Much like a good book, the introduction to a game can sometimes be vital for first impressions. Rightly or wrongly, the quality of a game can often be judged in those first couple of minutes or so. In the case of Awesomenauts, the opening introduction movie is well… awesome. Developer Ronimo is clearly a big fan of 80s cartoons and took a lot of inspiration from them to create the colourful world of Awesomenauts. It is an influence which is seen throughout; even the achievements/trophies are named after famous quotes. It’s fair to say then that my first impression was a very positive one. I’m pleased to say that the game ultimately delivers the quality which is initially promised, although it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
What we have here is genuinely a first for consoles. A MOBA game (Multiplayer online battle arena) presented in the 2D plane with a heavy emphasis on both skill and strategy. The concept is beautifully simple; select a character and work as a team to fight your way across to the other side of the map and destroy the opposing base. Along the way you will need to fight off opposing players, AI controlled enemies and gun turrets. These turrets are the most important aspects of the map as they are essentially gateways into hostile ground. They need to be destroyed before you can pass (you can freely walk past your own however) but they have a nasty habit of killing you and your team mates in mere seconds. To counter this, AI bots are regularly deployed from your base, trundling along ever towards the opposite end of the map. They have limited attack options as their main purpose is to simply act as sacrificial lambs, drawing the turrets fire thus allowing you to freely attack the turret. In this respect patience is required as rushing towards the massive gun without your cover is simply suicide. This is simply one layer of strategy amongst many, and effective use of tactics will be required if victory is to be assured. On the surface it may seem like a simple game, but in actual fact this is a strategy game with a fair amount of depth.
There are six characters to choose from, some of which are unlocked by levelling up. Each has their own style of play, their own set of powers, and even their own theme music, again lending to the cartoon aspect mentioned earlier. The diversity is such that success or failure can often depend on a mixture of styles within the team to create an overall force ready for any situation. Take Leon for example, a French criminal who wields a lightsword for close-up combat. One skill allows him to create a decoy hologram whilst he becomes invisible, allowing for stealth attacks and easier infiltration. His powers can even be upgraded so backstabs are possible, or if he needs to get closer to someone, he can utilise his tongue to grab them and pull them over – Scorpion style – before slicing and dicing. In stark contrast, Sheriff Lonestar uses a blaster capable of medium to long range attacks and can throw powerful dynamite across the screen. A team full of Sheriff Lonestars however will not be as effective as a more diverse line up.
As you play you’ll earn currency in the form of Solar coins. These can be used to upgrade your character in the shop back at base and allows you to become more powerful as the match progresses. There are multiple items to buy and its highly unlikely that you will be able to upgrade everything on offer so careful consideration must be made here. Of course the match still continues whilst your browsing so being quick here is important. Handily however at the start of each match you will be able to choose which upgrades will be available in the shop, allowing you to begin planning your buying strategy from the get go. Experimentation is definitely encouraged though, as finding what works best for you is part of the fun, especially when learning a new character.
At any time you can teleport back to the shop to spend the coins you have earned, but getting hit restarts the teleport process so it pays to wait until your in a quiet area. Teams who rush into their death will surely lose, giving the opposing team plenty of Solar coins and therefore enabling them to power up their characters even quicker. Health is obtained via pick ups dotted around the map but teleporting also restores the health bar fully, adding further reason to return to base. Whilst it goes without saying that death is a pretty bad thing, but in Awesomenauts it can be very costly in more ways that one. Firstly you will lose those valuable Solar coins, and secondly your return will be delayed for a good twenty seconds or so. To help soften the blow, a brief mini-game kicks in which lets you control your shuttle to collect Solar coins as it hurtles towards the map. It’s a clever way of passing the time whilst earning back some of that lost currency. As you can see then, staying alive is advised, and smart play can keep you alive longer than you might think.
Team work is ultimately going to be the most important factor but it’s here that frustration can arise. Playing an online session with a group of friends will produce tense games full of co-ordinated offensive and defensive tactics, communication being a driving force behind success. Taking it online against random opponents however often leads to unbalanced teams and a complete lack of communication. When joining a game it’s not possible to see which characters team-mates are using, so if everyone happens to be the same character then it creates a big issue, and one that cannot be changed throughout the match. There are some generic commands which can be shouted out to all team members such as attack and defend but these aren’t specific enough for my liking. If a particular turret or area of the map could be selected, thus focusing fire, it might have alleviated some of the problems which arise when playing with strangers. That said, it would be unfair to mark the game down on this too much, as players failing to use voice chat or properly utilise tactics is not the fault of the developer. It’s also worth pointing out that up to three players can play on the same console so many of the above problems can be avoided if you have enough willing participants.
When joining an online game, often you’ll be put into games which have already started. When this happens you’re credited a much larger initial Solar coin purse to ensure you can operate on a similar level to those who have been playing from the beginning. Unfortunately some folks seem happy to abandon the game just before their base is lost. The vacant space is then controlled by the AI until another human replacement can be found. Because of this it seems fairly often that you may be inserted into a game which is just about to finish which can be a little annoying, especially if you join just as your team loses. Again Ronimo cant control human behaviour, but perhaps there could be some criteria in place which actively prefers newer matches in favour of the older ones.
All in all Awesomenauts is still an experience unlike anything else on consoles at the moment, and get a good group of players together and I guarantee a good time will be had by all. Even when playing on your own it has that ‘just one more go’ vibe which pulls you back for more. So, now you know all you need to know about Awesomenauts. And remember, knowing is half the battle.