The genre-blending fighter has finally made its way to consoles.
In the midst of all the hype gathered for AAA fighting games like Injustice 2 and Tekken 7, the indie title Lethal League found its way onto consoles early in May to prove there’s always room for something fun and new. The humble indie fighter originally released on PC in 2014, and has found a niche among dedicated fans. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One players now have the chance to get a taste of what the home run-hitting game has to offer. Lethal League‘s identity is defined by its eye-popping art, hip-hopping music, and devotion to giving players a grand slam of a good time.
Team Reptile provided us with a chance to try the game out on Xbox One. The gameplay is very easy to understand, but somewhat difficult to explain without either showing someone or playing for yourself. Combatants start each match spread out on the battlefield with an anti-gravity ball in the center of the arena. Unlike other fighters where you pummel each other directly to get the K.O., Lethal League requires players to hit one another with the ball to take out a stock. There is no single way to play Lethal League; you can try to trap your opponent by making the ball fly as fast as possible, you can rush your opponent to leave them little room to react, or you can run around and just go bonkers. You can play with any strategy that fits your style, and still meet some positive results.
Every character has unique attacks and special abilities designed to get the most out of each swing. Whenever things get too hectic, you can bunt the ball and set up a brand new combo string. Most matches tend to be one-on-one battles, but the gameplay really shines whenever four players are up to bat, especially in local versus mode. Online battles are fun in their own right, I experienced little to no issues during online play, but the lobbies can be a little less than crowded at times. Luckily there is a challenge mode that pits players against computer-controlled opponents in a similar fashion to the Super Smash Bros. Classic Mode. After a few rounds, new mini-game modes will appear like Point Mode, Strikers Mode, and other neat surprises. Training mode is also included, to give players the environment to hone their skills at their own pace.
Distinct art and sound keeps the ball moving.
Everything in Lethal League bursts with color and personality. Playable characters are loud and expressive in both animations and voice acting. My personal favorite character is the big-headed dandy Candyman, but there is a good selection of fighters to choose from. It’s always fun to watch the characters dash across the screen, leaping and bounding to gain control of the ball. It’s rare to see so much personality from simple actions like ducking or walking. The stages add as much character to the game as the fighters themselves. Fast moving trains, abandoned facilities, and even padded rooms create an atmosphere that fits every battle.
One of Lethal League‘s greatest features is its soundtrack. The music is expertly crafted to establish the rebellious tone; fans of Sega’s Jet Set Radio will find a lot to love with Lethal League‘s stoked soundscapes and upbeat notes. The music motivates players to go round after round, emboldened by the funky fresh beats. The soundtrack is also incredibly varied, showcasing the different possibilities within the “dub-hop” genre. The music is so important to the game, that a portion of the bottom of the screen is devoted to displaying the name of the song playing and its artist. The boom box plays another important role to the gameplay–but that’s something best experienced for yourself!
There are a few more nods to Super Smash Bros. like the character emblems, the announcer, and the pop-up text–but aside from that, this game is in a league of its own. Everything blends together so well. Lethal League confidently expresses its style in every way possible. It’s one of a kind flair is immediately recognizable to anyone who has experienced the stellar sights and shocking sounds. Nothing is quite as satisfying as the thunderous crack your weapon makes when it strikes the ball right before it blasts into a sonic boom. You will never forget the first time you break the speed barrier, or the second time, or the third. It’s just one of those things that never loses its luster.
It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
While I certainly wish there were more characters, stages, and songs, that’s my only real request for this title. I just want more. I want more ways to experience this world that was so carefully crafted. A story mode would be appreciated to learn more about the characters, their backstories, and their motivations. How did Latch the crocodile get his cybernetic enhancements? What motivated Switch the robot to quit his day job? Where did these anti-gravitational balls come from, and why does everyone need to hit each other in the face with them? Perhaps these questions don’t need to be answered, after all, they don’t take away from how fun the game is to play. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think about the day to day the characters experience in Lethal League.
Lethal League may seem bare-bones when it comes to content, but what it does have to offer is truly one of a kind. Players can really feel the love that Team Reptile poured into Lethal League. Whether you go up to bat solo or with your best buds there’s never a dull moment. No two matches are ever the same, and there’s always more to learn. It’s a game that needs to be experienced to see just how much potential the fighting genre still has to grow. I highly suggest checking the game out–whether it’s on a console, or on PC. Do it for yourself, do it for your friends, and do it for the Candymans.
[Editor’s note: Team Reptile provided Shoryuken with a sample copy for this article.]