Games of 2012: Awesomenauts

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Attentive readers may have come to the conclusion that there is no genre of video games I won’t play. This is a mostly true statement. I will play just about everything – but for the handful of genres I am quite terrible at, I often try to limit my exposure to them. Buying a game that I’m unlikely to hit a basic level of competency in tends to feel like a waste of money.

One of those genres I’m terrible at are unit management strategy games. From real-team games like Starcraft II to more turn based experiences like Shogun II, I hit a panicked level of paralysis when it comes to micromanaging units on a battlefield. I’ve never once been able to get into Command & Conquer.

So when I discovered the genre of MOBA, I thought that I might have had a breakthrough. All the tension of a strategy game, but with only one main unit to worry about. I’d get to spend less time worrying about building structures and more time managing an inventory build. I deal with RPGs just fine – perhaps MOBAs would get me over the strategy game hump.

No such luck. I spent about six months with a light League of Legends addiction, but mostly stuck to playing against bots due to crippling fear of screwing up in a random lobby game. The DotA 2 beta destroyed my brain: the game already has hugely deep (and impermeable to newcomers) strategy, and I had to try and unlearn most of the things I knew from playing LoL.

But thankfully this year, my dream MOBA did arrive – in the form of a platformer called Awesomenauts.

A platformer MOBA seems perverse – I don’t believe it had been done before Awesomenauts – but it’s easy to see the parallels even with minimal experience on, say, LoL. Your goal is to destroy the enemy base; take out the enemy turrets in your lane to get there. Each character fits into a role – ranged, carry, melee, support, etc. There are minions that help you push along your lane. There’s a shop that sells upgrades to your abilities, and you can pick how you want that build to go. You can teleport home in a pinch. There’s a jungle area. Dying sucks.

One of the hurdles to getting into strategy games is that they’re all very serious ordeals – thankfully, Awesomenauts isn’t. Most MOBAs dig deep into an epic fantasy good/evil motif. Awesomenauts opens feeling like you’re watching a Saturday morning cartoon from the late 80’s.

Unlike most MOBAs which have been pushing F2P models, Awesomenauts does in fact cost money. While there are some additional DLC bits for extra skins, every actual piece of gameplay is in the game. You do have to earn experience to unlock most everything, but it doesn’t feel like grinding – I’ve generally been unlocking one new thing per game I play.

One more advantage worth mentioning: since the game is less complex than most others in the genre, it’s playable with a controller. And since it’s playable with a controller, it’s actually available on consoles as well. How many other MOBAs are you going to play from your couch?

Whether you live and breathe MOBAs or you’re terrified of them (like me!), Awesomenauts is worth a look.

Awesomenauts is available on PSN, XBLA, and on Steam for PC and Mac. My experiences were split between the PS3 and PC versions.


Games of 2012: 10000000

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

If there’s anything I dislike about EightyEight Games’ 10000000, it’s the name. It’s certainly relevant to the game – hit that point total and you win the game – but trying to spot check the number of zeros when recommending it to friends gets tiring. So I’m just going to refer to it as *10M* from here on out.

The game itself is an addictive little tile matcher infused with upgrade mechanics. Rather than swapping nearby tiles, you slide entire rows in the hopes of matching three or more. You’ll battle monsters, open treasure chests, and bust through doors in a battle against time. Between runs, you can upgrade your hideout, unlock perks, and boost your stats with resources you collect.

As an aside about upgrade games: this has been a relatively recent genre, typically accompanied by some sort of “fling something into the air” mechanic. I have an unfortunate soft spot for these games, but I grow tired of the randomness when the fling mechanic is used. I like seeing those mechanics tied to other genres, and I think 10M does it in a sensible way.

10M is not a deep game, nor is it a long one. But it’s an enjoyable couple of hours of grinding and reacting, trying valiantly to get the little counter that reads “FREEDOM” to click up to 8 digits.

10000000 is available as a universal iOS app for $2.


Games of 2012: Super Hexagon

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

We were crammed three deep in the back of a taxi, feeling every mile and a half between our office locations. All I had on my mind was the upcoming meeting with the client – trying as one does to pre-plan my declarations and anticipating potential points of conflict.

One of my coworkers broke the silence: “Hey, Dan, random question – how did you get over 60 seconds in *Super Hexagon*?”

Terry Cavanagh’s Super Hexagon [is self-described]( as a “MINIMAL ACTION GAME”. Two buttons, no written instructions – you can rotate left; you can rotate right; hit a wall and the game ends. If football is a game of inches, then Super Hexagon is a game of milliseconds – the leaderboards are solely on the length of the your survival across 6 progressively ridiculous difficulty levels. To “beat” any given level and unlock a future one, you need to survive for one minute. This is generally perceived as impossible when you first pick up the game. When 10 seconds of survival is a struggle, asking for 60 seconds is tantamount to emotional abuse.

When I first downloaded Super Hexagon, I actively hated it – the somewhat imprecise controls, the randomness of the levels, and the spinning camera added up to leave me wondering if I had been pranked. Where was the brilliant game I had been promised? But Super Hexagon is not a prank – it just took a few days to realize that it demands patience and practice. Your skill evolves as you identify patterns, find ways to position yourself, and learn the cues as to when the rules of the game change a little. Jenn Frank’s voice will haunt you, insisting “BEGIN” every time you restart after death. (For the longest time, I swore she was saying “AGAIN”, which seemed more fitting.)

There’s a continuum of gaming as to how complicated the player’s thought process needs to be. On the higher end of the spectrum lives things like *Civilization*, *Dwarf Fortress*, and *Football Manager*. Super Hexagon lives on the other end of the scale, getting as close to a raw twitch/reaction game as anything I’ve played as of late. No upgrade system, no micro-transactions, no story, no Facebook integration.

In a industry where “retro” typically means “pixel graphics and bad jokes”, Super Hexagon does retro the right way – in its core, and not merely the exterior.

So, back to that cab.

I would’ve loved to explain all the strategy and nuance for how I finally broke the 60 second barrier. But the parts of my brain that became good at Super Hexagon weren’t easily put into words. And while I was still considering the work day ahead, I went for broke:

“Well, let me show you.”

Internally, I was cringing as I pulled out my phone to start the game. The terrifying amount of bravado, combined with the fact that I had only ever done it once before, combined with the poor conditions of a crowded, bouncing NYC cab – there was no way this could possibly work as an answer to the question posed.

But somehow, it did. 69.24 seconds passed before I crashed into a wall. I couldn’t help but smile a little as I shrugged and said something along the lines of “So yeah, that’s how.”

That’s how I will remember Super Hexagon – it’s the one game that has ever made me look really, really good at video games.

Super Hexagon is available for iOS, OS X, and PC.