Awesomenauts, at first glance, could be written off as a by-the-numbers kiddie-game. With visuals that resemble an early-nineties cartoon aimed at the under twelve crowd, and voice work that verges on the extreme end of caricature, anyone old enough to know what Biker Mice From Mars is may be immediately put off from an aesthetic perspective.
Pull back the glossy, saccharine art style, though, and Awesomenauts reveals itself as something worth getting stuck into, no matter what your age. Put the time in and the unlock system provides enough depth for you to legitimately experiment and employ various tactics. There comes a point where there is no ‘right’ way to achieve a certain goal, only how effective you are at thinking up a solution and executing it.
At its core this is a three vs. three multiplayer game, the goal being to destroy your opposition’s central drilling rig. On the way you’ll need to destroy the turrets guarding the drill, keep track of what your enemy is doing and provide adequate protection to your drill. Like with the majority of games in which destroying a set target is required to succeed, Awesomenauts requires a calculated approach. Anyone expecting to jump, dive straight in and win matches in a two-minute shower of bullets should think again. Strategy, practise and teamwork are the order of the day.
Part of getting the most from your team is understanding the various characters at play. Like fellow PSN/XBLA 2012 alumni Skullgirls, the emphasis here is on providing a select number of very well balanced characters rather than a hulking great just-for-the-sake-if-it roster of barely differentiated avatars. The team that can subtly blend the attributes of fast-shooting Lonestar, behemoth-tank Clunk, healer Voltar, water-wielder Froggy G and melee-focused Leon is the team that’ll come out on top.
There are a wide variety of different approaches to take. Voltar is effective as a healing station for Clunk who is dealing damage up close while Lonestar picks off targets from a safe distance. Alternatively, use Leon to clear away foot soldiers with Clunk acting as a mobile shield. There are other combinations, of course, and much will come down to the playing styles of those you’re playing with and against.
Because of the distinctive and deceptively complex way in which game and characters have been designed, you should always make the effort to play online with and against other real players. AI bot intelligence is not all that bad, but not all that good that it stands up as in any way comparable to human players. You can’t talk to bots, which means you can’t plan attacks and lead your foes into traps. Too often bots act with the utmost simplicity, simply walking straight into the battle without so much as a friend in sight.
Obviously, their lives do not tend to last long.
Extra characters and items are unlocked as you gain experience and level up. In true Call of Duty fashion, patience, as much as skill, yields great reward. Items can be purchased mid-game via a shop located at your base. Money, in the form of Solar, is sent to your wallet for each kill and can be used to unlock the usual staples of health, weapons and passive/active ability upgrades in various forms.
Again, all of these items are balanced with care and attention to detail which prevents any single one sticking out as the obvious choice and should result in a community with as diverse an approach to gameplay as any in this genre. In a further nod to the hoarding-through-unlocking approach mastered by Call of Duty, once you reach level 45 you have the option of resetting your account and starting over. It’s a ‘Prestige’ system without the fancy icons, instead a simple asterisk indicating that you’ve already done a whole lap of levels.
The downside to all of this depth is that the opening levels can be incredibly tough going, feeling very ‘grindy’ and requiring you to absorb everything you learn until all is mastered. For that reason, those looking for another jump-in-jump-out digital offering are likely to be disappointed and frustrated. If anything, Awesomenauts is representative of the fact that digital console games are no longer simply a way to pass the time before the next ‘AAA’ title turns up in the post.
Oddly, considering its vibrant nature and my soft spot for all things animated, Awesomenauts visuals were the last thing to entice me about it; despite the slow and steady nature of gameplay progression. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to them, but the intense palette and sharp outlines are now more associated with the game’s slick approach to design than after-school programming.
Like the style or not, the graphics do a great job of giving instant feedback as to which character is which, where your objective is based, who is winning, what weapons are being used and which areas of the maps are potentially dangerous.
There’s no doubting that crowds of tweens and parents are going to be drawn to Awesomenauts, seduced by the visuals and marketing materials. However, they’re going to be disappointed. This is a well-produced, well-thought out team-based shooter with more than enough to warrant the asking price.