When I come to write a review, I generally hope to have logged a few hours on the game. This allows me to get an understanding of the story, a better feel for the gameplay, and generally write a more informed article than I would be able to on a “first impressions” basis. Having played the game, I then tend to sleep on it and write the article the next day, letting my overall feelings for the game sink in.
I have not done this for Lethal League. I purchased this game perhaps three hours ago, and have logged over an hour of play on it already, well and truly thrashing TD in some head-to-head matches. Whilst, yes, he did win a few, one thing rang true through every match: It was seriously fun.
Lethal League is unique, as far as I’m aware. It is, at heart, a fighting game that got confused somewhere along the line and wondered what it would be like if it was Pong. There are a set of characters, each with a unique move set, and their sole method of attack is manipulating a ball so that it hits their opponent. Every hit of the ball makes it faster and, thus, harder to avoid or hit back. Each player has a set of lives, one of which is lost each time they are knocked out by the ball. Once your life counter hits zero, you’re out, until only one player (or team) remains.
I can’t express how much fun this game is, and a blog doesn’t do it justice. The absolutely frantic gameplay will have you shouting at the screen. I don’t say that lightly, in my matches with my fellow blogger, we were literally shouting down our microphones at each other. It’s just one of those games that gets you really riled up, but in a good way.
Like other simplistic fighting games (the one springing to mind is Street Fighter), a basic move set is all you get, but it’s your movement, timing, and use of that small ability roster that really makes the gameplay interesting. As such, all the characters have unique movement mechanics to enhance how they play. For instance, Sonata can double jump, allowing her to make sudden changes in direction even mid-air. Switch can ride his skateboard up walls and along the ceiling, completely changing the predictability of where he will strike. Latch can climb walls and strike the ball whilst holding onto them. All these things, though minor by themselves, can be used to great effect when a player gets to grips with the dynamics of the game.
But let’s talk about the characters for a movement, since I feel I’ve been far too nonchalant about them. There’s Raptor, a rookie to the league who brings his trusty metal baseball bat. Fair enough. There’s also Dice, a skilled ping pong player, bringing his deadly hand bat. Okay, I can go with that. There’s also Candyman, a mutant human with a gigantic candy head. Uhmm, okay. What about Switch, a working-class skateboarding robot? No, seriously, that’s his description. Then there’s Sonata, the boombox-hammer wielding girl, and Latch, a mechanically enhanced crocodile.
That’s fun in itself, and I love the additional bit of entertainment it brings to the game; it allows you to bond with each character. But, like any old school fighting game, it also gives each character a special move which it can perform if they simply hit the ball four times. These moves are where the truly tactical side of Lethal League shines through.
In my matches with TD, by far the dirtiest tactic I would use to win was with Candyman. You see, Candyman’s special ability is that he changes the ball so that, rather than bouncing off a wall, it teleports through to the opposite wall of the stage. And so, all I would do is sit in a corner, repeatedly hitting the ball against the wall before all of a sudden popping my special and teleporting it across the other side of the map, behind TD’s back, causing a bucketload of fury over the microphone at me. And it was fun.
Further, like any old school fighting game, there are little quirks to the game which overcome certain gameplay issues. For instance, a character never instantly hits the ball. Instead, there is “hit lag”, which basically means that upon hitting the ball there is a short span of time where the character is suspended before the ball is actually propelled away. During this time, an enterprising opponent can interrupt the attack by “bunting” it, which will lob it in the air to be hit again.
Additionally, this ball can move really quite fast. As a result, it would be unfortunate if your own strike came back to knock you out. So, when you hit the ball, it will changes to your colour and become harmless to you, remaining that way until it is either hit by another player, or “bunted”, which will temporarily slow it down and neutralise it so that it’s harmless to any player. Whilst this setting can be turned off, leaving it on makes for it’s own challenge by increasing the difficulty of timing.
Each game is short, lasing perhaps five minutes for the longest of games. Individual rounds in each game rarely last more than twenty seconds, though serious intense matches can last a few seconds more than that. As a result, it’s the ideal game for just picking up and playing on a whim with some friends.
Speaking of which, and once again, Lethal League shines. It is perhaps one of the few PC games to be released in the past few years that you can play with your friends in the same room on a single PC, all at once. How many games can say that now? You can hook up console controllers to have lots of people playing hot seat. Now, if you were to hook up your PC to a big TV and have a four player free-for-all, I’m not saying it would be fun, but… Oh, heck, it would be amazing!
One more thing to mention: The music in this game is great. Truly iconic. Each stage has its own sound track, and they are all tunes that really reflect the insane nature of the game. If you heard any of the tracks outside of the game, you would instantly know it’s from Lethal League.
All in all, Lethal League is by far one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in a while. It definitely excels when you play with friends, but you can play against the CPU. The unique gameplay mechanics really make it shine, especially given how easy it is for anyone to pick up. This is definitely a Street Fighter, rather than a Tekken, when it comes to move sets, so there’s no learning intricate button combos. The only issue I really had was that my fingers were getting a bit confused in the heat of the moment, and I often found myself tapping jump rather than strike. Whilst I’m certain a console controller would help here, you are able to rebind the keys and, like any game, there is an aspect of simply getting used to the controls.
If you’re looking for a game to mess about on with a few friends, look no further. This is definitely a little known gem that really deserves more attention.
Lethal League is developed by Team Reptile. You can find it on Steam for £9.99. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.