Multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA, is a genre of games that are well known for their intimidating learning curve and dense knowledge-base requirements on the PC. They're about as friendly to novices as an algebra problem is to a first grader. That's not the case with Awesomenauts, a console-based 2D MOBA that serves as an excellent introduction to the genre for the uninitiated and is a fun spin on familiar tropes for MOBA veterans. It's also got a French chameleon with a robo-laser sword for an arm, which ranks pretty high on the awesome scale.
You'll find a lot of variety in the characters, from a French lizard assassin to a robot with a metal mohawk.
You play as one of six Awesomenauts on a mission to mine solar, a galactic fuel source and currency. Unfortunately, another group of Awesomenauts wants the solar too, and so you must fight to control the precious resource. The premise and plot are as absurd as a monkey with a jetpack, but Awesomenauts isn't about telling a story; it's about battle. You pick your hero, join two others (or AI-controlled bots), and slug it out against another team of three on one of a few symmetrical maps. Your goal isn't to kill other players, but to reach and destroy their solar core. While killing opposing heroes helps, this is not a game of 2D team deathmatch, and playing it as a straight team deathmatch game is a recipe for frustration. Success in Awesomenauts requires teamwork, strategy, and smart upgrade decisions.
You need your teammates to get to the solar core, which is housed behind layers of heavy-duty turrets. To aid you in your efforts, your solar base cranks out a never-ending stream of droids. They whittle away at the turrets, providing you cover to stand behind so you can blast them with your more powerful weapons. You battle back and forth, in a constant struggle to press forward into the opposing base.
It might sound like a plodding war of attrition, but the setting and crazy characters turn every match into a frenetic clash of strategies. It feels like you're always just one button--one quick decision--away from death or domination. The maps have multiple levels filled with jump pads, a couple of environmental hazards, and some local creatures you can kill for health. There's plenty of space to duke it out while your droids bop along on their paths of destruction. It's a dead-simple concept made more complex by the three player-controlled hero characters on each team.
Taking on a turret alone is a very bad idea.
There's a lot of room for customization in Awesomenauts, both as an individual and as a team. The heroes blur the lines between traditional battle roles, like tank, healer, ranged, and damage dealer, thanks to a diverse set of upgrade options. As you fight, you earn solar, which you can use to buy upgrades and abilities. There are more than a dozen upgrades per hero, some passive and others active. Seeing them all listed before you can be overwhelming early on--this isn't a simple loadout choice like in a team-based shooter.
The upgrade path you follow can have a huge impact on a match. For example, you could go full-tilt tank with Clunk the robot and upgrade his bite ability so that it steals health and lengthens his health bar with each successful bite. Or you could be a bit of a glass cannon and dump points into his missile launcher and self-destruct ability. The former build makes him last longer, while the latter does more damage but could lead to more deaths, which costs you precious solar. Awesomenauts gives you wiggle room to shape characters to your style of play. Like with a good fighting game, in time, your favorite character will feel uniquely yours.