Awesomenauts Review (Xbox360)

Offering a concept that's part Super Smash Bros, part example of the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre, there's nothing else out there on consoles like Awesomenauts. At first, seeming far too limited and simplistic, Ronimo Games' title opens up to be a much deeper and more involving experience. The only major concern is its hefty reliance on a busy online community, something that I fear will tail off in the coming weeks.

An effective tutorial guides players through the basics right from the outset. Essentially, each Awesomenauts match is a battle of attrition. On either side of the level is a base with turrets located increasingly further away from it in order to provide protection. Players must work their way through each enemy turret in order to reach the base. It's a simple enough idea but one that offers plenty of strategy. For one thing, there are two different routes to reach the base so teamwork is required to focus on destroying turrets together. For another, throughout going on the offensive, players also need to keep an eye on their own turrets as the enemy will be out to destroy those, also.

It all looks quite frantic. That's because at times it is

These turrets offer quite fearsome defensive gunfire which is where the presence of a flurry of droids to assist players come into it. These droids are reminisicent of the creeps that PC games such as Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends offer. They're cannon fodder basically, gradually destroying small amounts of the turrets but easily destroyed by opposing players. What they do provide is a fantastic shield for the player to hide behind as they attack a turret with more substantial firepower.

Other combat only consists of 3 versus 3 with players taking the role of an Awesomenaut (or Hero, using MOBA vernacular) but it's sufficient in tight, enclosed levels such as the maps provided here. In all, there are 6 characters that can be unlocked and used in battle. It sounds limiting but much like in the case of challenging beat em up and fellow XBLA title, Skullgirls, this merely ensures that there's no sign of filler. Each character is unique and offers their own skills to master. These skills are limited to two unlockable options, a far cry from other titles in the genre's methods, but it never feels too restricted.

For instance, Clunk is a slow and massive robot that offers quite powerful offensive skills. One attack means that he can blow himself up, inflicting damage on himself but also substantial damage on those enemies around him. Another offensive skill ties in neatly with this, offering a lifestealing bite which takes health from the enemy passing it onto Clunk.

On the other end of the scale is Leon Chameleon, a fast and ninja like fighter whose main form of attack is a slash attack. Unlocked skills lead to him being able to clone himself. While the clone can't fight for him, it provides a great distraction which players can use to their advantage. During this time, the real Leon turns invisible, enabling him to creep up on his attacker.

Other characters provide their own personality and benefits such as space cowboy Lonestar and his ability to throw sticks of dynamite, and the healing support role character Voltar.

Froggy G can turn into a whirlwind of frog based destruction

In each case, new abilities are unlocked through levelling up and purchased with solar, the game's currency. At the start of each match, players are given an opening fund of solar with the amount varying depending as to when they joined the match. Join halfway through a session and players are given plenty of solar to catch up on what's been happening. There's a level of strategy to how best to spend the money as it ensures players can direct their character down a chosen path. Want a fast and powerful Leon but to the detriment of his health? That's as possible as it is to make a very slow yet vicious Clunk.

Solar is continually accrued throughout each game, through the destruction of enemy droids and, more significantly, the destruction of enemy Awesomenauts. This makes it vital to not be killed by an opponent as otherwise the entire enemy team benefits greatly from your demise. Even more humiliating is the amount of solar gained by the enemy if you are killed by a pitiful droid or turret. It's a classic example of how sometimes the best form of attack is defence.

Awesomenauts' depth of strategy is somewhat restricted by its limited supply of maps. There are only three available and they are very samey. Given that matches frequently only last 20 minutes at most, this isn't a major problem as each map needs to be small to accommodate the six players. There are still some nice touches to the maps with one in particular housing a giant worm. This worm can be activated at the touch of a button located above its den, destroying the enemy player and gaining the winner some precious solar. Small touches such as these go some way to making the maps feel less predictable.

Predictability does however come from the bot AI. It's near certain that players will find themselves up against teams that are part human, part AI. This AI is fairly sturdy at times but occasionally lapses into moments of excessive predictability which lets the side down somewhat.

With such a focus on online multiplayer (there's split screen multiplayer and a practice mode but this is a game that demands online play), things could have gone very wrong if the game had been flakey or laggy online. Fortunately, this isn't the case. Not once did I come across any stuttering even despite playing against opponents with pings of 200 or so.

The sly Leon is a fearsome opponent once upgraded sufficiently

What is volatile is the host migration. Once the player hosting the game leaves, Awesomenauts attempts to migrate to another player. This isn't as accurate as it should be and I often found myself being booted from the game. This would only be an irritant if it wasn't compounded by the fact that the game then punishes you through xp restrictions for the next game, as if you chose to deliberately drop out of a match. It's a similar tale when playing against all bots. The game helpfully suggests switching to another match due to an increase in human players, but then punishes the player for doing so.

This also brings about the main concern of any XBLA game focused so heavily on online multiplayer. How long will the community last? It's an enjoyable and very different experience from anything else on Xbox Live, but console gamers are known to be fickle. Call of Dutys and Halos aside and players frequently cast aside great ideas after the novelty factor has ended. Awesomenauts certainly doesn't deserve this but there is that risk. Ronimo Games is promising a series of DLC, offering new characters and maps in the future. With such regular support, it could all be fine. That's precisely what Awesomenauts deserves as it's terrific fun and ably demonstrates an exciting new genre for console gamers.

Top Game Moment: Gaining an elusive double kill with Clunk, courtesy of his self explosion attack. There's nothing quite as sweetly satisfying.

Platform Played: Xbox 360

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