I recently heard that Riot Games’ League of Legends is like the most played videogame in the world right now…….what? I’ve never even heard of it. How in the hell did that happen? I’ve always been a console gamer by trade, but really, how on earth did this game manage to completely pass me by? And wait? What was that? It’s a MOBA? What the fudge is a MOBA? I’m suddenly feeling like somewhat of an old man……having just turned 30 doesn’t help either.
For all those as confused as I was, ‘MOBA’ stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena; a genre that has only recently come to light thanks to the Warcraft III spin-off, Defence of the Ancients, and subsequently, a genre that has gone global thanks to the huge popularity of Riot Games’ aforementioned, League of Legends. Although all rather hardcore, the basic premise behind the MOBA template is to destroy your opponents base while keeping yours intact. All rather simple, aye!? Well, yes and no. While the premise may be as simple as they come, stroll into a game of League of Legends and it quickly dawns on you just how hardcore, and well, very PC it all really is.
That’s where Ronimo Games’, Awesomenauts comes in. Although deceptively deep, Awesomenauts is made immediately more accessible thanks to its 2D design and wonderful, Saturday morning cartoon visuals. Unlike the MOBA big hitters on PC, Romino have gone for a more casual friendly visual style and control scheme, and while the hardcore might find the somewhat simplified interface and kid friendly cartoon aesthetic initially off putting, a few hours with this deceptively deep and endlessly charming MOBA is likely to warm even the coldest of gaming hearts.
It’s not all sunshine and lollipops of course, but for the most part, Awesomenauts does a great job of creating an approachable take on the genre while delivering enough depth and underlying quality to keep gamers coming back in the long run. Many will obviously be concerned with the move to a 2D plain and the potential limitations that come with it, but honestly, rather than diluting the experience, it instead delivers a unique way to play with its own distinctive potential for attack and defence strategies.
If nothing else, it looks absolutely gorgeous. With a cartoon style comparable to Rayman: Origins, Awesomenauts stands as one of the better looking games on XBLA thanks to its beautiful art work and flourishes of artistic brilliance.
Of course, accessibility and good looks will get many gamers through the door, but it’s the balance and subtle depth that will keep gamers coming back for more. With 6 unique characters, each with their own skill sets and abilities (3 of which are unlocked as you progress), picking the right team of 3 is absolutely essential to success in Awesomenauts. Ranging from the slow but strong Clunk, to the more agile, dynamite throwing, Lonestar, picking the right kind of fight is often key to attaining victory.
It’s not just picking the right fights either; it’s knowing when to attack and when to bail. Beyond the obvious issue of balancing the need to attack your opponents’ base with defending your own, managing your health and knowing how and when to upgrade is of equal importance.
While death will see you respawn, the fact that it is done from a space ship orbiting high above the level can make death a hugely costly experience during tightly fought matches. While made enjoyable by a cash grabbing mini-game that plays out as you plummet back towards the battle, death usually costs you around 20 seconds of game time, time that can often see the battle swing in your opponents favour. With health packs strewn about each stage and local wildlife that can be slain for some additional energy, knowing when to retreat and forage becomes an indispensable skill.
The same goes for upgrading your character. At any point during the battle, you can teleport back to home base (on the basis you can find a nice and quite spot to do so) where you can recharge your health and perhaps more importantly, use any Solar (Awesomenauts’ currency) that you may have accumulated during battle to upgrade your characters’ skills and abilities. With an array to choose from, picking the right one at the right time can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
The battles can last a little too long sometimes (why no Worms style sudden death?) and the feedback is a bit flimsy at times, but for the most part, Romino’s, Awesomenauts has to go down as a resounding success. It’s beautiful, it’s simple to pick up and, like any good videogame, surprisingly hard to put down. Awesomenauts may look cute and cuddly, but under its friendly, colourful exterior lies a proper grown-up videogame.
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