League of Legends has gained a fair amount of notoriety in the PC gaming community over the past couple of years. It and Awesomenauts fall under the multiplayer online battle arena genre, or “MOBA” for short. MOBAs are relatively new to the gaming industry. Much like an RPG, the player controls a specific character that levels up. However, the significant difference that separates it from typical RPG fanfare is the team concept. Two teams ranging in the amount of players on each side will face off against one another over control of bases and must capture the opposing base while dealing with oncoming enemies.
The genre is known for generally having a steep learning curve and being not so friendly to newcomers, and so Awesomenauts aims to fix these issues. This 2D title, available as a downloadable game for both PSN and XBLA, is a more welcoming addition that focuses on two teams trying to capture the opposing team's base, or solar core as the game puts it. The game uses a quirky sense of humor, as well as colorful environments and fun gameplay to create a rewarding experience.
Awesomenauts is not a test to determine who can kill the most enemies. Instead, it involves a fair amount of strategy and teamwork as players must work together to overcome the obstacles that stand in their way whether it be the many turrets you will face or the stream of enemies produced by the solar core. You start the game with one of three characters: a monkey, a chameleon, or a cowboy. There are six characters all together, but they cannot all be selected right off the bat.
ONCE YOU POP, YOU JUST CAN'T STOP
Addicting Gameplay - It can prove difficult explaining exactly why Awesomenauts is as addicting as it is because it does not seem to offer much on the surface. You gain experience by either playing against bots or online. This adds a level of replay value to the title, although in being an online only game, some replay value already exists. Overcoming each level’s obstacles can feel like a tremendous success and that plays into the addiction factor. Because of the strategy and teamwork involved in destroying the solar core, it feels like a true accomplishment when you finally do. Few gaming objectives can bring two complete strangers together better playing Awesomenauts. You want to jump right back in as soon as the match ends to utilize a new strategy on a different map and to possibly recreate your success with another person. The strategies as well as the euphoria bought on by success are the two biggest factors that bring about the addicting nature of the game.
Lots of Customization - What impressed me most about Awesomenauts is the surprising amount of customization that is embedded into this title. With six different characters, there are many upgrade paths available to each. You can opt for a hybrid build with a character, mixing in some healing with some damage dealing. On the other hand, you may die many moretimes, but you can sacrifice defense for the sake of attack in the hopes of obliterating the obstacles before you faster. With several different options available to each character, as well as multiple players, the customization routes are limitless. This again adds to the strategy because you can use one character for a specific purpose while designating another character type to a different role. What is great about this is that any character does not necessarily fill only one certain role because of the different upgrade options. While you may use the chameleon a certain way, your opponent does not necessarily do the same. I found myself having a great deal of fun simply experimenting with different characters in the hopes of discovering a new strategy that I had not previously thought about.
Charm in Both Humor and Graphics - Awesomenauts never takes itself seriously. In a game where matches can be heated and take a turn for the worst at a moment's notice, it is nice and a huge relief that the game opts for colorful graphics and strange character choices, like the Soviet space monkey, for example. The environments, although only in 2D, can be very nice to look at, and with so much going on at once, the decision to use 2D makes sense given the complexity of the gameplay. The backgrounds are typically darker which is another smart decision because it contrasts nicely with the brightness of the character models, enabling the player to track their progress rather easily.
NOT ALL RAINBOWS AND SUNSHINE
Online Issues - For a title that prides itself on providing an online experience unique to consoles, Awesomenauts has its fair share of hiccups with its online connectivity. On more than one occasion, I was playing, and in the middle of the match, my connection was lost due to no fault of my own. This can prove very costly to the team as a dropped out player is replaced by a bot, who simply cannot provide the same amount of creativity and strategy as a human player. To further complicate matters, experience points are only obtained after the match has ended meaning connection issues could prove a serious detriment for anyone trying to level while learning the nuances of playing against others.
No Single Player Mode - To be fair, this complaint is only minor. The game makes it clear that the focus is placed on being an online only game. With that said, a short single player mode would have been a nice addition in order to learn the battle system as much as possible as well as providing some depth to the different characters. As it is, there is only a practice mode.
In a summer period that usually stagnates with game releases, Awesomenauts is a great title that can be picked up for $10 on either PS3 or Xbox 360. The amount of replay value is vast with the different strategies and customization options included. Not only that, it provides an enriching teamwork experience that your standard-issue online shooter can only hope to replicate. While there are some connection issues and no single player mode, the rest of the game more than makes up for it, and you owe it to yourself to play this game and earn Awesomenauts some much-needed recognition.
*This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game with a review copy provided by the publisher.*