Lives up to its title. (PC Review)
Many features of MOBA games are still present here. At the beginning of a match, you choose from a diverse cast of characters, beginning at Level 1 with initially limited abilities and low stats. Each team has a heavily fortified base on opposite ends of a symmetrical map, home to a core that must be destroyed to achieve victory. Making this task more difficult is a series of powerful defense turrets which automatically target and annihilate any opponent unlucky enough to step within their range. Patrolling each part the map to their inevitable doom are weak, AI controlled creatures known as creeps. Creeps serve a few purposes. Hostile targets can be killed to gain currency and experience for leveling up your character. This also clears a path for friendly creeps to pass, who will gladly act as meat shields against turrets, allowing you to attack with less risk of being fired upon.
To those familiar with the genre, this will all sound pretty basic. What separates Awesomenauts is the fact that the game takes place on a two dimensional plane, as opposed to an isometric viewpoint. Characters are controlled not with a mouse, but movement keys and have the ability to jump. To accommodate this, maps tend to be vertical in nature, featuring many platforms, floating health pick-ups, and jump pads. Some maps are more distinct than others, including "jungle" areas for ambushes or player-activated hazards. The different maps each have a gimmick that may be beneficial or detrimental to you depending on your character choice. The map choice is not decided by players, however, so you may find yourself at an unfair disadvantage outside of your control, which is never fun.
The playable cast is made up of various space creatures, mechs, and powerful humanoids set to the backdrop of a Saturday-morning cartoon show. Each one has a unique set of abilities and upgrades making them ideal for different situations in the 3-versus-3 team environment. The sheriff, Lonestar, can toss sticks of dynamite to keep foes at bay or knock them away by summoning a cyber-bull. Meanwhile, Clunk uses his massive health pool to self-destruct near enemies, then steal the life right back with a powerful bite. There are many others as well, each filling a certain role such as dealing damage-over-time or attacking from long range. Like the map decision, character choice is made without knowledge of the opposing team makeup. Same goes for upgrades, purchased mid-game using earned currency.
Characters have a small number of abilities, making it easy to pick them up even with little experience. Not all of these abilities are very well balanced though. There are some that simply deal extraordinary amounts of damage or have seemingly non-existent cooldowns, such as Raelynn's Snipe. Perhaps the worst are effects that hinder the player controlling the character, not just the character itself. Particularly evil is the Blind status that blacks out a large majority of the screen, narrowing your field of view tremendously. It is the type of occurrence one would expect from a randomness-fueled party game, such as Mario Kart, not a typical MOBA.
The less-competitive nature of Awesomenauts may scare away the hardcore crowd. Sometimes a bout may come down to bad luck or bad match-ups, not just skill. This is understandably not for everyone, but should appeal to the more laid-back folks just looking to have some fun with a couple friends through some online or local scrimmage games. At just $10, the barrier for entry is low enough that it is an easy recommendation for anyone interested in a simple, unique MOBA experience.