Most standard MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) games in the marketplace have a high learning curve and extreme depth to their gameplay. While these games can be rewarding to those who put the time and effort in, they are also very unforgiving and brutal. Awesomenauts challenges that formula by simplifying the MOBA gameplay, and sticking it into a 2D side-scrolling fast-paced platforming framework.
When you start the game it puts you through a simple tutorial to get you used to the basics of the game. It’s very simple, and everyone should run through it. Standard WASD controls, and use of the mouse to aim. Each battle after the tutorial is a fast paced 3-vs-3 arena match, where you choose from the very wild and colorful cast of “Nauts”. Unlike most other Free-to-Play MOBA games, Awesomenauts has no microtransactions (at time of launch). Which means when you purchase the game, you get full access to all features and ‘Nauts.
There is currently a cast of nine ‘Nauts to choose from. Each with their own personality and theme. Characters such as “Leon” the French Chameleon Assassin, the rowdy Space Cowboy “Sheriff Lonestar” with his big bull, or a Monkey with a Jetpack named “Yuri”. Each ‘Naut even has their own theme song to add to the flavor of the characters (my personal favorite is Froggy G). Awesomenauts includes a full audible taunt system for each ‘Naut that is usable during matches. These can be used for fun or annoyance (good or bad depending on how you look at it).
While you have full access to the game, it gates the choice of the ‘Nauts behind a leveling system. Each level gives you something to work towards, so it’s a nice incentive to keep you playing. As you play the game and level up you get access to new ‘Nauts or abilities for them. Leveling doesn’t take too terribly long as long as you can win a few matches. You get more experience for wins than losses.
Each match is a flurry of quick paced action. It’s a 3-vs-3 battle with the goal of trying to destroy the enemy “core”. Each side of the map is a mirror of the other. Of course it’s not as easy as just waltzing into the enemy base and attacking the core – you have to break through a handful of sturdy heavy-hitting turrets with the help of NPC minions/units before the core becomes vulnerable. Each map has a different layout of turrets and platforms, so gameplay is constantly changing from round-to-round. It’s important to work as a team in order to push for victory. If you work as individuals just trying to “kill players” the gameplay can grow stale and very boring.
During each match your ‘Naut will level up, and gain currency (called “Solar”) by killing enemy minions, players, and towers. Solar allows you purchase new abilities, equipment, and passive stat boosts. The levels you gain as a ‘Naut doesn’t seem to affect the gameplay as much as the equipment and ability upgrading does. Equipment and abilities really define how “good” your character is as the match progresses. Gaining Solar is very important in helping you get ahead.
Character snowballing can be a common thing in some matches, and tends to generally cause serious frustration for the opposing side (which you usually end up on the wrong side of!). It’s one of the downsides of Awesomenauts and is a common factor in all other MOBA games — so it’s unfortunately somewhat expected. Snowballing is when a particular ‘Naut racks up of a slew of kills, and “farms” Solar very efficiently so that his equipment and abilities are far above everyone else. This player will then single-handedly swing the game in their favor quickly, and become very frustrating or virtually impossible to play against. I found the most frustration playing against a snowballed Leon or Yuri.
One of my favorite features of Awesomenauts is the drop-in / drop-out system. If a player leaves the game, a decently skilled NPC Bot will take their place. And vice versa, eventually the NPC Bot will be replaced by an actual player. This is great system because it doesn’t cause an imbalance in the gameplay when a player disconnects. If you are playing a round and have to disconnect for some reason, you can do exactly that without impacting the other players too much.