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Awesomenauts is a side-scrolling, multiplayer brawler that mishandles its genre. Instead of a quick blast of action, it’s an excruciatingly slow slog. Matches are three vs three, with six character classes to choose from, and artificial intelligence providing cannon-fodder grunts. Humans and AI on each side attack the opponent’s turrets, slowly wearing them down before charging forward to hack away at the enemy’s “drillcore” to win the match. In the same way Battlefield puts you in the middle of an overwhelming fire-fight with tanks exploding around you, Awesomenauts puts you in the middle of a Tower Defense game with dumpy robots bumping up against turrets. Ronimo have created an interesting take on multiplayer deathmatches, but a tedious one.
The premise -- mercenaries and robots playing tower defense for control of mineral resources -- is dry and somewhat at odds with the ‘80s kids’ cartoon theme, and schlocky electronic music full of bright synthesisers, electronic drums, and distorted guitars.
Chief among Awesomnaut’s problems is the down-time between action; the wait to rejoin the action after death can exceed 20 seconds, and is always followed by an unnecessary sequence in which you fall to earth in a space ship; then you’ll spend more time walking to the shop to buy powerups, and even longer walking to where the fight is taking place. Those long respawn times, and your relative weakness at the start of every match, necessitate repeated retreats to heal or buy more powerups. To Ronimo's credit, the AI seamlessly fills in for human players if they can't be found, or if they disconnect, speeding up the process of starting a game and keeping it going.
After a tedious few minutes of attacking and retreating, you’ll have built your avatar up with two special moves (such as grenades, or invisibility) and some passive effects (regenerating health, faster walking, and so on). The extra moves take so long to recharge, though, that their usefulness is limited -- they feel less like a second move at your disposal than a resource to be rationed and used only at key moments. That forces a little tactical thinking, but reduces most fights to mashing the attack button until one character dies or hides behind a turret.
Different character classes (old-west gunslinger, French ninja, pimp frog with a ray gun, etc.) provide some variation, the medic being the most dramatically different. He is totally incapable of attacking, and must use his healing gun to buff allies. As in Team Fortress 2, he works well with a heavy and must watch out for the ninja, who can invisibly sneak up behind him. When the enemy team isn’t around, though, a medic can end up just standing still, hammering the attack button, while a teammate does the same thing a few feet away as he slowly wears down a turret.
You’ll unlock more items and characters as you level up from match to match, but combat always boils down to mashing the attack button, and retreating if you start to lose.
A multiplayer brawler should be anything but boring, especially when competing with other XBLA and PSN titles for gamers’ attention. Unfortunately, repetitive action and too much downtime make Awesomenauts difficult to stick with, even if it does get more nuanced as you level up, and with more characters apparently in the pipeline as downloadable content.
Disclosure: Ronimo Games provided us with a free copy of the XBLA version for review purposes.