Awesomenauts is an attempt to recreate the MOBA experience on consoles. Now, I’ve never played a multiplayer online battle arena game before, so I while I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I was eager to see what all the fuss was about. While it appears to play very much like an action platformer, players must utilize a measure of strategy in order to destroy the opposing team’s defenses before moving onto their base. The game’s sense of style and lean towards action mayhem is a bit misleading as I discovered that you simply cannot throw yourself into the fracas and expect to survive. While Awesomenauts is structurally sound and lends itself to repeat gaming sessions, the best thing I can say about the game is that it is functional. For the most part, Awesomenauts ultimately comes off as a bland, fun-for-five-minutes experience.
The game tries to deliver a reason for these battles to take place, but it doesn’t bother coming up with anything deep or meaningful. In the distant future, a war has been underway between two galactic forces and in an attempt to break the stalemate, the Awesomenauts (a band of mercenaries) are called in to lead assaults on enemy bases. This sort of narrative would be fine if it were a single player game, but the fact that the opposing team plays as the Awesomenauts as well, albeit in a different color, causes the paper thin premise to collapse. Perhaps I am paying too much attention to the breezy, non-essential plot but since Romino Games spent the time to put it together, I felt it should merit some degree of discussion.
The primary conflict in Awesomenauts focuses on the destruction of the opposing team’s reactor cores. Standing in your way are massive turrets and, of course, the other team. At the start of the match, your player will be shot to the battleground in small personnel rockets, giving you an opportunity to collect energy cubes called Solars that function as the in-game currency (which are also scattered throughout the arena). Collecting enough Solars will allow you to upgrade your character’s offensive and defensive capabilities as well as purchase powerful abilities which are then mapped to the controller’s face buttons. Once in the arena, you’ll have to contend with other players and turrets that will rip you to shreds unless you seek protection of small support droids equipped with shields. You’ll never want to charge in by yourself, so it is important that you work together as a team to coordinate assaults.
When your character is killed (death comes easy and often), you’ll respawn back at the personnel carrier and must wait ten seconds until you’re shot back down to the field. Apart from enemy targets, there are a number of neutral objects, such as aliens and robots, that offer up health or extra Solars when killed. Whether your team wins or loses, you’ll earn a number of experience points that feed into an overall leveling system that will allow you to choose from previously locked out characters and unlock quickslots. Your characters will level up in-game as well through Solars, but these levels do not carry over to different matches.
Awesomenauts looks very much like a Saturday morning cartoon (complete with a title sequence and cheesy music). Environments, characters and secondary objects look like they’ve been taken from a Flash cartoon, employing a heavily and comically stylized design. The Awesomenauts themselves are a collection of goofy caricatures such as a giant, ape-like robot, an afro sporting fish, a sword carrying frog with a French accent and a stereotypical Texas cowboy. The arenas themselves resemble something you’d find in a two dimensional platformer and while many of them are set on different planets, you’ll find that it is easy to ignore the change in scenery.
Awesomenauts is a game that sounds great on paper: an exclusively online battle game that gives people that haven’t played League of Legends an opportunity to get into the MOBA craze. Unfortunately, the game’s biggest failing is that no one seems to playing. Out of all the rounds I’ve played, only a handful of them were with human players. The remainder were occupied by AI controlled bots which made for a thoroughly unenjoyable experience because they are dumber than a bag of hammers. Bots will often perform actions that don’t make sense, run away at inappropriate times or won’t commit to an attack. One match in particular, I had pretty much given up on the game after a poor showing from my AI teammates and started to wait out the clock. Out of sheer boredom, I decided to make a run for the enemy base and after finishing off the blue team’s final turret by myself, my attack on the reactor was completely unopposed until just before it blew up. A victory, but a completely hollow and joyless one.
When I did get the chance to play with humans, the experience really wasn’t any different. Players seemed to go off and do their own thing and even though the game supports voice chat, no one was trying to coordinate. Mid round, the only human player on my team quit, which pit my team of two bots against the other with one. As a result, the game was pretty much over. This feeling of unfairness also extends to weapons which feel completely underpowered. It is difficult not to feel a sense of injustice as your weapons barely knock down another player’s health while their own powered up weapon can kill you in two hits. Awesomenauts isn’t fun. It’s chaos.
Awesomenauts isn’t really a bad game. It’s well built, holds promise for additional content and serves as a good primer to the MOBA genre. Unfortunately, the lack of players kills the product. You can’t have fun with bots that run off and do their own thing. You can’t have fun when people quit out of games, leaving bots take their place. Because no one is out there, there is very little incentive to keep playing. What good is trying to lead a team that cannot respond to commands? As you struggle to maintain order in chaos, ultimately there is nothing much you can do but sit back and quietly shake your head in frustration and disgust.