Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360
I feel like I should be sitting down to play Awesomenauts with a bowl that is spilling over with cereal and milk, keeping super quiet as my parents are still asleep upstairs amidst the bliss that is the realisation that you have no school until Monday. The opening of Awesomenauts is such a beautifully crafted throwback to those Saturday morning cartoons you know and love from the 80’s that you will be unable to stop yourself smiling as you watch it and from singing the theme tune for the rest of the day. The intro is clever, funny and imaginative and luckily this sets the tone throughout the whole game.
Awesomenauts is a 2D three vs. three MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) title which will see you and friends, strangers or even bots fighting for control of the precious resource Solar across three maps. At the heart of each team's base is their Drill Core, working away to garner more Solar for the cause and it is this that each team must protect, as failure to do so will see defeat. In the way of the Drill Coreis a selection of gun turrets which will mow you down in record time if you just wade in, but it is these that you and your team must whittle down to advance towards your goal. To help your attack there are periodically released droids that will march relentlessly towards the turrets and standing behind them allows you to get close for a few seconds before they are destroyed. Rinse, repeat, destroy.
If there is one overarching criticism I have of Awesomenauts it is that the core conceit of taking down the turrets and destroying the Drill Core is very much a one trick pony. Every match will more or less play out the same in terms of how you approach the goal, and with slow damage to turrets it can become a real war of attrition which is not helped by the lack of either a timer or ability for a draw. You will also find that the second you are pinned back to your base you will lose the match, there is no real dynamism in the closing stages of any match you will have and if you feel like you are going to lose then you more than likely will. There seems to be no room for that last gasp desperate move that pays off that you can see in the likes of other team based shooters and for this reason Awesomenauts suffers, but thankfully that is the only real negative I can find with it.
Where Awesomenauts succeeds is the vibrant and diverse cast of characters and abilities it allows you to try and win with. The characters are so well realised that you would be easily forgiven for believing that this is some sort of tie-in with a well established cartoon series. From the slow moving but heavy damage dealing robot Clunk to the floating soviet monkey Yuri there is a real sense of creativity and consideration given to each character, each with their own signature tunes and genuinely funny catchphrases and taunts. It says a lot for the quality of the design that after a few hours of play I was still laughing at some of Voltar the Omniscient’s one liners - which are as funny as you’d expect from a floating brain in a jar.
Each character will have a generic core attribute such as easy to damage but quick to move, or slow moving but with high damage. There is a character in the roster, at their base skill level, that will suit everyone’s style of play whatever that may be. From selecting your character you then have the ability to unlock skills at the shop that exists within your base, you can access this either after dying or if you teleport back, which is also useful if you are low on health as you can recharge health at your base. These skill sets, which you can choose from a selection before you start a round, will either be centred on attack, defense or healing. Each of these unlocks usually have different stages of power with you having to unlock the first two steps to be allowed to unlock the third, it’s a simple skill tree of sorts and works quite well and can help you shape your character once in the battle.
These skills are unlocked using the in-game currency Solar which you can collect by destroying enemies, their Droids or from a little ‘collect ‘em all’ mini-game that you take part in after you die. This is where it can get interesting as if you choose to wade in and get pulverised you give your enemy more resources to reach their unlocks so playing cautious and smart is always key to winning. There can be the urge to attack all the time but you quickly realise that this will invariably work against you and you need to work as a team and play smart, healing or defending as each situation requires. This is furthered by a continuing XP system that will see you awarded points at the end of every round, with more points for a win as you would expect, and as these points build up you will be afforded new unlocks and characters to help you continue to win.
Currently there are six characters to play with and only three maps, both of which are due to be expanded with the details yet to be fully confirmed. The maps are entertaining enough but not wildly different, however they do have some interesting interactive elements; watching an enemy run to collect some precious gold Solar only to have you jump on a switch and release a giant sandworm to eat them is an absolute joy. Hopefully we will see more of this interactivity with the levels as new ones emerge as it can really influence the battlefield and tactics.
Awesomenauts isn’t complex, it isn’t varied and it certainly isn’t original but it’s fun and it never loses sight of that. It also has the ability to get yourself and two friends on the same television to play as a team and it is solidly implemented; it reminds me of summers spent with friends playing split screen, shouting at each other when you fail and laughing together with each close fought win. It is in many ways a throwback to how things used to be and for that it cannot be faulted. For a downloadable title it glistens with sheen, oozes playability and generates a lot of fun and when all is said and done you really can’t ask for more than that. Awesome...nauts.