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 Pong, Smash 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.