Review: Lethal League – Totally Baller

The fighting game scene is a rather hard one to break into; long-standing franchises with fanatical fan followings loom over smaller series. Lethal League not only manages to set itself apart from the more traditional fighters, but explodes onto the scene with confidence.

It’s one of those rare gems that manages to perfectly capture the spirit of a genre whilst managing to be its own unique experience. Although the game is one of the easiest to understand through play it’s rather hard to explain in words…

Essentially Lethal League is a combination of PongSmash Brothers and buckets of hype.

The concept is simple: Up to Four players are locked into an arena. Hit a ball into another player to make them lose a life, the last one standing wins. You cannot damage your opponent other than with this solitary projectile. Once a player hits the ball it’s tagged that player (or teams) color making them immune to damage allowing them to keep control and try to take out the opposition.

The controls are incredibly tight and responsive and have that SNES era simplicity. Other than moving, aiming and jumping, you have only 2 attack buttons. Swing and bunt.

Swinging knocks the ball back making it pick up speed, you can fire it in one of 3 directions hopefully to take out your opponent with a cheeky rebound. Each time the player connects with the ball after a short explosive hit delay the speed increases making each round escalate into something resembling Dragonball Z with baseball bats, the ball bouncing off the arena boundaries a few dozen times a second. Each swing awards you a chunk of your special meter, getting it up to 4 allows you to unleash your character’s specific special move that can easily fake out an opponent.

When I said explodes on the scene I did mean rather literally.

When I said this game “explodes” onto the fighting game scene… I do mean rather literally.

Bunting suddenly slows the speed down to a crawl, throwing the ball into the air for any player to scramble and take control of the ball, and connecting with the bunted ball instantly kicks it back into play at its previous speed and awards the hitter 2 chunks of meter towards their special, which creates a high risk but big reward for those daring enough to take the chance.

Possibly the single greatest accomplishment of Lethal League is its game feel, as you connect spiking the ball the space-time continuum seems to shatter accompanied with earthshaking visuals and booming sound effects (ushering many screams of hype between players).

Compared to your average fighting game the lack of content may put a lot of players off. Unlike most with bulging rosters, Lethal League has only five characters to choose from (with multiple color palettes to unlock).

The characters are superbly balanced and their designs (while a little rough around the edges) are full of charm and personality. Although they may at first all seem very similar in play, there’s enough subtle differences to set them apart.

Thankfully the developers have announced they plan to add more characters down the line free of charge,something relatively unheard of within this genre. That said within its current state the selection is noticeably thin.

Matches are very similar to Smash Brothers in scope. Any combination of up to four players can take to the field be it free for all or in teams, competing in either a lives or score based system. It’s a shame there’s not more modes of play on offer. I’d personally be begging for an air hockey-inspired mode competing to score goals… sadly that’s not the case… but the lack of game modes doesn’t detract from just how tight and intense the core game is itself.

599mph? Now we're talking

The backgrounds dynamically change as the speed spikes higher

Outside of matches there’s very little single player content. Challenge mode has you battle through 10 matches (where you unfortunately always face the same line-up of enemies), and other than that you can only set up your own verses matches against the computer. The AI’s difficulty can be set in one of seven increments, from laughably easy, to incredibly challenging to even experienced players.

Where this game really shines however is in its multiplayer. Although it’s a new title with a unique premise, it somehow manages to scratch a nostalgic itch that harks back to the SNES Era. It’s one of those titles more suited for couch multiplayer and if Lethal League was released back in the days of the super Nintendo I know it would have been a favorite of my six-year-old self.

Similar to Divekick, due to Lethal League’s simple mechanics it makes multiplayer matches incredibly enjoyable from the moment you begin playing. Instead of learning characters, matchups and attack frames, this title manages to bypass problems that more traditional fighting games face. Each match becomes a battle of wits and reflexes between players, each attempting to fake out the other in the mad scramble to take control the ball.

On the surface while the game may seem like an immediate pick up and play affair, it hides a surprising amount of depth and complexity for those that are willing to learn the mechanics of parrying, clashing, ball angles and more.

There comes a point where the game borders on insanity. This isn't even close.

There comes a point where the game borders on insanity. This isn’t even close.

When you want to take the battle online you’ll find the connection fantastic and battles feel almost as if you were playing locally. I can’t stress how important this frame perfect feel is when you’re trading blows at 10,000 miles per hour and it’s great that the developers focused on this.

That said, the online mode is missing some key features we expect from titles in the same genre, the lack of a lobby system makes setting up online tournaments with your friends a very finnicky affair and the lack of in-game voice chat takes away some of the charm when it comes to playing quick matches with a random opponent.

Final Word.

Lethal League delivers on what it promises to in spades. Hard hitting soundtrack, style and speed. An excellent and original title at its core, only marred by the lack of content players expect in the fighting genre. Grab some friends and give it a look, it’s multiplayer perfection.

Best Games Never Played: Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?

I’m one of those gamers that grew up with old school NES difficulty – games that were so challenging you’d be ripping your hair out, yet once you managed to beat a particularly hard level or boss the satisfaction would be overwhelming. Challenging but fair platformers have seemed to die out as of late, but Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? manages to revive the genre with confidence and is at home on the PSP.

The story, while not exactly the focus, is a bizarre one. An unknown individual has stolen the prized dessert of your boss/queen, who commands her penguin (Prinny) army to retrieve the ingredients to sate her hunger. The Prinnies inform her they explode with the slightest bump and make her weave them a magic scarf, putting one of the little rascals in charge of getting the gateau. The stakes aren’t exactly the highest in terms of narrative, but it’s crazy enough and delivered through punchy dialogue which helps make the “Sorry, your cake is in another castle” story an enjoyable one.

The characters are incredibly memorable and their voice acting manages to walk the tightrope of cute/irritating in a way that fleshes them out a great deal. A few times I’m assuming the game references events in the Disgea franchise and although these are lost on me, the absurdity of the writing managed to still give me a sensible chuckle or two throughout my playthrough.

who ate my dessert

Reminds me of my ex. Also reminds me of why she’s now my ex.

All characters, enemies and obstacles are drawn and animated exceptionally well in 2D and leap off of the backgrounds. It’s not quite at the level of the Metal Slug series but it’s honestly not far off, looking gorgeous in motion and never once looking stiff. It’s also handy in that it clearly shows what elements of a level can easily kill you: if it’s 2D it’s a threat and needs to be stabbed.

The game utilises 3D backgrounds in the same crude simplistic way we’ve seen since the Ps2 era, yet, different from titles like Kolona and Tomba, there are no multiple planes to switch across. Personally, I’d have liked to have obstacles swinging between the foreground and background, or the 3D environments utilised a little better than they currently are. Instead, the 3D design of the levels only comes into play when the player does an aerial attack, moving the view to over the shoulder and allowing them to see down the path slightly.

it's in three whole dees.

It’s in three whole dees.

From a mechanics point of view, Prinny at first feels light and very simplistic. The player only has the ability to jump, pick up and throw objects, do a very short ranged attack (requiring blister inducing button mashing to kill some of the harder enemies) or pirouetting around like some penguin ballerina before dashing a short distance. Without the dash the protagonist moves incredibly slow, but this is more of a blessing than a curse due to the lethality of everything the player will meet.

My only real criticism from a mechanics standpoint is its combo feature. Instead of being promoted by kills, it only grows and rewards players for ground pounding on enemies in quick succession, which stuns them for an easy kill. The game has an over reliance on this one mechanic in my opinion, as it is used to activate checkpoints and bosses can only be killed once they have been pounded on once or twice. That said, it does reward players for taking the risk to quickly bounce on the heads of multiple enemies by allowing them to progress through the levels faster than if they had been playing with the usual over cautious play style.

There are also some vehicles littered through the game, but they’re sadly under-utilised. Not only are they few and far between but they also often slow down the core gameplay. There’s a lack of impact when you’re attacking enemies with these tanks and spaceships, which is a shame as the rest of the title has great “gamefeel” due to the sound effects of standard attacks.

A spinny prinny looking pretty, as charge attacks go it's pretty silly

A spinny prinny looking pretty, as charge attacks go it’s pretty silly

Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? feels more like a mashup of Ghosts and Goblins and the original Castlevania game than anything else. Jump arcs are locked in place, meaning enemy placement really drives up the challenge as well as allowing the player to see what’s up ahead, which is especially useful because of how deadly everything this game throws at you can be.

Upon starting the game you can choose your difficulty: Standard, which allows the player to take 3 hits before death (the game say’s it’s perfect for you “casual” players), or the more sadistic Hells Finest mode for those really wanting a challenge. This mode has you die in one hit and forces you back to the last activated checkpoint.

Saying Prinny is difficult is an understatement: the game is sadistic, it’s frustrating, it’ll rob you of of countless lives and give you white hairs through the stress it induces. But it’s fair. Jump arcs are always the same so you’ll always know where you’ll land, and enemies attacks are always telegraphed and in the same movement patterns, allowing you to easily counter. It’s one of those titles that requires some trial and error learning the stages and enemy positions, but the player still needs to ensure they‘re not making too many errors throughout their playthrough.

You'll be seeing this a lot.

You’ll be seeing this a lot.

You begin the game with 1,000 lives, a finite resource that has to last you through all the boss battles, levels and waves of enemies through the entire game. It certainly gives the game a ticking clock element to it, and you can end up throwing away 20 lives between checkpoints in an especially challenging segment. It’s worrying when you’ve thrown away a lot of lives in a level with a 3 star difficulty, only to be faced with further levels with a 4 or 5 star difficulty.

The title is also incredibly replayable, similar to the Mega Man series, and allows the player to tackle the levels in whatever order they please. The difficulty of each level fluctuates depending on the ingredient you’re seeking, and your chosen difficulty also changes the boss you’re tasked with going up against. Sometimes you’ll have to only fight one enemy, sometimes it’s two bosses at once, sometimes it’ll give them more resistance to your ground pound stun, and sometimes you’ll be fighting something entirely different than usual. It’s a fantastic game that demands repeat playthroughs, and for the completionists out there there’s a great number of secret enemies, files and letters to find throughout each level.