Awesomenauts Hands-On Impressions E3 2011

Ronimo Games is no stranger to approaching established game genres from a fresh perspective. This is evident in their 2009 release of Swords And Soldiers which flipped the RTS genre on its head, turning it into a side-scroller. While the change may have seemed drastic to some, the gameplay didn’t suffer, becoming rather well-received.

Now, they’re at it again with their upcoming release Awesomenauts which takes aim at a different genre. We had a chance to go hands-on with the title at E3 2011.

This time around, Ronimo Games is set to tackle a genre established by games like Defense Of The Ancients, League Of Legends, and Heroes Of Newerth. Dubbed a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena), Awesomenauts takes the familiar DotA formula and turns it on its side, making it a 2D side-scroller. While this idea may seem absurd at first, it only takes one round of play, to see that it is actually a match made in gaming heaven.

In the demo on hand, three Awesomenauts were playable: A cowboy who could make use of a ghostly bull in order to push enemies away or towards hazards, a flying robotic monkey with a love for proximity mines, and a large, brutish robot with missiles and a penchant for blowing himself up. In the full game, there are more characters to unlock as you play through the game – and DLC is planned for the future.

The graphics are similar to Ronimo’s last game, Swords And Soldiers in the sense that the 2D art and animation are cartoony, but are incredibly smooth and distinct. It is never a problem looking at the screen and discerning which team a unit belongs to – or which unit it is for that matter. The cartoony/futuristic graphics help to keep the game’s tone light which only helps to enhance the fast-paced, frantic gameplay. Just take a look at the E3 trailer.

Awesomenauts Hands-On Impressions E3 2011

Jumping into the game, players are split into two teams – with each team occupying one side of the screen. As the match starts, everyone is dropped from the sky in a pod into their own base. Like DotA, the battlefield is made up of lanes filled with deadly towers. The top and bottom lanes house towers for each team – which serve to prevent the opposing team from reaching their base and destroying its core.

The goal of the game, for those who have never played a MOBA before, is to advance in the lanes, destroying the opposing team’s towers along the way, with the ultimate goal of destroying their core. This requires equal parts offense and defense though, as the other team will be attempting the same feat.

Since the towers are incredibly strong and capable of destroying an Awesomenaut within seconds, players must make use of their creeps. These are AI-controlled creatures which regularly spawn at either end of each lane and attempt to fight their way toward the other team’s base. While they may not pose a large threat to players, if they manage to reach a tower owned by the opposing team, they will soak up it’s fire for as long as they survive, – allowing for precious time which can be used to attack the tower.

As matches proceed, it quickly turns into an all-out tug of war game as team’s fight to push back enemy creeps while allowing their own squade to advance. With two lanes, this requires teams to strategically split up their players in order to launch an effective assault.

For players who are running low on health though, there is a middle lane which spawns neutral creeps which can be killed for health pickups and currency which can be spent on upgrades. Also populating the middle lane are two large creatures which are best avoided until players are sufficiently upgraded. In my time playing, no one was able to successfully defeat them.

Awesomenauts Hands-On Impressions E3 2011

Upon collecting enough currency, players can then spend it in their base on upgrades. This is like a streamlined version of the items seen in DotA. While there are not as many unique combinations present, the use of upgrades to skills and attributes actually fits Awesomenauts’ cartoony tone much better. It allows players to quickly and easily jump into the game and upgrade their characters, but has enough possibilities to ensure that seasoned players have a wealth of options when creating their own thought-out character build.

Like other MOBA’s, gameplay is fast-paced and action-packed, but requires patience and strategy in order to succeed. This is what makes the genre so popular, and Awesomenauts absolutely nails the execution. Anyone who is the least bit familiar with the gameplay mechanics of DotA will be able to instantly jump into Awesomenauts and know what they are supposed to do.

Luckily for players who are unfamiliar with the genre, techniques such as denying are not present and actually make for more fast-paced play. While purists may call foul, the addition of some of these more advanced techniques would only serve to clutter up the gameplay. Awesomenauts does not aim to fully re-create the DotA style of gameplay. Instead, it translates the features that fans love most and find fun, while toning down the incredibly steep learning curve normally associated with the genre.

After taking one look at the game’s cartoony/futuristic graphics though, it should come as no surprise that the game’s focus is on providing a fun gaming experience over all else. In doing this, Ronimo Games has succeeded immeasurably. By bringing an established genre into a completely different dimension, they have managed to create one of the most entertaining arcade gameplay experiences in years. It’s no surprise that it has been nominated for Game Rant’s Best Indie Game of E3.

Would you have thought that a game like DotA could have worked on a 2D plane? For the purists out there, will you still be able to enjoy the game without techniques like denying?

Awesomenauts will hit the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network later this year.

Check out all of our other E3 2011 coverage.