Publisher: dtp entertainment / Developer: Romino / Price: 800 MSP / Played on: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Teen [Violence, Blood]
Have you ever wanted to give that whole “DotA” thing a try, but didn’t know where to start? The new downloadable title on XBLA and PSN, Awesomenauts, has you covered. DotA, for those who don’t know, stands for “Defense of the Ancients,” and started its life as a player-made mod for Warcraft III.
Since its creation, it’s spawned legions of dedicated fans, and has grown beyond the boundaries of mere mod to become a bona fide genre. Regardless of whether or not you’ve played any DotA-based games yourself, Awesomenauts offers a stripped-down, 2D, strategy-platformer that mostly stands on its own. But after a while, some may tire of its one-note gameplay.
For those not down with DotA, the core concept behind Awesomenauts is pretty simple: two teams of three players must destroy the other team’s home base, which is at the left- or right-most side of the screen. Blocking each team’s paths are massive gun-turrets which auto-fire at any incoming enemies. It’s up to you to attack enemy’s turrets and defend your own dynamically, knowing when to press the attack or fall back.
Each team can also attack members of the other team, while each side automatically manufactures attack drones that act as bullet-sponges against turrets, opening up opportunities for you to take them out. All in all, the basic gameplay mechanic is simple enough that it takes only a few minutes to figure out, but offers lots of strategic push and pull to keep you on your toes.
You can unlock a total of six characters (though the game promises that more characters are on the way from the developer), and each fill different roles on the team. There’s a slow, damage-soaking tank with medium range, a close-range, stealth-melee assassin, a healer with underpowered offense, and more.
At the start of every match, the characters start at level one and become more powerful as they play, collecting “lunar,” the game’s collectible in-game currency. Lunar is cashed in for power-ups at each team’s starting areas. While the in-match leveling helps keep matches relatively balanced every time, you’ll have out-of-game leveling as well that doesn’t reset, making new characters and power-ups available.
That’s pretty much it, and that lack of differentiation is one of the two main issues I had with the game. The stages don’t offer much variety, though they do have different layouts from time to time (some have three turrets while others have four, and once in a while there’s a stage-based hazard, like the pit-worm that’s reminiscent of the sarlaac pit in Return of the Jedi).
Each match is more or less the same every time, with no variants in modes like one might find in other online multiplayer games, like Gotham City Imposters, for instance, which threw in a few different versions of its “kill everyone” style of gameplay.
I really would’ve enjoyed some variety in this regard, especially because the story is pretty much non-existent, and not really even worth mentioning.
I’m sure folks who are hooked on the DotA formula could really get a kick out of this, and matches can get pretty thrilling when they’re close. But each match goes more or less the same way every time: one team wins, one team loses, repeat.
The strength of Awesomenauts comes mostly from its reliance on multiplayer gaming. While single player games can be played with the rest of the positions being filled by AI controlled bots, it’s generally more fun with human players, preferably friends.
For about two hours, I was lucky enough to get randomly placed with a duo that was playing from one console (the game allows for local multiplayer mixed with online), and the three of us demolished our competition match after match. Of course, later on when I played with Lawrence on my team, who had just started playing and only had a few characters at his disposal, that same duo managed to crush us every time.
That’s the other main issue with Awesomenauts: if you’re new, you’re going to get destroyed. Unless you know the ins and outs of the game’s mechanics, you’ll always fall victim to more experienced players.
That can be solved by either joining up with said experienced players (as I did for that two hour stretch), or just grinding and grinding to gain in level to try and unlock a loadout that suits your style of play and compensates for your weaknesses. I’m sure if you’ve got five other like-minded friends, this game is good for hours of fun. But for more casual, non-DotA-fan players, it might not seem particularly welcoming for a while.
The controls in Awesomenauts are pretty easy to get the hang of, with jump mapped to A, attack mapped to X, and special powers that get bought at the store mapped to Y and B. You can also teleport back to your home base to hit the store or regenerate your health by holding down the right bumper, but there’s a decent amount of wait-time where you have to hold still and avoid getting hit, making strategic retreats an integral part of the gameplay as well.
The characters respond well to the controls themselves, and each character has a different feel that’s reflected in the way they move and attack. And upgrades to a character’s movement also offer immediate results, meaning that you never feel disconnected from what’s going on in the game at all. Solid stuff here.
The first element that struck me about Awesomenauts was its colorful, 2D-animated style. It’s immediately attractive, and fun to watch the characters fight it out. The character designs, too, are pretty fun, though it’s hard to ignore some of the more tired stereotypes being trotted out here (A hip-hop frog-man! A cowboy-hatted Texan! A Russian space-monkey!). The game even starts with a crazy, 1980s cartoon-style animated intro, which sets the tone for the game’s frenetic action pretty well.
And while there’s nothing bad about any of what you see, you see the same thing over and over. The game’s monotony carries over into the visuals as well, at its most obvious when you realize that the other team has the same set of characters to choose from, differentiated only by a color swap. A few times I got confused, forgetting which side I was on and getting killed by who I thought was a friendly but turned out to be a foe.
That’s probably on me—after playing for a few hours, your eyes can get a little fuzzy. But I would’ve liked it if the characters from the other team sported some more notable differences than just wearing either red or blue outfits. Why not have a version of the cowboy without a hat? Or give one of the guys an eyepatch?
Costume customization could’ve been a nice touch, too, though I understand that’s not so easy with 2D sprites. Even still, stages and characters eventually just blend into a feeling of sameness that’s difficult to ignore.
The aforementioned animated introduction is wonderful, and features a catchy and over-the-top theme song boldly heralding the coming of the Awesomenauts with electric guitars. Then the first (and only) cutscene starts, and we get some of the worst voice acting featured in a game in quite some time.
After that, most of the characters’ voices—again, keeping with the broad regional stereotypes covered in the previous section—are only heard during the game itself amid the chaos of gunfire and explosions. For the most part, the voices don’t do much to detract from the game, and once in a while they may elicit a chuckle (I personally enjoy the German-accented brain-in-a-jar guy).
Sadly, the in-game music never achieves the greatness that the opening cutscene teases. The songs are pretty forgettable, though not annoying in any way. The sound effects also get the job done, but after a while, the endless explosions and lasers just fade into the background with the rest of the game’s repetitiveness.
Some gamers thrive on familiarity—that’s why we can see new versions of military FPS games come out every year to blockbuster sales. Awesomenauts is laudable for taking the tried and true formula of DotA and repackaging it as something more attractive and approachable to players who’ve never tried that style of game before.
But in the end, as fun as that formula is, it’s very rarely elevated above it. If you dig DotA and want to play a streamlined version of that game on a console, Awesomenauts will deliver big time.
But don’t be surprised when, well, you wind up never being surprised.