Developer: Ronimo Games
Platforms: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
Reviewed on PlayStation 3
More than 1,500 years into the future, two robot civilizations are warring over resources, locked in an eternal stalemate as they fight to destroy one another's mines. These robots (conveniently divided into red and blue factions) are willing to go to any length to secure even the slightest advantage. To that end, they've hired the best mercenaries the year 3587 has to offer: the Awesomenauts!
Ronimo Games made a strong showing with Swords & Soldiers, a clever real-time strategy game that reduced the world in contention to a 2D-platformer (sometimes with a few branching paths). That choice distilled all the strategy into a few critical choices and management of a build queue. It was an elegant design and tremendous fun. Awesomenauts does the same for objective-based multiplayer shooters, and results in something about as much fun as (the ancient game) Joust. It's great for a few minutes, but surprisingly lacking in replayability and failed to keep me interested for long.
What Awesomenauts does have going for it is style. Awesomenauts is dripping with character. The voice acting may not be stellar, but the opening cinematic, illustrations and even the individual theme songs of the various characters capture the charm of a 1980s Saturday morning cartoon. Sheriff Lonestar sounds a bit like Chris Rock doing his best Sam Elliott impression, but I love the individual character themes, from Froggy G's frogsploitation rock to Leon's smooth (and cheesy) French anthem.
In Awesomenauts' three-on-three battles, you'll wade through a battlefield with limited paths to victory, take out fixed turret emplacements and ultimately destroy the other team's mining core. Each of the characters has a slightly different shot and jump, along with two special abilities. Those are supplemented by lots of unlockables to make everything yet more powerful, purchased with coins earned during play. You can try to farm coins to power up and overpower your foes, but that means not attacking their turrets (or defending your own) and usually loses the game before you begin.
Like any multiplayer game, you have to know the maps. Knowing how to heal, where to jump and which is the fastest route are the keys to victory in a well-balanced game. The first games I joined were filled with strong players, so it was half an hour before I had much idea what was going on. The different Awesomenauts have advantages against one another, but since you can't change to a different Awesomenaut midgame, you can get (slightly) screwed. By the time I'd learned the ropes, there wasn't much left to explore or enjoy, save an endless stream of (uninteresting) unlockables that I could grind for hours to unlock.
Some of these were interesting. You begin with only three characters unlocked, and Awesomenauts' most exciting diversity comes from the Awesomenaut characters themselves. There are three maps, but one is only unlocked after a lot of play. Then there are a lot of minor enhancements. Some of these grant a serious advantage over newbies, but are only unlocked if a match grinds on far longer than most that I played, so are largely inconsequential. The only meaningful unlock was fairly early, and granted a bunch of free coins at the onset of battle (at the expense of an item that was never worth purchasing). There are a ton of unlockables, but after discovering the characters, none worth caring about.
Awesomenauts is cute, but unremarkable, and if you have any interest you'd better play now. It's a multiplayer game that will almost surely be a wasteland in the near future. You can play against bots, but they aren't creative or challenging. Awesomenauts' style is... well... awesome. The play is... adequate.