If you smashed baseball, hip hop and Dragon Ball Z together, you’d probably get Lethal League, the new projectile fighting game by Team Reptile. Like Divekick before it, Lethal League strips away many of the complexities of fighting games to leave the satisfying core of reading your opponent, making split second plays and getting ridiculously hyped. Does the game hit it out of the park, or is it a foul ball?
So, the premise of Lethal League is that it is a projectile fighting game. Each player has a number of lives and they lose a life when they get hit by the ball, with the last player standing being the winner. This simple premise makes Lethal League incredibly easy to get into, as it is just hitting a ball back and forth, but the layers of modifiers it lays on top of it like increasing ball speed, special moves and even the fabric of time warping when you hit the ball makes the game feel so much more satisfying than you hitting a ball. You can either hit the ball normally, with you being able to aim the ball up or down to make it angle off the floor or ceiling or you can bunt the ball, which will return the ball to its starting speed and can really mess with opponents when you are in the middle of a high speed rally.
Again, the simplicity of the controls causes Lethal League to be easy to pick up and play yet the depth of options when playing like whether to bunt the ball, to aim up or down, to bait a player into jumping the wrong direction, whether to perform a parry or not, all help Lethal League feel an absolute blast to play. Again, add on that each of the 5 starting characters has different properties like double jumps; the ability to ride on walls and their own unique special move adds more depth to a system which still feels like anyone can pick it up and start hitting balls at mach speeds.
While the core mechanics of the game are fantastic and it is feels great to play, the game’s visual presentation is somewhat lacking. The character models are quite dull, with stiff animations and uninspiring designs. Latch looks exactly like Vector the Crocodile from the Sonic series and besides Candyman, none of the characters are all that memorable. The menus feel lifeless, looking like they could be from any fighting game from the mid 2000s. The backgrounds to all the stages fare much better though, changing and animating faster as the ball reaches face-melting speeds. The time warping effect when you hit the ball at 1000 mph and over is particularly awesome, creating a clear feeling that you are playing with real power and that the stakes of this round are particularly high.
When this starts to happen, things get crazy hype.
The hit-sparks whenever you hit the ball are always great, making you feel that you are really whacking this ball, with the meters on the boombox at the bottom of the screen going into the red whenever you hit a ball at full power. There is a definite feeling of weight and power behind each swing and this helps make the game super exciting at high speeds, as you feel like you are fighting with reality warping power. Nevertheless, the game is not a pretty one and the game’s aesthetic is not that interesting truth be told.
While the character designs and overall aesthetic may not be that great, the sound design in the game is brilliant. The hip hop soundtrack is great, with each stage having its own unique theme which meshes really well with the action on screen. Every hit is punctuated by a really punchy sound effect, making you feel like you are hitting a ball hard, especially at high speeds where it sounds like a jet taking off whenever you land a hit. The hiss of the ball as it bounces round the arena can create absolute terror, as you try and see if you can rally it back or if you are doomed to die. The voice acting in the game is alright for what it is, with some voices starting to grate after a couple of games. It would be great if we had a few more sound clips for in game and there are some audio glitches in the game at the moment where the death yells of characters happen when they are still alive, leading to much confusion in the middle of a high stake round but this is not a major problem.
The game’s online suite is fairly reliable, using GGPO for matchmaking and for the most part, it is very stable. Most matches I played, with both people in the UK and beyond, suffered from minimal lag or delay which is good for people who want to sink their teeth into the competitive aspect of this game. Friend lobbies also work well together, allowing players to customise things like if the ball has the colour of the last player who hit it, where the game is free for all or teams and even the starting speed of the ball. I did notice a couple of problems with the game de-syncing or even crashing during matches but this happened probably once out of every 20 or so matches so it is not an absolute deal breaker.
Getting killed by a slow ball is bound to raise someone’s sodium levels.
Outside of the online though, the game is really lacking in content. There is a challenge mode if you want some single player action but it is nothing more than winning ten rounds and fighting a boss at the end. It would be nice if we got just a little bit of story about each character or some context for the League but that seems to be absent from the game. As for the stages, besides the different song and the background, they are all identical to one another and with a roster of only 5 fighters, the game seems to be asking for more stuff in it. A target practice mode, more stages with stage hazards, new fighters and maybe some more modes would really round out the experience and the guys over at Team Reptile have promised free extra content as the game goes on but at the moment, unless you are a fighting game fan or are in need of a party game, you won’t get your money’s worth here.