- Ronimo Games
- dtp Entertainment
Made2Game Awesomenauts Review Score: 7/10
Formats: PS3 (PSN), Xbox 360 (XBLA)
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360
Developer: Ronimo Games
Publisher: dtp Entertainment
Review by: Mick Fraser
I was born in 1981, and as such I grew up entertained by some genuine classics: He-Man, Thundercats, Brave Star, Roland Rat, to name but a few… Most gamers my age will have fond memories of sitting cross-legged in front of the telly, bowl of Coco Pops snapping and crackling on the carpet, eyes glued to Transformers, or Dino Riders, or The Centurions. Even now, married with a family of my own, I can remember the stress-free bliss of those early days.
But while these childhood staples have relevance to this review (even Roland, I suppose) my actual reason for referencing Saturday morning TV is not an attempt to recapture the warm, fuzzy demeanour of the pleasant, hopeful, daydreaming ten year old that I was, but to remind those who can be reminded of Captain Bucky O'Hare.
In another dimension, another time and space, a parallel universe was falling on its face; when out of the chaos, who else could it be, but the animal adventurers of S.P.A.C.E. – or so sang the theme tune in all its overblown guitar-riffing glory. Among the wacky characters on the show were a psychic cat and a four-armed, gun-slinging duck, and their job each week was to save the galaxy from an empire of evil toads using explosions and thinly-veiled adult humour. If you've played Awesomenauts, you'll understand why I was reminded of Bucky et al while playing.
Where that cartoon took its inspiration from a comic series, Awesomenauts instead draws on Warcraft III mod Defence of the Ancients, but the similarities in tone, aesthetics and manic abandon shouldn't be totally ignored. There's a familiarity with Awesomenauts that you feel immediately, purely because of its Saturday morning cartoon atmosphere.
The multiplayer brawler setup is incredibly simple even if the execution is not, with the goal in each round being the destruction of your enemy's spawn point whilst defending your own. Though Awesomenauts is a far cry from subtle, it is decidedly tactical thanks to the variety of crazy characters on offer, from a dynamite-lobbing space cowboy or dagger-wielding lizard, to a psychotic monkey with a jetpack or a sentient brain in a jar.
They all come with a selection of unique skills and abilities, too. For example the cowboy, Sheriff Lonestar, can hurl sticks of dynamite and unleash a ghostly bull to push back encroaching enemies, and Voltar the preserved brain can heal his allies. The opposite team is made up of a grab bag of the same characters, helpfully colour-coded red to your blue or vice-versa. Certain Awesomenauts are better matched than others, and a decent, varied squad is essential.
The stages are fairly small, multi-level arenas, wherein several huge turrets protect the routes to each side's base. Destroying the turrets opens up these routes, and destroying the base wins the game. Completing objectives and scoring kills rewards you with Solar, a form of glowing currency used to unlock and upgrade special attacks – though a sudden untimely death will rob you of what you've collected so far.
What little story there is takes place over a thousand years in the future, where constant war between two robotic armies necessitates the intervention of a group of wise-cracking space-faring mercenaries known as the Awesomenauts. It's a serviceable premise that gives the concept legs, but beyond that the story plays very quiet second fiddle to the drop-in drop-out co-op madness. In actual fact, a dedicated story would probably just get in the way.
The 2D platformer aesthetics make navigating the levels a doddle, but the lack of a third dimension means you can easily get buried beneath a mess of explosions, turret bots and off-the-wall space nutters. There's also a degree of repetition that can become grating after extended periods of play, meaning Awesomenauts is a game best enjoyed in shorter spurts.
Unfortunately, some of the matches can drag on – particularly if the teams are evenly matched. There's no default timer, so a battle will rage eternal unless one side wins. Thankfully, bounding around the levels unleashing weird special attacks and using little toddling turret bots for cover has a certain charm to it.
The bright visual style is reminiscent of Earthworm Jim or the less well-received Zack Zero, mixing sharp colours with simple animations and a quirkiness all its own. The soundtrack is great, too, the selection of tracks blended with chortle-some, character-specific sound-bytes further reinforcing the off-kilter style.
Where Awesomenauts falls down for me – and I realise I may be in the minority here – is in its lack of real variety. Yes, the characters are wacky, yes, the combat is intentionally simple – but after three hours of play, having unlocked all the characters, I felt I'd seen all there was to see. After that it just became about frantic jumping and shooting over and over and, despite the bright colours and silly characters, my imagination began to feel a little starved of nourishment.
Maybe it's not my genre, or perhaps I approached it expecting something other than what I got, but for whatever reason I found it hard to immerse myself in the world of Awesomenauts, and couldn't discern a reason for bring there other than shooting big blue turrets before my big red ones exploded. Experimenting with the single player practice mode yielded similar results, to the point where it didn't make much difference whether I was shooting bots or players. Perhaps I was simply waiting for a wow moment that never came, the kind of one-off fluke insta-kill or unforgettable five minute grudge-battle that often defines a multiplayer game. Instead, I just kept shooting and jumping and wondering if I was making a difference.
Played with friends, Awesomenauts can provide a lot of fun – and post-pub it's brilliant – but it definitely works best in small doses. For me, Awesomenauts is little more than a time-killer, something to fire up for ten minutes when I've got ten minutes to waste. Which is not to say it's not great at what it does – just that what it does is all it does, and as such it’s unlikely to appeal to everyone.
As a piece of nostalgia-evoking fun, it’s peerless. The zany, self-aware humour and the gaggle of deliberately unusual protagonists ensures that you never once forget you’re playing a game and should be having fun, even if that fun can occasionally feel a little stale and repetitious. Still, if Awesomenauts ultimately leaves you hankering after something from your childhood, we thankfully live in the Age of the Internet, where no forgotten TV treasure remains buried for long. When you’re done with Sheriff Lonestar and his motley crew making no real sense, go watch a few episodes of Bucky O’Hare or Brave Star and watch it all fall into place.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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