Romino Games may not seem like a familiar name for most avid gamers, but the Dutch game developer started when a handful of university students in Utrecht, Netherlands came up with the design and original PC release of “de Blob”. THQ bought the rights to de Blob, handed the game over to Blue Tongue Entertainment which went on to deliver the classic 2008 Wii blockbuster de Blob became.
Romino has maintained a fairly low-key status over the years – releasing only one title, Swords and Soldiers, after de Blob. A casual hybrid real time strategy (RTS) arena battle title, Swords and Soldiers began its like as a Wii Ware title, but quickly found its release on Xbox Live Arcade, PSN Network, and Steam. The game garnered a great deal of critical praise for its unique design and gameplay. Now Romino is back with an equally unique title that combines elements of real time strategy, side-scrolling platformer, tower defense, and multiplayer arena battle – the game is called Awesomenauts and is available for Xbox Live, PSN Network and Steam.
Awesomenauts tells the tale of a group of space mercenaries who are hired to represent one of two colored teams in a 3-on-3 battle for the mining rights to each battle arena. The name of the game is to destroy the opposing team’s “drillcore” device and collect the “Solar” currency used to purchase new weapons and upgrades. The gameplay is fast and frenetic, with the online players and bots hopping, jetpacking, and blasting over and around the 2D arenas. At times is can be a bit overwhelming with all of the warning announcements (your turret is being attacked!” and “Your base is 90% destroyed!”), the countless enemy droids, and all of the firepower being unleashed on the screen at the same time. I found it a little too easy to lose sight of my character amongst the handful of other characters onscreen once the action became particularly heated, and more often than not did I suddenly realize that my character was already dead before I could even pick him out of the crowd.
Any gameplay knocks are not necessarily the fault of the game’s visuals, which are actually quite impressive. Awesomenauts’ visual design leans heavily on the futuristic Steampunk (similar to the classic Mega Man series) complete with enormous riveted robots and cigar chomping mustachioed space cowboys. The arenas consist of stylized 2D platforms overlaying colorful backgrounds scenes giving the overall appearance old school arcade shooters, and the character animations, smoke, and explosion effects give a nostalgic not to the classic sprite-based platformers of the past.
As an added bonus, Awesomenauts features plenty of voice acting in the cinematic cutscenes – although I am not sure if this is intentional or not but much of the dialog seems a tad goofy. It might be a case of “lost in translation” coming from the Netherlands-based developers, but the screenwriting has more than its share of flubs that are chuckle-worthy. Still, I cannot fault a game that at least tries to have added production value, even if it is overtly stereotypical and downright ridiculous at times.
The gameplay controls have been simplified to left analog for movement and aiming, A-Button for jumping (double-tap for jet pack), and the X, Y, and B-buttons assigned to unique attacks; X to fire weapons, the B to throw explosives, and Y to unleash a special attack. Weapons, explosives, and attacks can all be upgraded via the vending centers set up in each arena, which take the game’s earned currency, Solar, for payment. The weapons are your standard shooters, but some of the special attacks are downright hilarious. I could spend an hour talking about all of the fun things you see unleashed as special attacks, but just for a teaser let me say two words; Ghost Bulls. Cool, eh?
And as for the RTS and tower defense aspects, Awesomenauts allows players to place color-coded droids to provide cover fire and/or to act as targeting decoys for enemy turrets. It is a great twist on the traditional arena shooter, and a really neat concept once you get the hang of directing the droids to where you need them to be. Sadly, Awesomenauts gameplay is almost strictly online via Xbox Live. While there is an offline “Practice” mode, there is absolutely no difference except for the fact that there are bots rather than actual opponent which might prove enjoyable for a short time, but the lack of a solid storyline or objectives will leave single-player gamer quickly feeling empty.
If that were not bad enough, at the time of this review the online gameplay was noticeably unbalanced with respect to the matchmaking, with only slightly higher-level online players wielding wildly unbalanced power compared to newer gamers. Nothing is more defeating to a new player than to unloading a truckload of lead into an opponent with nary a kill, only to be taken out by a single enemy swipe. Hopefully this imbalance is merely a function of the fact that there are so few players online, that any attempt at balanced matchmaking was set aside in hopes of filling games – maybe as more gamers come into the fold the matchmaking will even out a bit.
Awesomenauts is a fun entry in the multiplayer arena genre, and the unique gameplay additions do keep it from feeling like it is simply “Smash Brothers with Guns.” At a current price of $10, I would say the price is a bit on steep side for what you get. I would have liked a little more story and solid single-player mode.