In chasing after League of Legends and Dota 2, which have captured the minds of millions around the world, dozens of studios are stuck making the same game. Not so for Kiz Studios and their online action game Smashmuck Champions, which launched on Steam Early Access today. Smashmuck features multiple maps and game modes, along with faster matches and direct control of each hero with WASD instead of rapidly clicking with the mouse. Oh, and heroes can jump too. Kiz Studios art director Allen White hopes that these changes to the traditional MOBA formula result in a lower barrier to entry and a more diverse, less toxic community. To hear White tell it, Smashmuck is filling a void left by a wildly successful genre that alienates as many players as it captures.
I played a traditional capture the flag-style match on a medium-sized refinery map. The game moved quickly, with deaths only incurring a five second penalty, and completion of objectives taking priority over kill/death ratio. It's the first time my initial foray into a "MOBA" style game was any fun at all.
Out of game, players level up their overall skill (their "coach level") and the level of the weapon equipped on their current hero. Each weapon has its own progression, and "coach level" allows players to equip different passive buffs to their heroes.
This is where the free-to-play business model comes in. Like League of Legends, Smashmuck Champions will switch around which heroes are free-to-play and which ones cost you. Weapons and buffs equipped to your character are won in matches, crafted with earned currency, or bought with real money. Smashmuck isn't revolutionizing free-to-play, but the model doesn't exploit players in the slightest, and the quicker matches mean more virtual currency, more quickly.
While it is easy to jump in to Smashmuck Champions and knock out four or five rounds of different gametypes in an hour, the teamwork emphasis and tactical depth that helped this genre rise to greatness are not absent. If you've already latched on to Dota 2 or League of Legends the twitchy Smashmuck may not be your game but, then again, Dota 2 isn't everybody's game either. To my knowledge, Kiz studios is the only company that is taking the MOBA genre and running into truly uncharted territory. For that, you owe it at least a few hours of your time.