Many of you are likely aware of the fast-growing and popular PC genre known as “MOBAs” (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas). Once only found as mods to RTS games, MOBAs have been taking the world by storm for the past few years, spawning communities numbering in the millions for games like League of Legends and DOTA 2. The nature of the games have mostly restricted them to the PC, as they usually feature a top-down view and allow players to look all around the map like an RTS. Recently released Awesomenauts, however, dares to ask why a MOBA can’t succeed in the console world.
As a gamer who plays MOBAs from time to time, the similarities and differences between your standard PC MOBA and Awesomenauts were readily noticeable. I’ll try to couch things in terms so that players who are both familiar and unfamiliar with the genre can follow. While MOBAs are traditionally 3D, Awesomenauts is 2D and somewhat reminiscent of a side-scrolling platformer. Instead of utilizing all-direction movement as a top-down MOBA does, Awesomenauts only exhibits forward and backward movement, but introduces jumping as a method to avoid or fake out (known as “juke”) enemies.
Full-screen mode for one local player
MOBAs traditionally have multiple “lanes,” each with a few towers. Awesomenauts adheres to this staple, boasting two lanes with two towers each per side. As map awareness is key in this type of game, a map is clearly displayed in an unobtrusive position. Red and blue players, minions, and towers are clearly marked on the map, so it’s easy to keep track of which tower is under attack. The goal of the game is the same as all MOBAs: players want to push down lanes, kill towers, and eventually kill the opposing team’s core. At the same time, they’ll have to defend against the other team doing this. Unlike other MOBAs, towers provide a physical barrier, and players can’t move past an intact enemy tower or attack enemies that are behind it. Awesomenauts also adds a few little cool platform twists into the game, such as health power-ups and environment traps.
Players get to choose between 6 different heroes, though they won’t all be available to play immediately (more on the unlock system later). All of the heroes possess a unique skill set of three different active skills, mapped to the X, Y, and B buttons. The A button is jump. Players will have to spend money (which they get both passively over time and from killing enemy heroes, minions, and towers) to purchase new skills and upgrades to skills. While Awesomenauts does not feature a traditional equipment system, it features a unique loadout system.
The loadout selection interface
Before entering a game, players get to choose their hero and their loadout. The loadout consists of 4 categories: upgrades to the X, Y, and B skills and passive hero upgrades (like more health or increased movement speed). The skill upgrades do things such as increase the damage of a skill, add an effect to it (e.g. silence or stun), and so on. In the loadout, players can only choose 3 upgrades per category out of an eventually potential 6 upgrades per category. This adds a healthy amount of customization to the game. One should note that just because an upgrade is chosen, doesn’t mean the hero gets to benefit from it right away. These upgrades are bought actively in each individual game, and some of them have multiple ranks. It acts as a more customizable way to level up a skill. In a traditional MOBA, players choose to level up a skill but the game dictates how the skill will get stronger. In Awesomenauts, players get to pick how they want it to get stronger through this upgrade system.
3-player local split-screen
Awesomenauts also features an account level-up system. This nets players access to new heroes and new upgrades for those heroes. Experience for this system is gained through playing games, with bonus XP being awarded for winning a match, playing split-screen, etc. New heroes are unlocked at relatively early levels, while the upgrade unlocks will require more of a time commitment. Fortunately, the upgrades seem pretty balanced, so the ones that are automatically granted at level one should serve fine. The unlockable upgrades seem to mostly be a way to provide increased customization, and don’t appear to be ridiculously stronger than the default ones.
On the mechanics side of things, Awesomenauts supports up to 3 players locally, online, or mixed in co-op. I played split-screen with one other player, and I found it to be very well implemented with a horizontal divide. Players can drop in or out at any time and be replaced by bots, which is great as players will never be forced to wait in a lobby for other players. The bots provide a decent (though probably not phenomenal) challenge for a relaxed game of comp-stomp. Unfortunately, there is no difficulty setting for the bots, excepting the difference between Practice Mode and a Private game with bots on the opposing side (the bots in Practice seem to be quite a bit easier). The lack of this setting is not entirely surprising (as the main focus is on PVP), but as many MOBAs do have it nowadays, I was slightly disappointed that Awesomenauts didn’t.
2-player local split screen
All in all, I would consider Awesomenauts a success of bringing the MOBA over to the console. It’s certainly more casual than other MOBAs, but on the console I think this was the right move. The graphics are colorful and fun, and the developers have added a healthy dose of humor and silliness to the game, which I found extremely appealing. On the plus side, the loadout and account level systems provide a nice amount of customization and sense of progression to the game, and the heroes feel substantially different from one another. There's also a few different maps to change things up a bit. On the minus side, a roster of 6 heroes is very low and the bot difficulty could be improved. These are mostly minor complaints, however, and they might not be lasting issues, as the developer already has a new hero in the works as well as a substantial balance patch. If you’re intrigued by the genre and want a nice light version to get you eased in, or if you’re already a MOBA fan and want a more casual, console version, I’d certainly recommend that you give Awesomenauts a whirl.
Editor's Note: A copy of Awesomenauts was provided for this Co-Optimus Co-Op Review by the publisher