There is always a little spark of romance that warms the heart when the term 'independent' is mentioned in any walk of life, whether it be independent cinema, bookshops or music. Independent. The word just makes you want to stick your middle finger to 'the man' and go your own way, not to be forced into the pressures of corporatism (whatever that is) and genuinely be your own person.
In gaming, the term is a little different. For better or for worse, it either tends to mean low-budget or 'not picked up by a major player'. This in itself is no bad thing; the lack of exposure and platform, however, is. As such, the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network (for console gamers; PC gamers have the internet) have turned into valuable and profitable outlets for independent developers, spawning classics such as Limbo, 'Splosion Man and Castle Crashers, to name but the most famous. Ronimo Games are very much within this class of developer, but are using the lack of major retail pressure to try and release something a little bit different, and dare I say it, a little bit special.
As the first 2D MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game on consoles, there has clearly been a lot of thought put into creating what is a supremely playable and balanced fighter, even with several months and a beta until release. The basic game consists of (using the art of bullet-points and stating-the-obvious):
- 6 players, split into two teams of 3.
- 2 bases, with 'safe zones', where you can purchase weapons (more on that).
- Each base contains a core to destroy - the final objective.
- Between you and the core are a series of turrets on several levels which must be destroyed to continue.
- Small robots, which are cannon fodder, serve as healthy distractions for the turrets.
That is the absolute core of the game, but there is so much more to it than that; in Awesomenauts, it really is the details that make the product.
First up, you must choose your character. There's a choice of six, ranging from a jetpacking monkey, a dynamite-toting Sheriff (my personal choice), and a large and very tough grunt. As you'd imagine, each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and whilst none are particularly effective against others, some are much easier to use than others (the medic character is useful but devilish to use well).
From there, you must choose your load-out. Using a set amount of coins, players can choose new weapons, stronger moves, or new abilities. For example, my character - Sheriff Lonestar - could choose to increase the strength of his dynamite, throw more sticks at once, or get a piggy-bank, which gives him more money when the game starts. Thankfully there is plenty of choice, so you can tailor your arsenal to suit your particular style of play.
Once that is done, it is in to the game itself. Launched in individual rockets into your base, you can either immediately charge into action or unlock weapons using a nearby vending machine. Coins are the currency of the arena, and can be picked up through exploration or the destruction of enemies. Once enough coins have been garnered, you can use them to buy the lay-out chosen before the start, upgrading and maximising your arsenal; in theory, the longer the fight lasts the stronger you get.
You will return to this hub-base often, not least because you will die a lot, but also because there is a very handy healing pad just before the core, which, ingeniously, you can teleport to when your health gets low. Be careful though, as if you are hurt whilst teleporting it is cancelled, leaving you in a perilous position.
The gameplay itself is akin to Contra and the like, with three basic-moves: a basic melee/close-range action, a secondary action (i.e. the dynamite, normally ranged), and a third, very strong physical manoeuvre, where a bull is launched at your opponent, causing considerable damage and pushing them away from your immediate presence. Simple, but effective. It is also deceptively tactical; attacks must be launched whilst always being aware of stout defensive work. You can target a particular turret, say a weak low one, or perhaps the higher one to avoid a strong enemy. If you are not careful you can become quickly overwhelmed and hemmed in by a violent onslaught; once momentum and understanding is gained, victory often comes quickly.
Battles are tense and vicious, with a lot of desperate plunges for health, leading to a great sense of teamwork; vital to any multiplayer battler. The option to play computer bots is there, but it is downplayed by the developers; after all, you need the internet to get the game, so why wouldn't you want to play the game properly? Just to add to the peril are arena-specific actions, like a large monster in a hole, like those in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi which swallow Boba Fett, and are activated by pressing a button above the platform. Wisely, these are the only opportunities for team-killing, otherwise it is easy to imagine a large amount of friendly fire in such chaotic situations.
The graphics are clean and sharp, with surprising clarity considering the hectic battles, whilst the sound is cute and serviceable. It's certainly charming, and gives it an appealing and loveable gloss. When playing with some mates vs the developers, we had such a good time that we kept requesting more and more game time, which is no bad thing.
With addictive gameplay, appealing graphics, and a ton of smart and innovative options, Ronimo look to have created a stunning debut. With the right backing and support, this could be a cult hit in the making. For around £8 -10, it's an unmissable multi-player experience.
Now, Ronimo, about that beta code. . .