on consoles.
If you’re not familiar with the MOBA style of games or “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena”, the concept is simple. Your ultimate goal for victory is to destroy the other teams base. Along the way you will encounter turrets which block your path and you must destroy them by any means necessary. The game spawns AI controlled teammates or “creeps” that follow the designated paths to the turrets and along the way encounter the other teams creeps or turrets. The key to victory is using your AI teammates to their full advantage by assisting them in taking down your enemies. Awesomenauts delivers this experience but through the use of 2-D characters that are dare I say, awesome!
The art direction for this game is fantastic! It is very reminiscent of an 80’s Saturday morning cartoon and has one of the best opening cinematic of any game out there. Ronimo took this the idea and ran with it. The theme song was stuck in my head for days and sounds like it is straight out of the decade it appears to be paying homage to. Each character has it’s own unique appearance and personality. Lonestar the cowboy is a gun toting, dynamite throwing good old boy and Leon the Chameleon is a slashing, cloaking lizard with a French accent. I can’t say more about what Ronimo achieved with the art style. In motion the game looks like a cartoon with cel-shaded graphics delivering the frantic action that looks superb in HD.
One of the major mechanics of a MOBA style game is the ability to level up your characters as the match progresses. Awesomenauts does this through the use of Solar. By killing opponents, their turrets, or their creeps players acquire Solar and are able to purchase upgrades at the store near the start of each map. These upgrades are largely unique for each character and do things such as increase movement speed or even increase the damage of your primary attack. Each character also has two special abilities that must be purchased and then upgraded as the match progresses. A lot of the skill and strategy of Awesomenauts boils down to learning your characters strengths and weaknesses and purchasing upgrades and abilities that compliment each other as well as your play style. The game also includes a player experience system that allows you to unlock certain abilities that after placing them in your loadout, you are able to purchase them in a match with solar. The game limits how many you can bring into each game and once again adds yet another piece to the strategy of the game.
One of the hardest things to accomplish for developers of this style of game is balance. Finding the right balance for each ability and character is crucial to making sure the game does not overpower certain characters. It must be noted that Ronimo seems to have successfully play tested this game a lot and as it stands at launch the game is fairly balanced. There are a few characters that seem to have a bit of an advantage but I’m sure these will be ironed out with patches in the coming months. There has not been one MOBA game that has ever launched with perfect balancing.
Playing the game does take some getting used to. If you’re not familiar with how matches progress than you may find yourself getting killed over and over again. You have to learn that it is ok to run away. Many first time players use the “I saw you first” mentality and think they can take out enemies but again, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your current character is the key. If a player is not willing to take the time to learn and execute appropriately, they will not be successful. The game can quickly become frustrating and may actually turn some players away.
Ronimo did add a short tutorial but it really does nothing more than introduce the basic concepts of the game. It does not prepare players for online matches and even though offline “bot” matches are available, I think many players will bypass them and jump right online. With the MOBA style of game being an unfamiliar genre for many console players, this was a missed opportunity to really introduce them how it works. The game is actually somewhat deceiving. At first glance it appears to be the typical 2-D platformer with multiplayer built on top of it. In reality, it is a fully fleshed out and realized MOBA that requires skill, patience, and practice. After scanning the Awesomenauts community forums I saw many complaints referring to this. Maybe a better tutorial could have prevented this and introduced players to the idea and strategy behind what makes this game tick.
The appearance of the 2-D characters are fantastic but the actual minute to minute combat feels a bit chaotic. There is a bit of “floatiness” to each character that does take some adjustment. The hit boxes for each character and their abilities doesn’t always feel consistent and often lead to a premature death when I thought I could get in just one more hit. I’m sure this is something that could be addressed with patches in the future. After hours of play however I was able to adapt to the controls but I still question how many gamers will be willing to do the same.
At it’s best Awesomenauts is one of the most fun multiplayer experiences I’ve had on my Xbox in a long time. Strategizing with my teammates using all our combined strengths and weaknesses to take down our opponents turrets and reactors is both fun and satisfying. Too often however, the lack of player coordination or even other players knowledge of the games systems can ruin a match. My advice is to find some friends to play with and give Awesomenauts a try. It may not be the type of game you’re used to but after a few matches you be laughing and cheering along as you march through your opponents base. Awesomenauts is definitely a game you need to take out for a spin.