At Gamescom 2011, Valve hosted a DOTA 2 tournament that boasted one million dollars in prize money. Couple this with the eSports success of League of Legends and it's clear the blossoming multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre has become a driving force in competitive gaming. Awesomenauts, from Ronimo Games, is the first successful attempt to bring this emerging genre to consoles.
Awesomenauts eschews the genre's real-time strategy origins and top-down perspective in favour of a more console-friendly side-scrolling aesthetic. Despite this fundamental change, the game will still feel very familiar to MOBA players - two teams of players (preferably human, but there are bots available in practice mode) try to destroy each other's base by knocking down a path of turrets with the help of a regenerating stream of fragile minions.
You'll take the role of one of six mercenaries - those eponymous awesomenauts - which include a French chameleon with a sword for an arm, an ageing trigger-happy cowboy and a monkey with a jetpack. Each of these characters plays very differently, with their own unique skills and personalities. Kill the other players and their minions and collect the resulting currency to upgrade your character back at base. Lather, rinse, repeat until one team manages to destroy the other's base. It's a really simple premise that has absolutely no right being as fun as it is.
A colourful cartoon aesthetic only adds to the charm. Awesomenauts is a very pretty game with an art style that, even when things get hectic, makes it easy to keep track of what's happening on the screen, even when it's filled with massive explosions, raging bulls and myriad other character abilities.
While there are only three different stages in which to play, they differ enough to require you to rework your tactics for each match; taking a chance to grab some cash above a giant worm's pit in one level could be a risky move, for example, as other players can flick a switch which lets the killer worm loose.
A short tutorial helps to guide new players and introduce the game's unique features. The full suite of characters and upgrades are drip-fed to players as they level-up, which helps make the potentially complicated tiers of abilities and items easier to digest.
For an online-only title, though, the fact plenty of people are currently reporting dropped connections and crashes isn't great. Especially when you consider that experience points are handed out only after a match has finished. It's a testament to the quality of the game, then, that even despite this, along with a crash to the dashboard which corrupted my save and reset my progress, I remain completely hooked.
Awesomenauts is a fascinating first step in bringing the MOBA genre to console. Not only is it a successful proof of concept, but it's also a tremendously fun and addictive game in its own right. Hopefully, the online play issues will all be ironed out soon and the game can live up to its full potential. In the meantime it's still definitely worth a look, especially if you're interested in something a little different.
Version tested: Xbox 360.