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Awesomenauts (PC) artwork

Awesomenauts (PC) review

"A fun title marred by DLC abuse and Free-to-Play aspirations."

Awesomenauts had a lot of promise when it introduced a unique 2D platforming multi-lane DOTA experience to PS3, Xbox 360 and when we least expected it – Steam. 2012 was a great year for Romino, pioneering a new take on a familiar genre. Instead of watching Saturday morning characters smash each other up, you could pick from a roster of heroes and wreck your friends, strangers, or a host of AI controlled bots in a realtime cartoon inspired experience, complete with hyper-energetic catchy theme music and animated visuals.

What is known as MOBA now describes an arena style battle; the goal of which is to destroy the enemies’ turrets and base. In a three verses three battle, your objective is to defend your turrets while defending the minions that spawn from your base continually. Sounds like a grand old time, right? Pick from a roster of heroes with distinct combat styles, abilities and even background histories.

By all accounts, Romino got the most important stuff right. Character designs are unique, most being alchemic-style mashups of popular heroes and villians. Gameplay is slower than its MOBA cousins, but no less demanding of tactics and reflexes. Good platforming skills are your best defense, in addition to the time you spend mastering each heroes short list of abilities. Controls are responsive and dependable; you use the mouse and three keys on the keyboard to activate skills. Teamwork, practice and more teamwork will win the day, and even the players were easy going.

Unfortunately, time and downloadable content (DLC) has burned its player base down to a charred nubbin of discontent. Perhaps Romino couldn’t innovate, as in they lacked the creative… no, that’s rubbish. One look at the character roster tells you creativity wasn’t the issue. These are some of the interesting and diverse characters in the genre; a healer who spawns drones and is nothing more than a brain in a jar with a cloak. A gun totin’ texun who’ll knock you down with (a) light bull, to boot.

Light bull. Sounds a lot like what Romino began shoveling when they released the first major revision of Awesome-naughts (spelling intended). An established mechanic of MOBA gaming is character purchasing, but most give you the chance to try them out before committing your cash. Not here, no sir. Free characters were doled out on a limited basis: Just two to date.

There’s a final nail in Awesome-not’s coffin careening at players in May of 2017, and I’d love to avoid it, but it strikes at the core of what made the game so much fun to play. During the first couple of years of Awesome-nut’s stay, there was some hope it could become a mainstram eSport. Tournaments were a regular occurrence, and there was a large enough player base to sustain a game that is fairly entertaining to watch in its own right.

When a game is fun, players don’t mind buying stuff. Do it right and the developers will have to form a larger company just to cope with it all. By introducing a character paywall, they managed to irritate their dedicated fans, who would submit artwork displayed on the character selection screen. That is a rare sign of fan appreciation not to be taken lightly.

Being spurned, though, is exactly how players felt. Far from silent, Romino could have listened to the players and introduced a demo mode for new characters. What did they do? Press on with patches and DLC only characters. Okay, I’ll level with you: How a character plays is everything in a MOBA. Any PvP (player verses player) gamer worth their salt knows this.

Leon Chameleon, for instance, is an athletic assassin with low health and a laser sword for an arm. With him you’ll be looking for an opening and leaping in with a powerful slash attack, and then escaping with your cloaking ability. Each hero has their specialty, and ideally one or more will suit your personal approach to combat. Go ahead, be the tank, the healer, the glass cannon; the pleasure is, and should be, yours.

The advantage of Awesomenauts was that its wide selection of heroes gave you a lot to play around with. Think Skylanders without all the little figures, and you’ll have an idea of how it needed to work. As you played, your hero would level, and more of their abilities would unlock to for selection before each match. Hero “skins” could distinguish your character and show your dedication to the game financially. League of Legends, DOTA and Heros of the Storm (and others) sustain a significant player base with paid aesthetics, as do other genres. Why a pioneer of the genre decided to veer toward Free to Play is anybody’s guess.

Yessir, come May 24th, 2017, Awesomenauts will be open to the world, admission paid. Again, sounds great, right? Psst. You. Yeah, you. C’mere. I’m talkin’ to you Romino. Listen up: Cannibalizing your paid player base is never a good idea. You’re sending all the good will you earned in your early years to an unnecessary death.

You see, gaming is more social than ever, and what travels faster than a speeding bullet? That’s right, bad news. There is every chance that a new player base will rise up to supplant everyone cheesed off by this move, but there is an even better chance that they’ll move on to a game with more integrity. Read: A more clearly labelled price tag.

Sure, some franchises are making a move toward price gouging for content, but Romino doesn’t have the luxury of being a large company with a library of games to pay the bills on a gamble. As offline and local player modes are biting the bad news bullet, a significant portion of existing players are warning others away, whilst the few praising the move aren’t seeing the big picture: Romino isn’t pleased with current revenue, and they’re hoping that microtransactions will provide the boost they’re looking for.

You could pay $28 (CDN) right now and buy everything just before the game goes FTP, but that’s a whopper for a game that was originally $12. It makes me wonder if any of them have ever worked in retail. There is no supply shortage to justify the price change. A new model is going to replace the old one, but word has it that you’ll have to toss your gear and start from scratch anyway. Actually, they’ll take care of that for you.

Awesomenauts had so much potential, but hey… there’s still Duck Game.

hastypixels's avatar
Community review by hastypixels (April 30, 2017)

At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.

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