Dutch developer Ronimo Games, it seems, is cultivating a uniquely ambitious approach to game design. For those who might not remember the name, Ronimo was the studio behind 2010 PSN strategy title, Swords & Soldiers.
Unlike its RTS contemporaries such as Age of Empires or Wacraft, Swords & Soldiers re-worked the timeless formula to coincide with the game’s 2D design. Resource management became pain-free, as did commanding your army; Ronimo had taken a genre largely associated with hardcore PC gaming and made it accessible to just about anyone.
Strangely enough, this exact philosophy underpins the studio’s latest digital release, Awesomenauts. Aiming even higher than Swords & Soldiers, Ronimo has taken on one of gaming’s most exclusive, competitive sub-genres, the DOTA-inspired MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) and come out on top.[boxout]Spawning originally from a Warcraft III mod, Defence of the Ancients (DOTA) tasks two groups of players with destroying the enemy’s base. Sounds easy enough, but when you factor in a series of defensive towers, minions, and neutral third parties wandering the innards of each map, things soon get complicated. In MOBAs, such as the insanely popular League of Legends, this complexity is taken to the next level with a comprehensive character progression system, players rushing to their bases in order to buy combinable upgrades which yield a myriad of various perks.
When Ronimo decided to take the traditional RTS into two dimensions with Swords & Soliders they had to reform huge chunks of the RTS template. This is less of an issue with MOBAs which, as we’ve seen in the past, can be incredibly dynamic and varied (just look at Monday Night Combat). Ronimo seem to have bonded the niche genre almost seamlessly to what would have otherwise been a fairly standard side-scrolling platformer.
Not only does this separate Awesomenauts stylistically from other MOBAs, but it also has a significant impact on the control scheme, with players being given full control over their chosen character’s movement and attacks. The 3 vs. 3 match sizes also help to keep games in constant motion, eroding any chance of mundane mid-game congestion.
Map layouts all abide to a similar structure, with either one of two “lanes” housing up to four towers, each with mounted turrets. You can try taking these out by yourself though, chances are, you’ll be decimated in seconds. Adhering to its DOTA origins, Awesomenauts forces players to think tactically; though useless on their own, the hordes of AI-controlled minions soon become an integral part of the game as does PvP.
As a 2D side-scroller, you can imagine how frantic combat is, especially when a fight erupts between two players. Crucially, Awesomenauts handles PvP in such a way that it feels fluid and intuitive, if still a little messy in patches.
From the perspective of a MOBA aficionado, six playable characters doesn’t sound like a great deal of variety, especially for the League of Legends crowd who have almost 100 unique champions to experiment with. However, given the action-oriented approach to gameplay, six is a perfect starting point for Awesomenauts with more characters currently in the pipeline.
Each hero is distinguished via weapon choice, as well as their two unique abilities and method of navigation, ultimately defining their role on a team.
For example, Lonestar is a great defensive character, able to shunt enemies away from turrets as well as hurl high-damage projectiles, whereas Voltar can actually heal droids and allied players, adopting a squad of drones that hover around him. As there can only be one of each specific hero per team, there’s no use becoming attached to a certain character; after all, Ronimo has done a great job in balancing them all out.
Aside from a small pool of Solar (the game’s sci-fi currency), each match puts players at rock bottom. After a drop pod sequence in which players can steer their shuttle to collect additional Solar on the way down, it’s up to you to make your own way.
Upon acquiring enough Solar (from killing enemies, droids, and towers) you can then return to base and exchange your funds for new abilities or upgrade the ones currently equipped. Character progression doesn’t carry over from each match, its a meritocratic system that rewards players based on their performance on a per game basis. Rewards aren’t inherited in Awesomenauts, they’re earned.
Outside of the matches themselves, XP will soak into an over-arching level gauge, dishing out new heroes, practice stages and loadout options. There’s plenty of incentive to keep coming back, Awesomenauts also grants additional bonuses for use of the random select option during the character menu or going splitscreen with up to two buddies. Even when playing in practice mode you’re still showered with experience points, and the AI is smart enough to replicate or even outshine human opponents.
Awesomenauts is unashamedly brash in its appearance, borrowing heavily from the cartoon aesthetic many attribute to kid’s animated series in the 1980s. The art style can be a little repetitive in places, though is still emblematic, galvanised by a upbeat and well-rounded soundtrack, each hero having their own particular theme.
- As hardcore or casual as you want to make it.
- Gameplay allows for plenty of experimentation.
- Enough characters to cover all the essential bases.
- Just as challenging offline as it is via PSN/XBL.
- Audio and visuals are spot-on.
- Prospects for incremental expansion.
- Being connected to online games which are just about won/lost.
- DOTA style gameplay can yield hours of fun, though a different game mode would have been a bonus.
It goes without saying that the team at Ronimo has really outdone itself, delivering a game that may seem a little one-dimensional and throwaway from a distance, but easily exceeds the majority of PSN/XBLA’s digital offerings. Awesomenauts is surprisingly accessible, offering plenty of depth for those seeking it, the overall package being one that looks sublime and plays out with such a rare degree of fluidity.