AwesomeNauts is best introduced as a mix of tower defence and side scrolling platformer, as odd as that might sound. Described by the developer as "2D League of Legends", it's a multiplayer-only game in which two teams face off against each other in a side-on arena. Made up of various platforms to jump between, each level is also populated by pre-positioned towers. You need to both attack the other team's towers and defend your own, providing that classic risk / reward structure that makes similar games (DotA, LoL, Tower Defence, etc) so compelling.
The context provided for all the action is that two unnamed warring factions (we'll call them red and blue) have recruited intergalactic mercenaries - the AwesomeNauts - to bring a quick end their conflict.
There are four modes to play - for Xbox Live Gold members. Unfortunately, for those stuck on Silver memberships, despite being playable with bots three out of four are online only. Single players are stuck with a practice mode. What's especially disappointing here is that there is no story mode; the intro footage shows two side embroiled in an exciting looking war, yet the game does nothing to elaborate on the conflict. Why are red and blue fighting? Is it a racial thing? Did red invade blue's outer territories?
Regardless of why you play, the game kicks off with a quick tutorial level. It does a decent job of guiding you through the basic gameplay; both sides have three AwesomeNauts, backed up by various drones and turrets. Each team is trying to destroy the enemy's drillcore (their "main turret", effectively), while defending their own. It plays out kinda like a mix of Super Smash Bros. Melee and Tower Defence.
A typical match goes like this: The AwesomeNauts drop down to the start area, collecting coins (used to buy upgrades) as they fall, before setting out into the arena itself. Each team has to break through the opposing team's turrets before attacking their drillcore. You can dish out various orders to your bot teammates (like "defend the drillcore" or "taunt enemies") which adds a little strategy to what is otherwise a simple run and gun affair.
To keep the battle balanced, both teams consist of the same characters - although it's strange seeing the same mercenaries fighting for both sides. The AwesomeNauts don't serve any clearly defined roles, with no dedicated "medics" or "snipers" (for example). However, their secondary attacks and stats make different characters ideal for different play styles.
Take Clunk, for example: he has more firepower and armor, but is slower, and a large target. His secondary attack - self-destruct (which doesn't actually kill him) - is one of the most powerful moves and deals a lot of damage to any nearby enemies. Lonestar, on the other hand, is one of the more balanced characters. His secondary attack - throwing a stick of dynamite - won’t injure him, although it won’t inflict as much damage as Clunks self-destruct.
Battles can take place on one of three different arenas - although only Ribbit IV is available from the start. Each one has various hazards such as a giant mouth that pops up to devour whoever happens to be above it at the time. Then there are a couple of solar bosses, acid spitting creatures that guard a health pack. It's difficult to take them out if you aren’t prepared. However, their offspring, roaming nearby, drop health when they are killed.
From new characters to upgrades and new arenas, everything in AwesomeNauts is tied to your experience level. The level required for a given item to be unlocked is displayed on the lock icon. At time of writing, level 40 is the maximum level required to unlock everything. Winning or losing doesn't matter as far as unlocking stuff; of course, you will gain more experience if you win. As you gain levels and unlock better upgrades winning becomes easier.
AwesomeNauts shines most on the online multiplayer front, where lag doesn't seem to be an issue. Sure, you'll be killed a few times by higher level players, but over time your level (and skills) improve. I found upgrading to be easier in the multiplayer battles as the coins everyone on your team collects are shared amongst the whole team, making upgrades easier to acquire.
While the gameplay is enjoyable, it's disappointing to see AwesomeNaut's singleplayer relegated to the fourth spot on the menu as a simple practice mode, instead of delivering a proper story mode. In addition, there are some odd glitches with the bot AI. In one instance I came across an opposing Leon Chameleon standing still - not even moving as I attacked, taking him out easily.
AwesomeNauts borrows from old cartoons and arcade games, which is all wrapped up in some cheesy rock theme music - and by cheesy I mean terrible. Character designs look inspired by aging franchises too; Clunk wouldn't look out of place as a Mega Man boss, while Froggy G wouldn't raise any eyebrows in Rare's classic brawler, Battletoads.
The retro-inspired gimmick carries over to its achievements, with some not-so-subtle references to pop culture of old, such as 'Master of The Universe!' - an obvious reference to He-Man and The Master of The Universe franchise, and 'T-U-R-R-E-T powah!' - a reference to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Overall, AwesomeNauts is a great multiplayer game and although it lacks a story mode, the singleplayer practice mode is still compelling - despite a the odd AI quirk.