Awesomenauts is probably one of the most addictive online games I’ve ever played. It took all my willpower to pry myself away from the game long enough to write this review, and even now its icon taunts me mercilessly from my desktop. If you’re a fan of the flourishing MOBA scene, or even just a fan of online games in general, you won’t want to miss out on Awesomenauts.
On paper the premise of Awesomenauts doesn’t stray far from the rubric laid out by DOTA 2 or League of Legends. Each player takes control of a hero of their choice and joins one of two opposing teams. The goal is to progressively demolish the other team’s towers and base defenses while preventing the same fate from befalling your own. Killing heroes rewards money that can be exchanged for upgrades that subsequently allow you to kill heroes and collect money even faster. It’s cutthroat combat at its finest.
Awesomenauts differentiates itself by flattening the action onto a 2D plane. The game is a sidescroller in the most traditional sense, playing like an ersatz reimagining of Contra. Battlefields are horizontally expansive vistas littered with hazards and floating platforms. Precision jumping is a crucial part of navigating this terrain, and the mouse and keyboard controls succeed in being simultaneously retro and fluid – a relief considering the game was ported from XBLA. An unexpected level of depth can be found beneath the retro veneer. Quick escapes can be made by slipping vertically through platforms, and minions and towers can easily be exploited for horizontal cover. Awesomenauts triumphs by transforming classic 2D gameplay into a genuinely satisfying MOBA experience.
The aesthetics of the game are the real showstopper though. Awesomenauts is a 1980s Saturday morning cartoon brought to life. Each level is brimming with holograms, space monsters, and shiny plastic robots, and each member of the roster looks like a guest star from a vintage episode of Voltron, Bravestarr, or Bucky O’Hare. Characters range from Lonestar, an intergalactic cattle rustler armed with dynamite and a holographic bull, to Froggy G, an amphibious MC wielding a super soaking goldfish gun. The whole experience is deliciously cheesy and a refreshing change of pace in a genre that often takes itself too seriously. The capstone to the parody is the epic theme song Romino Game cooked up that is sure to be stuck in your head for weeks to come.
Despite these glowing adornments, Awesomenauts suffers from a few nagging problems. The matchmaking system is weak and has the frustrating tendency to shuffle you into ongoing games that are already a lost cause. Character balance is also a tad off kilter – specifically for a certain francophone chameleon that is lording over the leader boards at the moment. Despite being minor nuisances, neither of these issues are game-breaking, and I expect Romino Games with resolve them through iterative patching in the future.
It’s a crime that Awesomenauts didn’t receive much fanfare when it was released. The game is a genuinely innovative and charming take on the MOBA genre and one of the most satisfying pick-up-and-play online titles I’ve ever encountered. It’s a steal for only $9.99, and you can currently score three copies for the price of two on Steam. Keep tabs on the blog if you’re a fan because I’ll likely be playing a lot more of it in the future.