Fighting games require an unusual amount of precision in their creation, with specific durations of frames, hit boxes, and animations. Lethal League takes the traditional concept and splits it with a baseball hit — instead of hitting each other, this fighting game puts a ball on the stage as a means of hurting the enemy.
Team Reptile started working on Lethal League over a year ago, with an early web browser prototype and builds showcased in some fighting game tournaments, like Chicago’s Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament and this year’s EVO showcase. Encouraged by the enthusiastic community reception, the developers kept working on ironing out the game’s mechanics and features. As fighting games live and die by the community members’ enthusiasm, I can honestly say, this is a title that has great potential to find its way to some setups at local and bigger gatherings.
Everything in Lethal League exhibits a personality, with the environments and music standing out firsthand. The backgrounds present bleak, futuristic, abandoned city environments, from swimming pools to nearby wastelands and moving trains. But the art style keeps it together, giving it a rusted-iron feel. But even more so than the stages, it’s the music that’s a feast for the ears, with a variety of artists dropping beats and tunes that are very distinct to each other. My favorites include Scream by Bignic, which is an engaging, electronic beat that adds a lot to the already stylish game, and Klaus Veen’s Ordinary Days, a club-like beat with soft lyrics. Everyone will find something they like, and the remaining old school hip hop tracks and beats go a great length in rendering Lethal League a characteristic product with standout qualities. Even the match information is displayed in a cool boom box.
The game’s roster boasts just five characters, yet the small cast is fitting since Lethal League doesn’t have a lot of mechanics. The characters differ by their types of swings, but everybody can crouch, jump, bunt the ball to hit it up in a neutral way, and hit the ball, directing it with an up, down, or straight mid-strike. Most have some kind of unique interactions with the walls, like the lizard Latch who can climb on them or the skateboard-riding robot Switch who can surf on them as though they were rails. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough, and the crowning of every character is their super move, which is available when a power bar is filled up by hitting the ball a few times. The baseball bat-wielding Raptor can double hit the ball and change its direction, while Latch swallows the projectile for a few moments to let it out at an opportune occasion. The controls are easy and accessible, and anybody can pick up and play, though pads are rather a good idea for the game.
Four-player matches definitely get chaotic, as whoever hit the ball last “owns” it, and is immune to it. As the ball continues to be hit, it starts to reach incredible speeds, which is met with intense, screen-shaking effects. Many players might be reminded of the Super Smash Bros. games for Nintendo, where unpredictability sometimes trumps skill in a free-for-all, but it’s fun all around. The game never feels punishing, since the entry barrier isn’t high, and even a seemingly skilled foe can fall for some creative tactics. All the characters have distinct personalities and enough voice-over to not be annoying, and actually get you even more into the match. No one feels humiliated as a knocked out foe is sent to the moon with a baseball bat, hilariously, while Sonata yells out, “let’s jam!”
There’s a helpful tutorial mode that lays out Lethal League’s basics. As for content, there’s enough single player stuff to get someone playing for a bit, though not a ton. Challenge Mode is the typical Arcade mode, but what it does very well is throw in different situations for every stage, sometimes giving a team battle, sometimes two-on-one. The Training mode is there if you’d like to hit in peace, though it doesn’t have too many options to test out situations that are typically found in fighting games. Versus is for hosting parties of up to four. There’s also a progress bar that increases as you play, unlocking new “flavors” for characters, essentially different colors, which is actually a big deal for many fighting game players.
While the single player content may not be the most thrilling, it’s designed to propel an interest in the multiplayer, the richest aspect of the game. Thankfully, Reptile did a great job with using a ballin’ netcode, GGPO, which adjusts the game really well to any lag. It would be hard to play a game revolving around timing swings to a fast projectile, but in practice, my online matches were primarily lag-free, even among four players.
In competitive duels, Lethal League shows a different face. Even the first kick-off move is paramount to determine the flow of the round. For example, you can opt to hit it to the wall closest to you to hog it for some time and build momentum. Sometimes I went with a straightforward approach, getting into my opponent’s face as I sent the ball to him. As they stood there, and hit the ball back, I was so close that my retaliation didn’t give them enough time to strike back. There’s a myriad of tactical possibilities with simple ball mechanics and a bat.
Lethal League truly is one of those games that shines in its simplicity, remaining deep yet accessible, and quite a lot of fun to boot. It’s like a genius piece of graffiti that you remember among a sea of other scribbles. The sound mechanics and smooth animations that Reptile perfected leading up to its Steam release give a great foundation to its street personality that’s undoubtedly attractive. Coupled with the awesome netcode, I expect to see a loyal community spring up around the title, and as the fans keep hitting, hope that Reptile keeps tending to the game, adding even more exciting content.
You can get Lethal League on Steam here, for Windows.