Developer: Ronimo Games
Publisher: Ronimo Games
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade and Sony Entertainment Network (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
High quality downloads such as Payday: The Heist and Gotham City Impostors proved that creating a fun and workable online gaming experience does not necessarily need to be confined to major console releases or hardcore PC gamers. Now Utrecht based developer Ronimo, who already have the lauded platform puzzler De Blob and strategy carve-up Swords & Soldiers on their CV, have entered the fray with a cool, competitively priced entry into the MOBA genre; which, on the surface, comes cleverly disguised as a colourful platform shooter, reminiscent of a Mega Man or Metal Slug games.
To the uninitiated, a MOBA is not an award ceremony where Lisa I’Anson dishes out awards to Mark Morrison and N-Dubz, but an acronym for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. Awesomenauts is a three-on-three example of this genre, placing you in charge of one of a team of mercenaries of either a red or blue persuasion, in a conflict over three well-designed, labyrinthine 2D maps. The core gameplay is platform hopping and shooting opponents, yet the co-operative gameplay makes this far deeper than you are initially led to believe by the fun 80s cartoon-style packaging (including a legitimately hilarious theme tune, which evokes the likes of Defenders of the Earth, BraveStarr and Thundercats) and the wonderfully bright and bold graphical style.
Awesomenauts does have a story underpinning the action, which involves mining concerns competing for a precious resource, and calling upon the legendary mercenaries to protect their drilling equipment. Protecting this series of drill cores, and indeed your home base, on each map whilst destroying those of your foe is the order of the day, and this is done not only through the weapons and special attacks of your band of soldiers, but by sentry turrets and computer generated droids that spawn over the course of each battle and can be used as a form of shield to hide behind. Each of the likeable characters has their own strengths and weaknesses. A huge robot is extremely resilient but slow, Lonestar is a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy with a penchant for throwing dynamite, and there is a monkey with a jetpack; always a winning inclusion. There are collectable coins of in-game currency called Solar which can be used to upgrade your weapons during the course of battle, in a shop which is ever-present, and there are coins and health packs dotted around the landscape, as well as pesky unaffiliated enemies which can be offed for extra money. You earn XP over the course of each battle, which sees your profile levelled up accordingly, and you can earn money simply for staying alive. Each time you kill an enemy you earn cash and other drops but be wary that each time you die, you leave behind precious Solar for your enemies.
The battles themselves sometimes last for what seems like ages, as you and your team chip away at your opponents and keeping an eye on your own drill cores. It is a game that rewards teamwork and a measured approach, particularly given that the bots that make up the other slots on your team when not occupied by humans, or when playing the offline mode are pretty much dumbasses when compared to a real person. You will die, lots, such is the nature of the game, and when you do so you are respawned into the action via a rapidly descending rocket from the skies. You can also teleport back to your base at any time during the action. The game really starts to come into its own when you work with your teammates and start grinding your way through to better weapons and lengthier energy bars. The special weapons you can purchase are not only amusing in their execution but crucial to success, timing when to deploy them is also key as there is always a delay between each usage. An example of this being Lonestar, with the player having to wait five seconds between each stick of explosive he can throw.
VERDICT: Awesomenauts is a very pleasant surprise, perhaps the best example of a multiplayer platform game that I have had the pleasure to play, and has comprehensively taken my MOBA virginity. It is simple to hop into a multiplayer game or set one up with friends, and there is even a split screen mode which enables offline multiplayer. Personally speaking I never thought I would find myself ploughing through a title which owes a nod or two toward genre benchmark and World of Warcraft offshoot League of Legends, but the stealthy way Ronimo have packaged the complex team-based gameplay as a cartoony action-platformer, something I am always a sucker for, is perhaps a stroke of genius; and a nice surprise.