Full disclosure: Ronimo Games provided me a free Xbox Live Arcade download code of Awesomenauts for this article.
Balance in team-based multiplayer games tends to fall into one of two philosophies: Developers either spend a lot of time dialing in every character's abilities to ensure perfect equilibrium, or they just throw together a bunch of stuff and let players fend for themselves. In other words, you are either The Avengers or the Justice League.
The idea behind DC Comics’ Justice League of America is a simple one. The thinking is: “Let’s get as many heroes together as we possibly can, and we’ll be able to take care of anything bad that happens.” It has its superstars, like Batman and Wonder Woman, heroes who can strike out on their own and defeat evil just fine, but you don't get very many action figures by being picky. The JLA's conditions for entering essentially amount to some superpowers and a fairly well-developed sense of decency.
Now, consider Marvel’s team The Avengers, stars of that movie that everyone has seen but me. They’re “Earth’s mightiest heroes”; it says so right there on the cover of every issue. The Avengers are a supergroup, like Derek and the Dominos or Journey, and evildoers are as wary about picking a fight with Iron Man as they would be challenging Eric Clapton to a guitar-off.
What I’m saying is that The Avengers would never let Plastic Man in — and not just because that would be totally non-canonical.
Awesomenauts, developer Ronimo Games’ new multiplayer online battle arena title, is a Justice League-style game, and no character proves this better than Yuri, the insane Russian space monkey.
Yuri is Awesomenauts’ equivalent to Superman: He can do anything, and you wonder why the hell he’s on the team at all. He possesses unlimited flight via a jetpack that allows him to reach any point on any map at will. His default attack is a laser beam capable of infinite, nonstop firing with a 360-degree range of motion (unlike his gun-wielding teammates, whose weapons can fire along two axes only).
One of the core mechanics of Awesomenauts involves destroying enemy turrets that automatically fire at the closest unfriendly target within their range. For anyone else, this means chipping away at the gun while drones move in and absorb all the bullets. If you upgrade the range of Yuri’s laser, however, he can damage them from outside of their cone of vision. No other character can do this.
Yuri can also drop infinite mines, rendering the opposing team incapable of reaching his side’s base, let alone attacking and destroying it. If none of the other Awesomenauts existed, he could have his own game, and people would complain about how easy it was.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have Voltar, who is a brain wearing a cape. Does he have offensive capabilities? He doesn’t even have arms, sucka. He’s a support character whose “attack” button activates healing abilities. Voltar can eventually summon protective drones, but their actions are not player-dictated. Like tiny turrets, they just mindlessly shoot at whatever is closest.
Voltar is like Hourman, whose fatal weakness is the passage of time. You would not send him into a one-on-one fight unless you had an office pool going to see how long he could last before someone pushed past his piddling pew-bots and smashed that Futurama jar he's sporting.
The other Awesomenauts range in capability from "average" to "okay"; none of them are as blatantly overpowered as Yuri, nor are they as tactically unsound as Voltar. Clunk, for example, is strong and tough, but his attack range is limited, and he is exactly as slow as a large robot because that's what he is. Faster enemies can destroy him. French chameleon Leon, cringe-inducing Froggy G, and inexplicable cowboy Sheriff Lonestar are all so similar and mediocre that I can't remember which one has a sword and which one wields a gun that's also a fish. I do recall that they can all jump pretty high, though, and that really is a useful skill to have in an offense-centric game.
These guys need each other. Individually, I wouldn't trust most of them to sit the right way on a toilet seat, but together, like the Justice League, their meager strengths add up to something. This is what Awesomenauts is all about: a group of hapless misfits joining forces in the hopes that maybe their weaknesses will cancel each other out. They may not be an all-star team like The Avengers, but they do have a frog with a hi-top fade, and you never know when you might need one of those.