First, let’s start things off with a bit of backstory. The year is 3587, and it’s an era of perpetual war. All across the universe, gigantic armies of robots clash with one another over deposits of a mysterious resource known only as Solar. At the center of this conflict is a collective of mercenaries known only as the Awesomenauts. Though each individual ‘naut has their own reason for fighting, most of them are there for one reason: glory.
Although it’s a platformer, Awesomenauts follows a formula that MOBA veterans will find immediately familiar – though it is by necessity pared down a bit. On either side of a map, you have two teams of three, each one trying to destroy the other team’s Solar Drill in order to achieve victory. They’re assisted in this by small armies of robots which spawn at regular intervals. Like I said, sounds pretty familiar, right?
Where Awesomenauts varies from other MOBAs is in its core mechanics.
You start the match by playing through a small minigame in which you’re falling from space in a drop pod. You’re able to control the descent of this pod, picking small deposits of Solar out of the air as you do so. You’ll also be doing this every time you die.
There might be as many as three different paths you can take to reach your opponent’s drill, with neutral creeps and traps scattered throughout. Furthermore, characters don’t really have access to items: instead, Solar (which is gained by destroying towers, killing creeps, and killing other Awesomenauts) is used to upgrade your abilities and level up your character – take care which upgrades you choose, as you’ll max out at 12. Characters also passively generate a small amount of Solar over time while alive.
Speaking of characters, roles in Awesomenauts tend to be very fluid and flexible – much more than any traditional MOBA. Although certain ‘nauts fit well into certain roles (Voltar, for example, is pretty much stuck as a healer/support), most characters are capable of serving more than one purpose. This fluidity and variety ensures that it never feels like you’re building your character ‘wrong,’ though fans of deeper strategy and more complex mechanics may find Awesomenauts to be lacking in this respect. Where balance is concerned, Ronimo’s been hard at work managing the issues, and I’ve not really encountered any heroes that feel entirely ‘overpowered’ in my time with the game.
Ronimo has further done a fantastic job of managing the freemium elements of their title. This is not a pay-to-win game, folks: much like League of Legends, shelling out real cash will only net you a new character (or skins for that character). The skins, furthermore, are all very well-designed, and each one feels unique enough from the others that it actually gives a character a completely different feel when playing.
Control-wise, you’ve got two options: mouse and keyboard, or controller. Which you choose is really a matter of taste, truthfully. That said, you should be warned that in most cases, you’re naturally going to be capable of greater precision with the former.
Overall, Awesomenauts is…well, awesome. It represents a magnificently fresh take on the action-RTS genre, one which is capable of drawing in both newbies and genre veterans. There’s just one tiny caveat: it’s not 100% free. You can pick it up on Steam for $9.99.