Awesomenauts review – can MOBA be done well on console?

The newly created MOBA genre (multiplayer online battle arena) has become quite a success on PC. While the various iterations on PC often employ a top-down view because the genre was crafted from a modifed RTS engine (Warcraft 3), developer Ronimo has gone and spun their own unique creation: their game, Awesomenauts, is played with a side view. Other than that, it shares a lot of similarities with other games in the genre, but given the different control input and side view, have they created something worth playing on the consoles?

Platform: XBLA, PSN
Developer: Ronimo
Publisher: DTP Entertainment
Release Date: 5/2/2012
Rating: T (Teen)
MSRP: $9.99

Like most MOBA games, the main objective is for each team to destroy the other team’s base. One base is on the left, and one is on the right. NPCs spawn out from the bases and march towards the opposite end, attacking anything in sight that isn’t on their team. Each team also has several turrets spread throughout a level that halt the progress of both heroes and NPCs. Though it isn’t impossible to attack a turret without the help of your NPCs, it’s probably not the best strategy because turrets can do a lot of damage to you, leaving you vulnerable.

Clunk uses his self-detonation ability to clear the room.

Defending those bases would be just about pointless if the heroes you control aren’t fun to play with, but Awesomenauts delivers an interesting cast to choose from:

Yuri: He can fly, drop bombs from above, and shoot a sustained laser that grows stronger over time and strikes everything in its path. The laser can even be reflected off of walls. His major disadvantage is that he’s not very fast, and certain moves can knock him out of the air, making him an easy target. To combat this, Yuri can buy and upgrade an aura that slows down enemies and projectiles, allowing him to escape.

Froggy G: This flattop-wearing toad is all about speed. His splash dash lets him zoom around in any direction. The a stun effect can be added to the splash dash and leveled up, leaving enemies very vulnerable if it hits. If you manage to hit an enemy from far away with the splash dash, you will land right next to the enemy, ready to blast them while they’re stunned.

Clunk: He’s a giant, slow-moving robot who can detonate himself, causing massive damage to everyone around. His vacuum bite can steal health, and if upgraded it can keep enemies in place for a few death-inducing seconds.

Leon: He’s the rogue of the group. He can disappear, create illusions of himself that can move and attack, do extra back-stab damage, and slow enemies down with his strikes. His tongue can reach out and pull enemies towards him or other dangers.

Voltar: A three-eyed brain who is primarily a healer. His summoned floating bots automatically fire at those within range. His healing beam can push enemies back. His temporary stationary healbot can heal all around, and if upgraded, it can even attack enemies.

Lonestar: He’s a cigar-totin’ space cowboy who enjoys chucking handfuls of dynamite. His bull can push back groups of enemies, and it can be used to strategically corral them towards danger.

Lonestar's bull can be upgraded to push harder, faster, or even put a slow effect on enemies.

In addition to these heroes being unique from one another, they can be further customized to suit your play-style. After you’ve decided on your hero, you’ll need to choose three upgrades per upgrade type. For example, if you chose Lonestar, you would need to choose three upgrades for his dynamite, three for his bull, three for his pistol, and three general ones (more health, more money at start etc.). By choosing these upgrades, you are only selecting what can possibly be gotten during a match. All upgrades must be bought with money. Though Voltar is the healer of the game, he can be turned into a damage dealer if you select the right upgrades. While some people might really like surrounding their enemies with Leon’s duplicates, others may wish to heal over time while they stay safe and invisible. With all of the options available, it’s a lot of fun experimenting with different strategies, and it helps to keep the game fresh.

The intricacies of the middle of this map allow for narrow escapes and hidden assaulters.

Unlike most MOBA games that only have one map, Awesomenauts offers three. Aside from a unique layout, each map has its own special element. Sorona, a desert area, has a button that can be pressed to cause a giant sand worm to come up and swallow anything above. Ribbit IV , an otherworldly jungle and marsh, has a maze of platforms in the center, a bumper at the bottom that can shoot you to the top (for quick ganks or escapes), and an enemy NPC that can be killed for money if you can manage to avoid his acid spit. A futuristic area, AI Station 404, has a low-gravity field in the center, allowing for some floaty mid-air battles.

Sorona is not a friendly place. I mean, the place is made out of carcasses--nice-looking ones.

It should also be said that the levels sport some nice attention to detail. After all, though the game would still be fun if the levels were blank, the art and effects add to the appeal. There are dust storms, sand worms that dive in and out in the background, mechanical machinery that toils away, and even an enormous robot who, if you’re not paying too much attention, stays relatively unnoticed in the background. The backgrounds can be several layers deep, providing some nice eye-candy in the few moments when you’re not busy thinking about your next move.

During matches, you will constantly have to think about the best move you can make at any given time. If you’re a little low on health, should you waste a little time to heal up, finish chasing down your enemy who’s desperately rushing towards the safety of his tower, or head back to base to spend your money on upgrades? Is it safe to warp back here (it takes a few seconds, and you can get interrupted and killed if you’re not careful), or should you head back to a tower before warping? As long as you have a good game going, you will be engaged and constantly weighing your options.

I have to admit, I had some reservations about playing a game that looked like a 90s cartoon meant for children. This could have easily ended badly, but Ronimo has delivered a MOBA-style game in a slightly different form that delivers compelling competitive play. At any given moment, you can physically out-maneuver your enemy, outsmart them, or deploy teamwork against them to win; the dynamics of the game keep it interesting to play. Anticipating what your enemies will do, you can employ a proper counter-strategy with any character you choose. Matches are often just long enough that you can build up all of your abilities and enjoy dominating for a little while. On the other hand, if you’re losing, you won’t have to suffer a half hour (or more) of losing. The variety in the maps, the customization of the characters, the skillful and tactical gameplay, and the extremely quick re-entry into a new game all add up to an addictive formula. For a mere $10 you get a great multiplayer game that can last for dozens of hours. The main detractor in this small package would be the limited amount of heroes, but don’t let that stop you from making this yet another addition to your online lineup.

Grade: B+

Ryan Southard

Ryan Southard is a video game enthusiast, dissecting games down to their tiniest details. Whether it’s new or it’s old, as long as it’s awesome, he’ll play it. Follow him on Twitter at @Ryan_Southard

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