It seemed as though MOBAs were the major theme this time around at PAX, as several developers showed up with their own take on the game type. A genre notorious for its rigid, unchanging formula, it was definitely refreshing to play some games that dared to stray from the beaten path.
Take Awesomenauts, for example. The question behind the concept of is certainly intriguing – could the MOBA formula work on a console? After a playing a fast-paced round of the game with a group of five others on the PAX showroom floor, I can conclude with certainty: Yes. Yes it can.
Of course, there are some significant alterations from your typical DOTA-influenced title, but the elements are still there. Do battle with an enemy team of heroes while minions constantly flow towards the center, build momentum on your side in order to push towards your enemy’s base.
The most significant deviation from this formula, however, is that Awesomenauts is played as a 2D sidescroller. You’ll directly control your chosen hero like you would in a platformer, though each character has their own unique approach to jumping, be it a super jump, double jump, or even the ability to hover. Each character comes equipped with a basic attack which again varies from character to character (for one, this “attack” is actually a heal!)
As you defeat minions and enemy players, you’ll collect cash which can be used for upgrades. Unlike most MOBA’s, there’s no XP or leveling system in Awesomenauts. Instead, cash is used to directly purchase new abilities, simplifying things somewhat. Your character will still have a numerical rank based on how much cash you’ve accumulated in order to compare yourself at a glance with others, which is useful when deciding whether or not to press an attack.
The abilities you purchase are immediately mapped to the face buttons, and using them is a simple process. Once an ability is purchased, it can be upgraded further with currency in order to give it new properties. For instance, I played a match as the agile Froggy G, who can learn a stunning forward dash. This can be upgraded to be used out of a jump, turning into a great move to ambush characters from an otherwise awkward angle.
If your hero bites the dust, you’ll lose some of your money, but you won’t be out of commission for long. Your hero will respawn in a rocket which gets launched from the top of the screen, prompting a small minigame in which you guide it to the ground collecting coins. It’s a fun way to keep players engaged while they’re dead, preventing long, boring stretches of staring at a screen as a lengthy respawn timer counts down.
Matches of Awesomenauts are 3-on-3 affairs, and the game utilizes some clever drop-in/drop-out mechanics that serve the quick, console-based nature of the game. Players can form 3-person teams locally to play online, or match themselves up with friends or strangers through matchmaking. There’s no need to wait for a full lobby to start, however – the game can launch with as little as one player. The AI will fill in the missing slots, and will be replaced with a live player once one is found. If a player drops from a match, the AI similarly takes over until another suitable human is found.
The sidescrolling nature paves the way for some interesting teamwork and tactics that are unique to Awesomenauts. For instance, players can take advantage of the enormous hitbox of the tanky Clunk by standing just behind him, peppering enemies with fire while letting him take the blunt of hostile blows. Players can try for last-ditch assassinations by literally leaping behind enemy lines, desperately seeking out that one last hit as an enemy hero limps away. It’s a much more action-focused, twitch-based approach that feels right at home on a console.
The visual style for Awesomenauts is immediately charming. It has a strong 80’s Saturday morning cartoon vibe for it, with a number of caricatures that are incredibly well drawn and animated. Breakdancing frogs with blaster pistols, monkeys with jetpacks, chameleons with laser swords, and a brain-in-a-jar that heals allies – it’s obvious that the team at Ronimo had a lot of fun designing this title.
Awesomenauts is looking to be a huge hit for people looking for a streamlined, action-heavy take on the DOTA formula. Matches are quick and fierce, are a blast to play, and are practically oozing with personality. It’s a title definitely worth checking out when it launches on the PlayStation Network May 1st and Xbox Live May 2nd.