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The desire to simply summarise Awesomenauts with the phrase ‘League of Legends in 2D’ is strong but that would betray how much of an impact the graphical viewpoint affects the gameplay.
The expected elements of a MOBA are present. You choose a character from a roster of creatures, each of which have a variety of abilities and powers. Then in matches consisting of 3v3, you and your team must make your way across the screen to destroy the opposition’s drillcore. On the way however, you must pass through a series of strong and powerful automated turrets which will hold you back and destroy you quickly. Each team also continuously spawns computer-controlled minions (droids in this case) which work their way to your goal, attacking turrets along the way. Positioning yourself behind your minions affords you a precious few seconds where you can attack the turrets whilst their fire is focussed away from you. This all goes on whilst the opposing team attempts to do the same, causing an ebb and flow between your offense and defense as you try to co-ordinate your push forward without letting too much ground slip away behind you. Whichever team destroys the drillcore first wins.
Throughout the matches, your character is levelled up with new abilities and improved stats by accumulating ‘Solar’, which is accomplished by killing minions, opposing team members and taking turrets down. If you or your team mates die, the opposing team reaps the benefit of a Solar bonus. This makes the gung-ho approach a wasteful and poor choice of tactic and makes for more strategic and resourceful gameplay as wanton deaths make for faster levelling for the other team – and ultimately, your loss of the match.
This is often a point of contention in MOBA games as experienced players become quickly irate, branding those who die repeatedly and foolishly as ‘feeders’, for their actions feed currency to the opposition. MOBAs generally have a really poor reputation for hostile communities and being unwelcoming to new players, and my experience with other titles would suggest that this is clearly the case.
I can state that so far, throughout my online experiences with the PC version of Awesomenauts, I haven’t experienced any of the vitriol and BS that usually comes from MOBA communities, however that may be as a result of the community being relatively small compared to the F2P behemoths. I’d like to think it’s because the cartoony graphical style makes for a happier environment…
Fundamentally, the change from 3D means that the traditional ‘lanes’, found in most MOBAs, are replaced with differing levels of platform, this means moving up and down between levels is much easier and quicker than refocussing to a different lane in something like League of Legends. This makes for a much more frantic and tight experience as teams can provide back up to an individual in a short space of time. This is a subtle but welcome change in mechanic which suits the gameplay and the close-knit feel of the battle arenas.
Graphically, Awesomenauts shines as a bold, colourful and stylish experience. The animation quality is high and even when the action becomes chaotic, the graphical style means it remains possible to easily distinguish each player and what is actually taking place. Some may be dismissive of the title based on screenshots, but the action is just a pure as you could hope for, with a fresh presentation which is infinitely more appealing to sofa-gaming. Incidentally, I’ve played this with an Xbox 360 controller, but the mouse-keyboard combo is well-catered for and both are preferable to the incessant mouse-clicking which is so frequently heard when playing the big name MOBAs.
Other elements of note include the mini-game that takes place upon spawning (and respawning) where steering your avatar back to the action in a rocket pod means you have the opportunity to pick up a few extra Solar – removing some of the tedium from the usual wait to return to the action. The audio is also well suited to the gameplay and graphical style of the game, with musical cues and phrases adding to the action and remaining upbeat, whilst sometimes offering gentle humour to proceedings.
The only real letdown is the relatively short roster of characters available, with about 10 currently playable. Whilst the differing abilities suit many play styles, titles like DOTA 2 can boast of a roster numbering nearly 100. This is likely to expand with time however, as introducing extra characters is a common route of microtransactions in this genre.
Overall, the game offers a fresh, inviting take on a traditionally tough, uninviting and sometimes overwhelming genre. The gameplay is engaging and well presented and most importantly, it’s at a great price.
Oh – and did I mention the splitscreen option that can be played online? That’s so rare these days that it almost makes it a compulsory purchase. If you have real flesh-and-bone friends of course.
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