Hands On: Awesomenauts

You may remember back at EGX we interviewed Ronimo about a game called Awesomenauts. Well whilst at the show I went back, had another crack at it and decided that it’s certainly worth dedicating some words to.

Essentially Awesomenauts falls in the fairly newly fledged Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre, sparked off by games such as League of Legends (LoL) and Defence of the Ancients (DOTA), which is a strange mix of RTS with some RPG style elements. What it boils down is controlling a single “hero” unit from an overhead view and trying to take out some key objective in an enemy base. There’s a huge amount more to these games, but to be honest it all gets a little complex.

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[drop]Awesomenauts tries to deal with this complexity, boiling things down as much as possible and just giving you the core of the genre wrapped up into a charming 2D cartoon style. Yes, calling a cartoon style game charming may be more than a little cliched, but there’s really no other word for Awesomenauts; it’s charming, funny and more than a little silly. I mean so far the announced characters include Froggy G, a frog from a marsh pond ghetto, and Sherrif Lonestar, a cowboy genetically engineered by hyper-intelligent cows who was then banished for being too good at cattle wrangling. In fact scratch that, silly doesn’t even begin to cover it.

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From those character descriptions it’s probably clear that this is a sci-fi title, rather than the more traditional fantasy setting for MOBAs. I actually loved the setting, it gives them a lot more flexibility to play with and lets you have laser guns and jet packs. As well as that Ronimo have used the different setting to go pretty outlandish with the fiction in places, and it’s a move that I welcome. To me MOBAs have always felt like they’ve had a fairly serious tone, although DOTA could be amusing in places, and Awesomenauts feels like a breath of fresh air.

Now I have played MOBAs before, mostly DOTA, and to be honest I always had a pretty hard time with them. There always seems to be so much going on and they never hooked me enough for me to really learn how to play. I got as far as “I probably need to smash these turrets” but any tactics beyond a head on charge were lost on me.

However, Awesomenauts has boiled everything down so tightly that after only a quick play I was already starting to work out some basic tactics for the game. Destroying turrets is still important, but it quickly becomes evident that a head on attack is not going to be the solution. This is pretty clear in the other MOBAs I’ve played, but I think it’s the very fast paced nature of Awesomenauts that really helps. Everything seems like it moves pretty quickly, and the respawn process is very quick.

Actually the respawn process is probably worth a paragraph by itself, and this might be the first time I’ve ever had anything meaningful to say about something as trivial as respawning. Talking to Ronimo they were very clear that they wanted to keep everything in the game flowing as smoothly as possible, they realise that it’s no fun having to sit out for even short periods of time as you wait to respawn. To try and counter this you’re only out of the game for a five count, I would say five seconds but it actually feels quicker than that.

However, this wasn’t enough for Ronimo. Even sitting out of a game for such a short period you’re still going to miss out on the action and potential cash for buying upgrades. They decided this wasn’t really fair, so they give you a chance to re-earn some of it. When your respawn you’re sent down from your orbiting space ship in a landing capsule. As you plunge through the atmosphere you can move left and right, hopefully picking up some coins on the way down. It’s basically a neat mini game to give you a chance to recoup your losses.

The only issue I can see with this is if they put too much into removing the penalty for death then where’s the risk? If there’s real reason not to die I can see that people may just try suicide runs over and over again. Of course, there may be some longer term penalty in the full game, so we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

Obviously going 2D is a fairly large departure from other MOBAs, but it’s the fact that it’s done as a side scroller that seems the real difference to me. You still have lanes (if you’re not familiar with MOBAs these are basically routes you can take towards your opposition), but they’re arranged vertically and you can use typical 2D platformer mechanics to move between them in places. This makes it a lot easier to manage the overall battle, and actually makes it feel far more interesting to me. Some might say it makes everything less tactical, but personally it actually made the whole thing feel more thoughtful and certainly far more dynamic. You can respond to situations a lot more easily, and again it ups the pace of the action.

[drop2]Finally, the upgrade system is worth a quick comment. MOBAs have always had shops as a pretty core part of gameplay, they let you buy new weaponry or buff your character’s abilities. This mechanic still features in Awesomenauts, but is a lot more streamlined. The only items on sale are those that will specifically boost your character, and what they do is explained in text rather than as stats. This may seem fairly trivial to some, but it’s just another touch to try and make MOBAs more accessible and open.

I can understand that many may decree Awesomenauts as MOBA-lite, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case to me. I haven’t played enough of more modern MOBAs like League of Legends to really comment on how it compares directly, but there’s still depth here and you’re not going to win if you go in all guns blazing. However, it’s the fact that Ronimo have gone out of their way to make this seem less imposing to new players that really appeals, and is the core tenant that seems to set it apart from others.

Personally I want to get my hands on this again, something about it really clicked. Will it be for more hardcore players in the long run? Only time can tell.

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6 Comments

  1. I love games like these. I think the little indie guys could teach the “Big Fishes” a thing or two. Looking forward to this one.

  2. I have got no idea what this MOBA business is all about, but this game reminds me of Bucky O’Hare so I already love it.

  3. Had a go on this at EGX, and it was pretty good. A nice simplistic set up with only a small number of routes to head down, and it was great how my play time ended with a little race to push through the defences quicker (one that we won ;).

    So from the MOBA point of view, this gets a thumbs up. Not 100% on buying it, but it was good.

  4. Played a game like this on Playstation/and 2 called Digimon: Rumble Arena. The MOBA sounds exciting, can’t wait to try this once its abvaiable

  5. Sounds great. Still don’t really get it, but it sounds interesting.

  6. I thought you controlled one character in a side-scrolling view, not a unit that you view from above?
    Crash Commando is coming to mind when I’m trying to imagine this game.

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