Awesomenauts: Play the Saturday morning MOBA

May 15, 2012

Ronimo likes taking games that are typically 3D and squishing them into a 2D plane. It worked with Swords & Soldiers, the 2D cartoon RTS, and it works here with Awesomenauts, the 2D cartoon MOBA. Awesomenauts only has one game mode, but there are enough variables that you don’t need a ton of menu choices to ensure that each game played will feel different. Between multiple characters and myriad upgrade paths, you’ll have to cook up a new strategy each game if you want to win more than one match in a row.

The three character options are all built around different styles of play. Sheriff Lonestar is a good place to start: he’s got guns and dynamite to throw and plays the most like you’d expect a gun-toting sidescroller to play. Voltar is a cloaked brain in a jar who serves as a team healer, and Leon is for those of you who prefer to play a rogue since he can blend into the background and sneak behind enemy lines. Whoever you choose, your mission is the same: destroy the enemy drill.

Of course, this expands into a much larger set of goals like protect your stationary turrets, kill the enemy heroes and don’t die (because it gives the enemy money and your spawn timer goes up every time it happens). Awesomenauts, like other MOBAs, is all about attacking in moderation. It’s better to attack, get a few shots on a turret and retreat for health than it is to run in and whale on the turret until you’re dead. It’s not all about DPS here, and if you play it that way, odds are very good that your team is going to lose.

The cartoon aesthetic looks great, but it hides a deep tactical experience. The team that peppers away at the turret while using his creeper robots as a shield is going to do better than the team that specced for maximum damage and runs straight at the enemy. And the battles have to be decided by brainpower: there are no power weapons to hoard and symmetrical maps mean that there are no narrow passageways to funnel the opposing team through. If you want to win then you’re going to have to work together and come up with the winning strategy.

Awesomenauts does a lot right, and it’s a lot of fun. Every game has its warts though, and Awesomenauts is no different. High-tier skills are almost impossible to beginners to contend with and matchmaking doesn’t always seem to take player level into account. One of the late-game unlockable characters, a jet-pack wearing monkey called Yuri, can currently shoot at turrets and never take a shot himself due to the way turrets are programmed, and while the main draw of Awesomenauts is the tactics, some more variety would go a long way. When compared to other MOBAs, six heroes and three arenas is a fairly anemic offering.

For $10, it’s hard to let the short list of worries detract from an otherwise-wonderful game. If you’re going to bite, I’d do it soon though: it’s almost impossible to forecast which downloadable games will still have a player base in six months and which ones will be a ghost town.

Pros: great cartoon look, interesting characters and abilities, rewards tactical play
Cons: Yuri’s glitch can be game-breaking, learning curve can be steep

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.