Now this one's gonna make for an interesting review, since it's a MOBA game, and they tend to be really complex. It's difficult to really cover things like balance and technical issues regarding gameplay and strategy and system mechanics for a genre of game that takes forever to learn and actually become competent at.
It's sort of like the fighting game genre in that respect. Renegade and I don't really feel comfortable attempting to review fighting games since they're so unbelievably deep that we don't think we can actually give an accurate review of a fighting game based on anything less than many solid years of playing it, because that's genuinely how long it takes to actually be able to call yourself somewhat proficient in such a technical game.
So why the fuck am I reviewing Awesomenauts? Well because I felt like writing about something, and Awesomenauts is a somewhat more simplistic take on the MOBA genre in some respects and I feel like it takes some of the technical edge off, making it a little easier to get into and learn. I'm not saying it's easy or simple, though. It's still a MOBA game, and you need to understand the genre in order to play it properly. I'll cover some more of the technical aspects later in the review, but take it with a pinch of salt because I'm no expert and I'm just gonna try to do my best to convey a sense of the genre's depth which is most definitely still present in this game.
Actually, I suppose I should cover the basics of MOBA games right away in case any readers aren't particularly familiar with them. I mean you could just wikipedia it but whatever. MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, and it's a sub-genre of Real-Time Strategy games (MOBA games are also sometimes called Action Real-Time Strategy). It sort of began with Defense of the Ancients, which was a mod of Warcraft 3. Picture an RTS - you've got the bird's eye view of the map, and you have two armies to which you issue instructions. Simple enough. But in a MOBA game, instead of armies you effectively have a base and a number of "hero" units, each controlled by a player. Effectively it's RTS with a few individual hero units instead of armies, and those hero units have unique statistics, abilities and so on. Your goal is to get into and destroy the enemy team's base by breaking through their defenses (turrets). While that might sound simple, there are an enormous amount of complicated concepts to learn and understand if you want to play this kind of game competitively, like spacing and positioning, timing, developing a feel for the flow of the battle so you know when to defend or go on the offensive, etc. You also need to be able to work closely and efficiently with your teammates, take (and/or give) commands, keep a constant eye on the mini-map to know where your team and the opposing team are, and even develop specific "build orders," to find the most efficient and useful ways of unlocking your character's abilities as you level up and purchase buff items and so on. There's so, SO much more to it than those things, but it'd be difficult for me to put it all in writing and just waste my time and yours.
I guess that should be a sufficient explanation of the genre, so now I'll actually start talking about the game in question. I hadn't even heard of Awesomenauts until its launch day, when a friend saw it on Steam and decided we should play it and even went so far as to buy me a copy of it, and I'm not one to turn down the gift of game. Now, I was definitely apprehensive about getting into a MOBA game because I spent a while playing League of Legends with Renegade a couple years ago and quite frankly that game stressed me out beyond belief. The amount of constant effort and concentration required was just too much for me, and after a little while I got the hell out and never looked back. It was a shame because I really did enjoy League of Legends and had fun playing it, but the stress of having to consistently pull my weight and not make any mistakes so as not to let the other four people on my team down just wore me out. So yeah, the idea of having to do it all again with Awesomenauts worried me a little, especially considering the friends I was going to be playing it with had never touched a MOBA game before.
I was pleasantly surprised, though. Awesomenauts is somewhat different from the standard MOBA fare in that certain aspects of it are simplified. Not dumbed down, just simplified. There's quite an important distinction. First and foremost there are only three people per team, so it's significantly less hectic than the likes of League of Legends. That alone takes away some of the stresses that I personally experienced in LoL and was a huge relief. It's also two dimensional, taking place on maps similar to the kind of thing you'd see in a sidescrolling platformer, and generally there are only two lanes (paths between the two team bases that need to be defended) at most, instead of the three you'd find in League of Legends. This makes co-ordinating with your team somewhat easier, and shares the heavy burden of responsibility between you all instead of one person having to hold an entire lane by themselves for the full duration of a match.
Another big difference is that it has a lot fewer characters than most of the more traditional MOBAs. Rather than having a choice of ten different tanks, ten different damage dealers, ten different healers, ten different supports, ten different ranged attackers and ten different junglers and so on and so forth, you pretty much just have two or three of each type. The lack of choice may seem like a negative point, but ultimately the playstyle you like is represented by at least two characters on the roster and the variety of playstyles is still there.
The strategies and tactics that are a staple of the genre are there too, and in abundance. You need to play smart and ensure your experience and currency incomes are in excess of the other team's, or you'll fall behind and get dominated. You also need to time your trips back to base to purchase abilities efficiently, lest you leave your turrets open to attack. You need to work with your team and push together if you want to make any serious dents in the opposing team's turrets as well. Using your abilities correctly and setting up ambushes can be critical, just as misusing your abilities and ending up stuck waiting for a move's cooldown timer can get you killed. As a result it's an addictively fun and satisfying game to play. Developing a plan and pulling it off successfully is an excellent feeling, and as long as you learn to play correctly it's something you can pull off consistently.
Of course, it helps a lot to play this kind of game with friends. If you just hop online with randoms, you shouldn't expect much success. But I suppose you can say that about pretty much all competitive multiplayer games.
Alright, feel like that's a decent enough explanation of what the game is and how it works. I've fulfilled my contractual obligation to talk about what matters. I did what I was SUPPOSED to. Now I can talk about the other stuff like characters and graphics, right?
Visually the game has that "modern-day-indie" feel to it. High quality, well-drawn 2D sprites and maps. It's nice. It's got a classic style about it, but with the level of quality and detail we've come to expect in this age of DVDs and cell phones. The characters all look distinctly different so at a glance you can distinguish them even in the heat of battle with abilities being fired off all over the place and AI controlled drones milling around and exploding. That's straight up good design right there.
Speaking of the characters, you can tell that real effort went into making each of them unique and fun, both to play as and simply to look at. They even each have their own theme songs. I of course played as Froggy G, the sickest gangsta pimp in the pond. He's a hit-and-run style damage dealing character, whose abilities can be used both offensively and defensively to great effect. He has an invincible dash attack which covers a decent distance and stuns any enemies it hits, which can pin people in place and deal decent damage on the offense, but if in trouble is an excellent way to dash back towards safety while stunning any pursuers. He also has a cyclone move which turns him into a fast moving tornado, which can shield him from damage (or reflect it back at the enemy, depending on which upgrades you choose), and deals damage if touching an enemy, but like his dash can be used to simply speed up and escape from danger. He's also squishy, a term used commonly in MOBA games (and sometimes other genres too) to mean "health challenged." Basically if he gets hit, he's fucked.
Other characters include Leon, a chameleon whose primary ability is to completely fuck you up because his damage and attack speed are ridiculously good and he can also turn invisible, a robot called Clunk who can increase his health by consuming enemies and deal vast amounts of damage by exploding, Voltar, a brain-in-a-jar style alien who heals teammates by shooting them and dropping little healbots on the ground that act as health dispensers to anybody in range, Coco who surfs around on a hoverboard firing orbs of pure bullshit, a monkey called Yuri who flies around in a spacesuit being a huge nuisance, an alien businessman called Derpl Zork who controls a slow-moving but heavily armored robot suit capable of launching nukes, a dynamite-throwing cowboy called Lonestar, and others who I'm forgetting. The point is they're all pretty fuckin' cool and fun.
I should state that there were definitely a few character balance issues when I first played it, at least it seemed that way to my untrained eyes. Leon in particular seemed exceptionally overpowered, but the game has since received some tweaks and balance changes, as well as a new character.
Well, I think that's more than enough. If you like MOBA games, you'll probably enjoy Awesomenauts, at the very least as a fun and somewhat casual side-game. If you don't like MOBA games or have never tried them before, you may very well enjoy Awesomenauts as an introduction to the genre. It's fun, it's cute, and it's pretty cheap, too.
Final playtime: 18 hours
Final verdict: B