Awesomenauts – review
Often, ahead of a multiplayer game’s release, reviewers are offered a scheduled time to meet with and compete against members of the development team online in order to approximate the general public’s experience. It’s never quite a ‘true’ approximation, of course, as the developers have the benefit of months, perhaps years of experience with their creation – and all of the intimate knowledge of strategies, shortcuts and cheats that come with it.
The reviewer, meanwhile, arrives at the game fresh and inexperienced, groping through the systems, always playing catch-up. Shrewd developers account for this disparity, handicapping themselves in order to level the playing field and allow the newcomer to feel a sense of progress. After all, even the least petulant player eventually tires from repeated losses at the hands of an expert.
“Will you please stop rushing the enemy and giving them free resources. Heal more.”
Jasper from Ronimo’s Xbox Live message was sharp, snappy and made little attempt to mask his frustration at my inexperience – a greenness that was threatening to cost us the match. It’s the kind of frank exchange that happens every day when playing in the wilds of Xbox Live (albeit usually seasoned with more racism and expletives) but one rarely delivered by a game developer wearing kid gloves while trying to provide a reviewer with the best possible online experience.
But Awesomenauts is the kind of game that raises tension between players who fail to work together as a team, and Ronimo Games cares too much about Awesomenauts to deal in niceties. The message reveals two important things: the developer’s passion, not only for the game but also for the sense of competition and comradeship the game fosters; and Awesomnauts’ capacity to raise passions to fever pitch. And Jasper was right. I was rushing the enemy too much, giving away free resources in my gung-ho play style, and, ultimately, losing us the match. Sore from the reprimand, I changed tactics – and we found victory.
MOBA – short for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena – is a clunky umbrella term, but the style of game it represents is anything but marginal. Riot Games’ League of Legends, the preeminent MOBA, is the biggest game in the world today, its community dwarfing even that of Minecraft – some feat for a style of game that arose from a Warcraft mod released in 2003.
Wherever there is creative success, creative subversion is quick to follow, and Awesomenauts is a 2D indie cartoon antidote to the po-faced, inscrutably nerdish visuals of that original mod, Defense of the Ancients, and its ilk. It’s the first 2D, side-scrolling MOBA, the sharp competitive core of the genre softened with a 1980s Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic and giant, pin-sharp sprites that ooze character and humour.
You can read the rest of this review over at Eurogamer here