Just as I have done across the preceding month, I am following up last week’s more in-depth entry into this series (which, in this case, talked about the qualities of The Binding of Isaac which qualify it as a worthy successor to the original Legend of Zelda) with a light recommendation. The game which I would like to recommend this week is Ronimo’s 2012 side-scrolling platformer MOBA, Awesomenauts.
This game is a truly one-of-a-kind experience, whose indie team has carved out a consistent niche in the perennially monopolized MOBA genre. Anyone who is not impressed by Awesomenauts‘ sustained success has a very short memory. I can effortlessly think of a dozen or more multiplayer indie games I’ve liked and watched die for any number of reasons. But in the three years I’ve been playing Awesomenauts, I’ve never waited over five minutes for a full game of players. And it’s not even free-to-play. Allow me to explain what makes this title superior.
I would have a hard time adequately expressing what an amazing game Awesomenauts is, short of sitting you in front of the game and having you play a couple rounds. In the interest of trying to communicate its appeal, however, I will go over some of the many details that put it in a league of its own.
First, its unique take on the MOBA genre makes for a less stressful, more enjoyable experience all around. If you’ve ever liked the idea of a cooperative small-team action game like League of Legends or Dota 2, but felt that the actual prospect of training for countless hours amidst harsh, unrelenting critics was not for you, then you might want to look into Awesomenauts. The ranking system is geared toward accommodating all levels of play amicably, and its smaller community is by far the nicest MOBA crowd of which I am aware. This is not to say that every single solitary player of the game all over the world is a picture of compassion by any means, but it is the case that much or all of the typical toxicity of other MOBAs is just not present.
Part of the attitude of the Awesomenauts community may be attributable to the slight barrier-to-entry provided by the fact that the game still has a one-time-purchase-price to play (it’s usual cost is $10, but it often goes on discount; at the time of this article’s posting, it is 50% off on Steam). This means that abusive players can not simply come back immediately on another account with no penalty, as in free-to-play games. Still, another part of the attitude of the players may come from the attitude of the game itself, which caters to casual enjoyment through drop-in, drop-out matchmaking and a light-hearted, unserious aesthetic. Furthermore, the matches run shorter than most MOBAs (usually 15-25 minutes).
As to the aforementioned aesthetic, like Team Fortress 2, Awesomenauts‘ visuals were developed by pursuing a distinctive, cartoonish art style rather than chasing realism. At the time of its release, it was portrayed as a Saturday morning cartoon that you could play. This certainly captures the spirit of the game, which boasts vibrant visuals and a roster of 23 characters that have an exceptional energy and personality to them.
Each character has its own personal theme song and killing spree track to match the uniqueness of their personality and style, whether the character is a French assassin chameleon, a Rastafarian techno-shaman, a manacled telepathic child, or something even more bizarre. The voice actors on the game range from professionals to Ronimo employees to Youtube gaming personalities (for instance, John Bain, a.k.a. TotalBiscuit, puts in a wonderful performance as the voice of a tiny old-school mob hustler named Vinnie). This multiplicity of voices, songs, and mechanics results in characters that feel as different as they play. Little touches, such as the quirks to the several maps (e.g. one contains a giant worm trap), the drop pod the player pilots when spawning, and the map-specific critters are emblematic of Ronimo’s attention to detail, and further flesh out the world that the characters inhabit.
The result of all of the above elements coming together with the familiar feel of 2-D platforming and the intense competition of MOBA gameplay is a startlingly addictive creation that challenges and delights the player. As for myself, I have played this mild-mannered MOBA for almost 900 hours over the past three years, and there are many that have played it much longer than that. When I was at my most active in Awesomenauts, I spent long stretches in the game’s top league (league 1 comprises the top 250 of the game’s roughly 30,000 players). These days I hover around leagues 2 and 3, but I still enjoy the game tremendously, and find myself coming back to it again and again.
The single biggest factor in the ongoing success of Awesomenauts, however, is definitely the continuous hard work of a dedicated development team. The developers are immensely supportive of the game and put out huge content patches about every two months (a la TF2 in its prime). They host semiweekly streams about progress on the game. They take player feedback, and constantly tweak and refine character balance. They constantly work on polishing the graphics as well as the gameplay. Right now, Nauts has new mechanics and a new map in beta, with a new character (whose abilities and style were voted on by the playerbase) recently confirmed to be in the pipeline. You can find more info on the upcoming patch (and a number of previous patches) on this page.
And if you are an interested player or an aspiring game developer, I would highly recommend also checking out the development blog run by Ronimo Games’ Joost van Dongen, which provides tons of insight into the trials, tribulations, and iterative progress of creating a consistent and enjoyable online multiplayer experience.
The only valid complaint about Awesomenauts is that its matchmaking and netcode are somewhat weak. This is a complex problem resulting from the game’s peer-to-peer structure, lower concurrent player count than bigger multiplayer releases, and reliance on Steam’s multiplayer systems. These issues do exist, and can lead to frustrating connection and lag issues, but obviously I personally feel that the good far outweighs the bad. And, regardless, when it comes to matchmaking and netcode, Ronimo is presently in the process of improving both.
All of the pieces of Awesomenauts sum together into something remarkable. There is a forum post from a concerned fan on the Nauts site (probably more than one) that is simply titled, “Is Awesomenauts dying?” This forum post is now over two years old, and the popularity of the game actually rose to new heights well after that post; it suffices to say that the answer to that question was “no.” Just this past year saw the biggest competitive tournament in Awesomenauts history. People have been predicting the demise of great online multiplayer games like TF2 and Nauts for years, but the reality is that the players will stay as long as the team behind the game keeps substantively improving the players’ experience, and continues to apply lessons learned from the failures of the many multiplayer games and dour predictions they have already surpassed.
Casual Competition and Awesome Addiction: