"Banning the 'A' Word"
Awesome is one of those words that pop culture has so frequently repeated that it has lost all meaning. What was once meant to convey something truly impressive and exciting has now appeared to describe anything that could reach memetic popularity, whether it's actually interesting or not. In reality, most things billed as "awesome" are mediocre combinations of various buzzwords, such as zombie pirates, ninja monkeys, and axe-wielding policemen. Awesomenauts, which devotes itself to this concept as though it were the gospel, proves why awesomeness alone isn't enough to make a game enjoyable.
However, if Awesomenauts does not live up to the lofty standards for which that word should stand, it's not for lack of trying. The game is set in an alternate future based on 80s Saturday morning cartoons, where colorful characters battle with colorful laser beams, since actual bullets weren't appropriate. The Awesomenauts themselves are an elite mercenary squad, composed of such characters as a cowboy spaceman, a rapping frog, and a lizard swordsman with a French accent. They work for either the Red Robot Army or the Blue Robot Army, depending on who they're assigned to in that match; thankfully, the developers didn't even pretend that this game could have a story beyond evoking memories of synthesizer power ballads and childhood favorites created to sell merchandise.
All of this would be fine if Awesomenauts were a particularly good game. However, the design is a very limited multiplayer experience, mixing side-scrolling and squad-shooting without fully capitalizing on the strengths of either genre. The game is rendered entirely in 2D sprites, and characters move, shoot, and jump similarly to any hero from the 16-bit era. But the goal is to cooperate with some players and kill others as each side tries to capture the other's base. Along the way, they can purchase upgrades to their weapons and abilities, use droids as cover, and annihilate enemy turrets.
This could have worked in theory, but the result is fairly repetitive and eventually boring. Most of the game involves shooting at enemy turrets while running back to the base for a life refill. Dying is only an inconvenience, as you respawn fairly quickly, while killing another player only gives you a few extra credits for new upgrades. The upgrades and their effects are fairly limited, doing little to challenge the limitations of the two-dimensional plane. Worst of all, there is no single-player mode, and the entire game consists of the same turret-fighting, base-capturing multiplayer melee.
It's a shame that Awesomenauts didn't do more, because there's definite evidence of innovation and craftsmanship. The character designs are unique, and their 2D world is an impressive one. It's a beautiful game, and there are an impressive amount of dialogue clips to fit each character. In addition, the game itself is well-programmed and can even be enjoyable against the right human opposition. Unfortunately, Awesomenauts just does not have enough "awesome". The only true awesomeness is in the depth of design, and a serviceable multiplayer diversion doesn't qualify.
GameDynamo's Score for Awesomenauts (X360)
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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