Awesomenauts fits into the Action Real-Time Strategy (ARTS) genre, or as many gamers have come to know it, the DotA genre. This particular genre has become increasingly popular in recent years and began with a mod for PC game Warcraft III called Defense of the Ancients. The gameplay in this genre is relatively straightforward. Players need to destroy the opposing team’s base with the help of computer-controlled units that will periodically spawn. These units are very simple and will march towards the enemy’s base in a pre-defined path. They are also relatively easy to destroy but are essential in some way to the success of your team.
The traditional ARTS game employs a top-down camera. Uber Entertainment’s Monday Night Combat introduced third person shooters to the genre, but Awesomenauts really challenges the status quo by playing as a side-scrolling ARTS game. While the announcement of a side-scrolling ARTS game gave some people doubts as to whether it could work, the moment of truth has finally arrived. Has Ronimo Games successfully incorporated side-scrollers into the ARTS genre? Let’s take a look.
The basic story behind the game is that rival factions are trying to obtain a valuable resource called Solar. The two factions hire mercenaries (the player) to help them sabotage their competition.
Each teams consists of three mercenary units. There are a total of six possible units to choose from:
- Froggy G has short-range attacks. It feels like he is designed for harassment and crowd control rather than outright killing units. He’s like a mini-tank with a tiny gun.
- Lonestar is a medium-range fighter. He is probably the most balanced character. He can push bots (literally push, as in they are knocked backwards), blow things up with dynamite, and he is generally pretty durable.
- Leon is a melee fighter. He has the potential to be one of the more fun characters to play due to his ability to stealth. He is fast and can jump very high.
- Clunk is the tank. He can buff his health with an ability that allows him to simultaneously do damage and heal himself. The attack can also be upgraded to increase Clunk’s health with each attack, giving him the largest health pool in the game. He can explode and take out multiple minions and has a powerful ranged attack.
- Voltar is the healer. He has very little offensive capability and relies on healing to get Solar. He is very squishy but has the potential to completely turn the tide of a game.
- Yuri is support. He can hover in the air, shoots lasers, and drop mines. He can also slow enemies while speeding up and healing allies.
Only three of these units are available at the start: Froggy G, Lonestar, and Leon. Units are unlocked as players level up and experience is awarded based on how much Solar is obtained in a match with a bonus granted if your team wins.
Once the game begins, players start on either the left or right side of the map next to their drill core. The first team to destroy their enemy’s drill core wins. Players are prevented from immediately reaching their enemy’s drill core with the presence of enemy turrets. Players can freely pass through friendly turrets but cannot pass through enemy turrets until they are destroyed. In addition to physically blocking access to the enemy’s drill core, turrets also do a large amount of damage to players. Even mercenaries with large health pools will last a short time under direct fire by a turret.
Instead, the best strategy is to protect small bots that automatically spawn throughout the game. While these bots are easy for players to destroy, when approaching a turret they will raise a shield and give players an opportunity to attack the turret without coming under fire themselves. Escorting these bots is the key to winning.
All of the maps have two main horizontal levels occupied by turrets and bots. Players must be constantly prepared to switch between the levels to exploit a team’s weakness or bolster their own defense. There is also an area where neutral bots will spawn. These bots die very quickly and restore health to players. The neutral areas also have boss style enemies that will deliver a lot of damage but grant Solar and restore health when defeated.
Solar is used to purchase new abilities and upgrades at a store located safely behind your team’s drill core. If at any point during the game the player would like to visit the store to purchase an upgrade, they can do so by holding a button and teleporting there. The teleportation process takes a few seconds to complete and it leaves players vulnerable to attack until the process finishes. Once at the store however, health begins to regenerate.
Upon reaching level 2, players can customize loadout options for their mercenaries. These loadouts are the possible upgrades available to mercenaries from the store once a match has begun. Dying results in a personal loss of Solar while making it available for teammates or enemies to retrieve. The time it takes for players to get back into the game after they die increases as the game goes on.
The introduction cinematic makes you feel like you are watching a cartoon from the 80’s, but you know what? It works. The art direction is charming and fits the mood of the game quite well. The achievements (or trophies on the PS3) are named after cartoons from the 80’s and 90’s. Most notably: Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Power Rangers, and G.I. Joe.
Anyone who has read my articles in the past knows I have a big issue with games these days because of the inability to read text on non-HD televisions, so I have to call Ronimo Games out for that. However, their saving grace is a utility that allows players to shrink the screen size of the game to ensure the entire thing is on display and not being cut off at the sides. If there is anything I hate more than not being able to read text, it is not knowing the text exists in the first place.
I went into the game being a fan of another ARTS, Monday Night Combat. I am the type of player that will willingly die if it means making any progress towards the objective, no matter how small. In Monday Night Combat that would mean getting a few shots in on a turret knowing that after a few deaths I would destroy it. In objective gametypes like Halo’s Capture the Flag, I am the type of player who will grab the flag, even though it is surrounded by the enemy, and move it a foot forward just to make sure the flag does not reset. It is a kind of attrition warfare.
While playing Awesomenauts, I tried to gravitate towards a mercenary unit that would allow for that type of gameplay. The closest I could get with three initial units was Lonestar. His ability to call forth a bull and push back enemy players and bots allowed me to clear a path for my own bots to get to the turret. Once there I was able to do some damage to the turret before dying or being forced to retreat and replenish health. The other two units seem better suited to kill enemy players or defend a single location.
Playing as Lonestar was fun, but nothing special. I began to have a lot of fun when I unlocked Clunk, the tank unit. One of Clunk’s special abilities is called self-destruct, but the name is a bit misleading. It does not automatically kill Clunk, it just deals a lot of damage to anyone around him, himself included. From the games I played, an upgraded self-destruct is enough to kill Voltar, the healing unit, in a single hit. Self-destruct is also very useful when enemy bots swarm a turret because they can all be taken out very quickly.
My favorite game so far happened on a map called Sorona. I was playing as Clunk and the enemy’s turret was being defended by a duo playing Lonestar and Voltar. Lonestar was preventing any of my team’s bots from getting close to the turret and Voltar was making it impossible for me to kill Lonestar. Any attempt to kill Voltar resulted in him retreating temporarily behind the safety of the turret. While the duo was doing an excellent job of defending their turret they did not have the firepower to push forward on the offensive. I felt stuck.
So I decided to repeatedly assault their turret with a self-destruct in order to make some progress. Having high armor and a large health pool, Clunk was able to survive the turret and Lonestar long enough to use self-destruct, but the resulting health loss was usually too much for me and I died. The duo did not deviate from their strategy and eventually the turret went down, much to their disappointment. My team went on to win shortly thereafter.
Clunk has been my unit of choice ever since.
In all the games I have played, not once have I felt a particular unit was underpowered or there was a “best” team composition. All the units have their strengths and weaknesses and above all, they bring something different to the table. There are even counter moves to certain unit abilities. For example, Leon’s slash will disable Yuri’s jetpack. Playing against AI opponents gets frustrating though.
The AI team will stick together and constantly attack in unison. I know that is what a team is supposed to do, but the AI does it in a way that feels like it is cheating. The only big thing going against the AI is that it seems it is programmed to retreat when low on health no matter how low their opponent is. Where a human controlled unit would know they will win a particular fight, the AI will retreat even if their opponent is one hit away from death. There is also no ability to choose AI difficulty level so jumping into the game initially had a steep learning curve. Practice mode would have been much improved with a scaling AI difficulty setting.
The other frustrating part of AI units is they will steal your kills. There are no assists in the game. The unit that gets the killing blow will get all the benefits from the kill. For example, suppose a player is engaged in one to one combat with another unit and that unit begins to retreat. If another teammate kills the unit, they will get the Solar/health restoration. In cases where the teammate is AI controlled, it is almost always going to waste. Splitting the reward among everyone who contributed to the kill would make it less frustrating.
Despite there being room for improvement, Awesomenauts does a good job incorporating the elements of an ARTS into the side-scrolling world. If you are a fan of the genre, this game provides you with a unique and fun experience. While I found Clunk to be the unit for me, I am confident there is a unit to match almost everyone’s playstyle.