Back at Eurogamer Expo last year, developers Ronimo had monitors set up to show off their then upcoming XBLA title. It was colourful, instantly playable and nailed that 16-bit sensibility. Here’s what I had to say:
A hit at this year’s E3, Awesomenauts astonished many people with its fine blend of addictive gameplay, balanced combat and requisite for team work…With three players capable of playing via split-screen from one console, there is scope for long nights in with a few friends (with an internet connection). Awesomenauts is a team-based downloadable title that is destined to be a great success.
Awesomenauts, after some close-to-the-bone publishing predicaments, has finally made it onto the marketplace. Opening with a cinematic that plays homage to children’s cartoons both old and new, catchy theme tune and blurred backgrounds present, you’re cast deep into a future war. About 5000 years into the future, in fact. And as with all apparent futures, people haven’t evolved past violently disagreeing over which colour is superior – there’s a war going on between red and blue and it’s your job to tilt the scales in the paying party’s favour.
Fully embracing classic stereotypes, there’s Leon Chameleon, a lizard complete with French accent and a penchant for womanising, Voltar, an Austrian scientist with dubious political leanings (Schwarzenegger quotes intact), and the all-American, moustache-wearing, gun-toting, cigar-smoking Sherrif Lonestar, plus more. Leaping into the colourful costume of one of the six unlockable mercenaries, your pay cheque awaits should you survive.
And with that, the side-scrolling battle begins. Each team of three has to wrestle into the opposing base, destroying defensive turrets, collecting Solar (currency), doing a spot of weekend killing, and finally giving the rival power station a ruddy good seeing to. In short; annihilate everything in the conflicting colour. Not far from the wars of current day, eerily enough. Worry not though, as Ronimo is making no subversive commentary on war, and has provided a co-operative title that succeeds in the aim of creating a smooth, enjoyable romp.
The arenas where the carnage occurs are symmetrical, and displayed clearly upon the in-game map. Fired down in a launch pod from the mothership – collecting bonus Solar during the trajectory – you crash land onto the battlefield and march forward. The balance and tactics come from each of the unique character traits. Every character has strengths and weakness, with several independent skills. During a pre-battle load out you can select and save preferences within these abilities: Each one has a few distinctive boosts that can be levelled up during combat.
The simplicity does reduce the amount of customisation options when setting your preferences, so those looking for an in-depth system may be disheartened. What this does allow for is a system that is well balanced, prior to any further updates. To help destroy defensive turrets, droids are continuously constructed and dispatched by ally headquarters. They cast shields to protect against incoming fire and distract defensive artillery whilst you launch your attacks. Raze an enemy turret and a super-droid fortified with a rocket launch is deployed as a bonus to help you push on. Sounds easy, but the trick is that the opposing force is doing exactly the same.
Leon Chameleon is an assassin who can turn invisible and deal huge amounts of damage to other players, but is weak against turrets, Clunk is a Cyberdemon prototype, launching a volley of three rockets and shrugging off huge sums of incoming fire, while Voltar can be powered up to have absolutely no attack power but the capacity to heal allies. These examples show the ease of putting together a strong unit. However, with both sides having the same options, co-operative play is vital, as was proven during one particular battle…
Joining a skirmish already under way as Voltar, there was an instant Solar bonus based upon the squad’s progress so far. Maxing out healing capabilities, and using the leftover change for a few defence droids, it was time to issue medical supplies on a ludicrous scale. No sooner had my shopping trip ended when a sign called out: Warning! Your base is under attack! Wonderful; this’ll be a rapid loss. Then my eye caught a gap in the map. A few droids were attacking the adversary’s turret uninterrupted as we were under the final attack.
Leaving – not abandoning – my squadron defending our base, Voltar dashed forward, cloak drifting behind, installing a healing pod and patching up the droids as they buzz-sawed the giant Gatling gun-toting tower into shrapnel. By this time, several other droids had been deployed and were joining the autonomous assault. Leading a miniature army of metallic friends, the enemy was taken completely by surprise. A quick taunt followed by an ‘Attack!’ callout – signalling my location on the map for my team to see – saw reinforcements pour in and a completely unexpected victory. It felt great.
One of Awesomenauts’ greatest assets is the online setup; it’s solid. Instead of a lobby system, you automatically connect with the best game available. If no games are accessible, a fresh campaign is created with bots that any new players will join. At the end of each round you can leave or wage war once more with the same member. It’s a flawless system that means there is always a game available online, and even when it’s quiet there are versatile bots to battle against while you await a carbon foe.
Whilst the online code is often sound, bar the occasional time the game fails to find a new host, it does rely completely on the human element. Join a team that is leaping about without focus and it can become frustrating as you’re repeatedly trounced by your opposition; compounded further if they’re working together as a solid unit. Or, alternatively, with only one human on each side, it’s down to who picked the strongest solo character: your AI companions will be off doing their own thing. The flip-side is that when you do play with friends you’ll see exactly how the game was meant to be experienced.
There is one fault and a missed opportunity that must be made clear. The lack of local competitive split-screen is a mistake, and one that could have easily been remedied. Whilst balancing issues and peaking at each other’s screens are both valid concerns, it’s not enough to disregard this option. It never stopped endless hours being poured into classic console first-person shooters. Not being able to play two-on-two with a bot each as back-up – when the game has everything ready to support this setup – is a shame. Add an offline mode which is uninspiring, and it’s one that you will certainly need a friend to play with.
The missed opportunity comes with the music. Both fine and functional, there are no mistakes made, and the individual character themes are cute, but after the cult following that the soundtrack to Nicolas Winding-Refn’s Drive has had – and growing interest in 70’s/80’s genre music – a full blown synthesiser score would have made this an aural delight; especially when it’s hinted at from the menu theme, one that itself would not be misplaced as a jovial alternative take from Douglas McKeown’s The Deadly Spawn.
Sure, it carries with it some hereditary issues of the 16-bit era – lack of depth and flattened when playing without a friend – but when it works Awesomenauts is a needed break. For those of us that spent many adolescent summers playing Worms, General Chaos and TimeSplitters 2, rather than oglingthrough borrowed copies of FHM, taking part in underage drinking at the local park, and chasing sexual encounters, this will be an absolute delight that grasps that older generation sensibility and brings it bang-up-to-date.