Game Rant Review 3.5 5

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Game Rant’s Aaron Leach reviews Awesomenauts

There was a time when dubbing something as “awesome” actually meant something – back when you could watch classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episodes while eating a bowl of Mr. T cereal. Ronimo Games’ latest downloadable title, Awesomenauts, aims to blast its way into that coveted designation of “awesomeness.” Does the multiplayer mayhem within live up to such a weighty qualifier?

Read our review to find out whether Awesomenauts is awesome or not.

The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) is as simple as it sounds (two teams battling it out online to destroy the other’s base) while simultaneously allowing for a great deal of depth in customization, strategy and cooperation. Awesomenauts looks to take these ideas that make up the essence of the genre and streamline them for consoles and casual players.

Set against the futuristic backdrop of a longstanding galactic conflict for a resource called Solar, players take on the role of the Awesomenauts. This group of mercenaries has been called in by both sides of the struggle in order to gain the most Solar, and hopefully win the war for their respective side. Aside from the tutorial and practice mode, matches happen exclusively online, where players will engage in 3v3 battles, balancing attack and defend gameplay as well as managing upgrades – in order to break into the enemy base and destroy it.  While this may sound just like any other MOBA, some key changes to the formula have been made to ensure that Awesomenauts stands apart from the rest.

Awesomenauts Screenshot 1

In order to expand the reach of an otherwise niche genre, Ronimo changed the foundational structure altogether. While other MOBA games like League of Legends or Defense of the Ancients are rooted in the action-real-time strategy genre, Awesomenauts completely switches gears and goes with a 2D, side-scrolling platformer. Basic controls are limited to jumping, attacking, deploying special abilities, and teleporting back to base. It’s a risky bit of simplification to a playstyle that generally has a steep learning curve – but it pays off beautifully.

By centering the mechanics around gameplay that is instantly familiar to anyone that’s ever picked up a Mario game, even the most novice player can jump in and be more focused on how to contribute to the team – rather than be worried about learning advanced controls. That’s the greatest achievement of Awesomenauts. It manages to keep the genre’s core strategic ideas in tact, attack vs. defend, push ahead or retreat, regardless of the genre-type laid over the top.

The other major departure that Ronimo decided to take from the more well-known MOBA entries is the overall presentation. The aforementioned space war features an aesthetic reminiscent of early Saturday morning cartoons. Players who remember when cartoons were thirty-minute commercials for action figures rather than collectible card games will be delighted by the light-hearted, and at times flat-out silly, attitude at play here. There’s no self-serious, heavy-handed vibe and while matches may get intense at times, the accessible feel is never diminished – due to the developer’s stylistic choices. Fun, not intimidation, is the name of the game here.

Awesomenauts Screenshot 2

It’s just too bad that, like the recently released Skullgirls, the fantastic world that these characters inhabit is criminally underutilized. The little that’s there just seems like a cruel tease and a missed opportunity for there to have been more. Even without a single-player campaign, a bit more world-building wouldn’t have been difficult to include.

MOBA fans hoping they aren’t left out by this minimalist, user-friendly, approach have little to worry about. In addition to maintaining the previously mentioned core gameplay elements, each of the game’s characters have unique abilities and attacks that can be customized in a loadout screen before the game begins. Experimenting with different characters and different upgrade options offers just the right amount of added depth to keep seasoned players from getting bored.

Speaking of characters, players will have six to choose from. Each has their own distinct flair, allowing players to indentify the role they might best fill on the path to victory. Obviously having the best upgrades available keeps any character from feeling too weak – but players should expect some growing pains as they grind out those first few levels. And grind they shall. Awesomenaut’s matchmaking system, or lack thereof, is definitely not awesome. For a game that is all about accessibility to a usually daunting genre, the horrible matchmaking makes getting through the first half-dozen levels a test of one’s patience, blood-pressure and creativity with various expletives. The experience is not unlike the poor sap that waits a week before jumping into the multiplayer portion of Call of Duty for the first time after release – only to get destroyed by all the prestige players. All the smart play in the world doesn’t mean much when players already have characters and upgrades that simply outgun the newcomers.

Awesomenauts Screenshot 3

Conversely, getting matched with players on your own team who are just starting out and have yet to learn the nuances of make-or-break strategies can be every bit as frustrating and just as influential on a match’s outcome as being unfairly overpowered by an opposing team. Everyone in a match doesn’t need to be the same level, as new players obviously learn from experienced ones, but the gap shouldn’t be so wide that it creates a bad experience. It’s commendable that Ronimo succeeded in getting players into matches quickly, but they have done so by having little to no regard for how they are pairing up competitors.

Maps are also a key ingredient in any online competitive game, and this is the last area where things come up a bit short. Each map does have its own charm but, as of now, there are only three total. After playing for a few hours, it quickly becomes of little to no consequence which arena players will be multiplayer-online-battling in – given that gamers will already be tired of all three.

Awesomenauts is a game that walks a very difficult tightrope, and for the most part, does so with a good deal of success. Cracking the code and delivering a game that entices both the casual and hardcore crowd is no small feat, and Ronimo has done a (mostly) solid job. Anyone who doesn’t need the acronym MOBA explained to them will almost definitely enjoy what this game serves up. The other crowd however will either be completely turned off by the beating they will take for the first few hours of play, or be driven to persevere because of the solid gameplay. Awesomenauts has plenty more to give than its ten dollar asking price would suggest, but the night and day experiences one might have from match to match make it difficult to suggest to everyone. To MOBA or not to MOBA is indeed the question.

Awesomenauts is available on XBLA and PSN. Gamerants played the XBLA version for this review.