Videogames have no shortage of subgenres, and the multiplayer online battle arena (or MOBA) that has spun off from real-time strategy games are big business right now. Thanks to white-hot games like League of Legends and Super Monday Night Combat and the upcoming Dota 2 (which people can play in beta), there’s no shortage of games – if not a flood – to choose from at this point. But if there's one thing that Awesomenauts taught us, it's that there's plenty of room for vastly different games within the space.
Awesomenauts is a very traditional MOBA title, but stripped down to be as simple as possible. The basic formula is the same here as it is in almost all MOBA games, AI drones are constantly spawning from your base and marching toward your enemy's base, and the enemy is spawning robots of their own. You and your teammates control powerful heroes who try to protect the bots and guide them into the enemy base, while enemy heroes try to stop you and get their bots into your base.
While it shares this formula with other games in the genre, the key difference is simplicity. Your range of abilities isn't nearly as wide as what you see in LoL, and there's no character buffs (like SMNC). It's also a 2D sidescroller, which makes combat much more simple. These might sound like negatives, but the game is actually much better for it. Awesomenauts gets rid of the fat in those other games and distills the MOBA down to its base elements.
The move to 2D is a fantastic decision for two different reasons. For starters, it cuts down on the skill necessary to compete at high levels. There's still room to be a skilled player, but unlike LoL or SMNC, it's unlikely you'll ever get blown away completely by a player who is completely out of your league.
This leads to another great benefit: computer-controlled bots. Since the game is more simple (2D combat is much more simple for AI than 3D) AI bots can populate online matches, and you'll often barely notice they're not human. This helps alleviate one of the worst problems in the MOBA genre; if a player drops out and one team gains a numerical advantage, the game is essentially over. When a player drops out of a match in Awesomenauts, a bot instantly takes their place, and the match continues on. It's better to have an all-human team, but at the very least the AI bots keep your team in the game until a human can fill the slot.
Awesomenauts' other big strength is its roster of characters. It's not particularly large, but each character plays very differently. Also, depending on how you allocate your Solar (in-match currency used for buying upgrades) each character can take vastly different roles. Voltar, for instance, is the game's go-to healer and comes with a standard ranged heal. However, if you buy his flying autonomous drones, he can also be one of the game's best damage dealers (and a nasty surprise for enemies looking to pick off a healer.)
Meanwhile, someone like Lonestar can either level-up his dynamite throw to become a bot-killing machine, or level-up his charging bull technique to become a master of defending turrets. Each of the six characters have multiple leveling paths that change their utility. The best part about this is that all of these disparate paths are well-balanced. Every character is the most powerful character in the game when doing what that class is intended to do.
No matter what you pick, each character has a bevy of customization options, and players who have a plan for their upgrades will emerge with a significant battlefield advantage over players who buy abilities at random.
Moreover, each character has a great personality. From mid-90's R&B-themed Froggy G (who has his own slow-jam) to Yuri, the cosmonaut space-monkey with a jetpack, each character is well-realized and full of charm.
While we enjoyed practically every moment we spent with this game, there are a few negatives to mention. First off, there are only a few levels, and they're not very different from one another. Some levels have different turret placements, and one level has a giant one-hit-kill sand worm in the center. However, that's about as different as they come. The maps are well-balanced though and that's what's most important. Truth be told, we could have spent our entire play time on one single map and it wouldn't have mattered much simply because the base game is so much fun.
It's also not a particularly deep game. This is not a game designed to be played for months or years like League of Legends. There are plenty of unlocks to work toward and the lure of getting access to new characters spurs you on for five hours or so. Getting to the max level takes probably 15 hours.
Awesomenauts is a great game if you're not a hardcore MOBA fan, and in fact, while it’s not long, it’s a good entry point for console gamers new to the genre. Hardcore genre fans will probably rather stick to more complex, nuanced games like LoL and SMNC, but Awesomenauts is a great alternative for everybody else. It's not as deep as other titles in the genre, but it's the perfect game to enjoy for a good weekend of gaming.