How awesome is Awesomenauts Assemble? It turns out, pretty awesome.
Awesomenauts Assemble is the Xbox One version of Awesomenauts – released initially back on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network back in 2012. A PS4 release was announced in 2013 and released the following year when an Xbox One version was announced – and now released. So there’s quite a long and storied history here but don’t believe that Assemble is the definitive edition – it isn’t.
Instead, Awesomenauts Assemble seems to be the current generational version of the game. It includes the tweaks and updates that have been added to the other versions but only from a gameplay perspective. Before we get to that, though, what is Awesomenauts? Brace yourself. It’s a MOBA.
As the world goes MOBA crazy, Awesomenauts Assemble throws its hat into the ring against a limited field of MOBA competitors on Xbox One. The concept is the same as many others; you control a hero and have to destroy the main base of the enemy. In your way are a number of enemy turrets and enemy heroes, and creeps. Creeps (or minions) spawn at intervals and will just charge forward and attack anything in their path. The goal of MOBAs is to support them in getting to the towers, having them attack them and whilst the tower is distracted with them, you’re adding damage. The difficulty is that you’re battling enemy creeps who will try to damage you, and the enemy heroes doing the exact same thing to your team. The twist is that Awesomenauts is a 2D platformer.
Multiplayer Battle Arena (MOBA) games are usually top down clicking affairs. 3rd person entrants Smite and Paragon change the camera view but keep the same sort of gameplay. The complete change to view and style of the arena gives Awesomenauts a unique selling point here. Gone are the classic 3 lanes and jungle (areas in between the lanes) of a MOBA and instead most of the Awesomenauts maps have a top lane, a bottom lane with the ‘jungle’ usually a layer in-between. At first, I really struggled with this, having to jump up or down from platforms and fire a weapon 360 degrees almost like a twin stick shooter was a bit strange, but after some button remapping, I quickly got used to it.
The controls of a MOBA are typically move, attack and special moves. Being a platformer, Awesomenauts adds ‘jump’ to this but you need the right stick to fire in different directions as required. I remapped jump and shoot to left and right trigger respectively with the special moves to the bumpers and this increased my enjoyment massively. Each game is contained within that ‘game’. What I mean by this is that there are no items or passive upgrades to collect and apply giving you an advantage like some of the other MOBAs. Everyone goes into the game with equal standing and it is down to the ability to shine.
MOBAs can be really aided or hindered by star players but Awesomenauts takes a similar approach to Heroes of the Storm. Each kill, be it a turret, a creep or a hero adds XP to your team and this is shared. It contributes to a team level which increases the power and damage of everyone. This means that a support character is not under levelled waiting to pick up scraps or one character becomes one that you must avoid just by the fact that they are a much higher level. I like this, it feels like team play is as much rewarded and supported rather than just useful for winning games.
There are some individual elements – getting kills results in getting Solar. This is the in-game currency and does increase at its own rate but you can also find it dotted around the map. At this point, Awesomenauts feels like a classic platformer collecting pickups. It’s a nice mesh of different game styles together and it works brilliantly.
Visually Awesomenauts is first rate. It has a cartoon style and looks like something you would see on TV on Saturday mornings in the late 90s. It’s full of bright colours and character and this carries over to the sound effect. Zaps and pops and character soundbites are great and the announcer does a good job of excitedly telling you when turrets are under attack. A successful game ends in an Awesomenauts jingle (harking back to that cartoon feel). Sadly the music is not great. It doesn’t really seem to fit and intrudes on all the games. It just distracted and annoyed me and once I turned it off I was much happier. This is a shame as upon getting a kill or turret destroyed each character has a little jingle which plays. Muting the music mutes these. Such a shame.
A MOBA is nothing with good characters and Awesomenauts has plenty. They are really varied with the ‘standard ‘character a ranged cowboy. He’s an all-rounder who is easy to play with projectile special moves and a pistol. I’ve had some success recently with a support character that is a big insect. He has a hover ability when he jumps and is able to shield other players with his special and another one freezes enemies. Base attack abilities and specials can be upgraded with Solar for all characters which give an element of customisation. For example, insect man can freeze enemies for a short period. On upgrade, it can reduce their health by 10%, or slow enemies for 2 seconds once they come out of their freeze state. Character mix is important as the games are three vs. three – less than traditional MOBAs so the composition of teams has a big impact.
My favourite character is Froggy G. He is basically a pimp frog with an amazing Froggy G jingle (I won’t ruin it). He has ranged attacks (which I prefer to melee in these sorts of games) and some good special moves to slow and damage the enemies. Character choice overall is not huge and this is my biggest gripe – there are lots of additional characters but quite a few are behind a paywall.
With the base game, you get seven or so characters. Another five are unlockable but there’s a further six which you have to pay for separately. A few maps unlock (map choice is never a deal breaker in MOBAs) but alternate announcer voices are also behind paywalls. Different costumes for characters? Have to pay extra. This isn’t a massive deal really as the game is cheap at £7.99 but with each character being £1.99 I felt a little irked.
So music and characters, these things come in threes so my final gripe – the player base. Awesomenauts has been around the houses a few times now and whilst it still looks great and isn’t showing its age, there does not seem to have been a lot of people rushing out to buy this game. I’ve had quite a few online games so far and whereas co-op vs. bots populate ok, PvP games at most have had only four human players in. Often I will get into a game in progress (never good in these sorts of games as inevitably the team you join is losing) which is one player and five bots. This isn’t really a fault of the game itself but this sort of thing thrives on a community. Still, it’s cheap and it’s early days so it will be interesting to see if the player base grows.
Overall I really like Awesomenauts. Games aren’t too long (20-30 minutes each) and it’s a lot of fun to play with loads of different strategies. It’s not too easy to find games at the moment but this hopefully will be offset in time by the appeal of a quality game at a low price. The paywall thing still doesn’t quite sit right with me but at £7.99 it’s hardly a deal breaker.
Reviewed on XBox One