The hip-hoppin’ king of swing is back with everything that made the original great, and cranks it to 11.
The highly-hyped, one of a kind, grand slam of a brawler Lethal League Blaze has finally released on PC through Steam, and it delivers a powerful experience worthy of succeeding the original in every way. There’s a lot to love about this jam-packed sequel, from a new fully-realized art direction to extraordinarily refined gameplay, and an incredible score that will leave you dreaming in funky beats.
Those familiar with the original entry will notice Lethal League Blaze shakes things up in a big way by replacing its 2D sprites with robust 3D models. Team Reptile didn’t stop by simply adapting the original character designs, most fighters have dynamically updated visuals, taking a simple character like Raptor, and threading him together like a baseball. New characters feel right at home with the rest of the roster. Doombox, Jet, Grid, and Nitro all have something unique to offer the universe of bomb-tastic baseball.
One of the coolest visual additions to the title is the dynamic turn that occurs at the final strike of each round. Time stops and the camera pans around the characters showcasing the final decisive hit. No matter how silly of a win it might have been, it’ll look dazzling thanks to this new feature.
Lethal League Blaze‘s soundtrack does not disappoint fans of the original’s impressive score. Legendary composer Hideki Naganuma lends his talents which is a match made in stylized hoodlum heaven. While you can listen to the songs individually after unlocking them, it would be great to have a playlist setting to just kick back and let the banging beats fill your soul.
Stages are more filled with life than ever, there’s so much happening at any given time, but there’s a balance between the hectic gameplay and the energetic backgrounds. Stages are no longer flat or without depth. There are a number of layers, some with moving parts, other characters, and giant backdrops. The train stage is presented at an angle which begs players to wonder what it would be like to play Lethal League in real life, on a bullet train, with passengers thinking it ain’t no big thang.
The goal of the Lethal League Blaze‘s main mode is to hit the ball into your opponent without being hit first. Those who have played Lethal League before will be greeted with the familiar mechanics established in the previous title. That being said, Lethal League Blaze adds a few key elements that make this title truly feel like the next evolution of the niche its created. Now, players have a health bar, no longer being knocked out from a single hit. The health bar will flash whenever a single hit is a guaranteed knockout and this is based on the overall speed of the ball.
Players can still bunt the ball to stop it in its tracks whenever things start to speed too far out of control. After the ball is bunted it’s no longer under any single player’s control. It loses momentum until hit a second time and all of the speed it held before being bunted is unleashed. Another move added to the player’s arsenal is the catching and throwing mechanic. Whenever a ball is hurtling towards the player, it can be caught and thrown forward with all of the speed it’s been building.
Another new feature that players will either love or hate is the new special item system that activates after a match has lasted a specific amount of time. Whoever hits the ball into the item machine will access a one of a kind boost that varies immensely depending on the item. One item rockets the ball towards the opponent, almost guaranteeing a knockout, another allows the player to control the ball with a remote to follow the opponent. Not every item grants a positive effect, however. One item turns the ball invisible, which can make things difficult for both players, another splits the ball in two which a more skilled opponent can turn to their advantage. Giving the items both positive and negative effects can attempt to balance the gameplay, but in the end, the better player is more likely to get the item and if it grants a beneficial ability, that player will remain in the lead.
The game’s tutorial does a good job explaining most of these mechanics, but there are a few that are a few that still remain puzzling. In some instances, while a ball is flying it will immediately stop and hover near a player, giving them a free hit. There are also instances when the player is knocked down and they flash red, perhaps giving them one more bit of fight before they are down for the count. In my experience, whenever I’ve been knocked down in the amount of time it takes for me to get back up, the opposing player has already hit the ball to my location, causing for another knockdown. It’s not a common occurrence, but it happened enough to cause some concern.
For all of these moves, it’s important to pay attention to the volume bar at the bottom of the screen that depletes and refills after each hit. Think of it as a kind of loading bar that lets the player know when the ball is going to smash towards you. With proper timing, you can parry nearly any hit, becoming a true Lethal League pro.
All of the new characters offer unique gameplay elements and gimmicks, with older characters being retooled to match the newcomers’ outrageous abilities. My personal favorite characters this time around are Raptor from the original cast and Nitro from the new bunch. Raptor is a solid performer with all-around performance. Nitro is a bit more complex, with his character trait that hits the ball with his giant handcuff then retracts itself to hit the ball again for a massive swing boost. There’s a character for every playstyle and the roster feels incredibly balanced. Even Doombox, who was the previous title’s final boss, feels like a fair opponent. Until a certain something happens in the story mode — but that’s for you to find out!
There are a variety of modes available in Lethal League Blaze that players are sure to find appealing, including a good amount of single player content.
For the first time in Lethal League history, there is finally a story mode. Something I highly requested during my review of the original. While the story it tells isn’t exactly groundbreaking, it is wonderful to learn about the many characters, their backstories, and the world they inhabit. The story itself is quite short and it doesn’t feel like much gets resolved by it.
Story mode is a little bit more overdramatic than preferred, for as much charm as the characters have in gameplay, their story mode interpretations felt a little flat. The only character that seems to stay true to form is Candyman, and that might be just because he’s crazy. There was no voicework done for story mode either, so that might have detracted to my overall experience.
The overall Story mode is fairly easy, aside from a couple encounters, usually with Sonata, my worst match-up for some reason, the chapters can be completed within their first try without breaking a sweat. The game introduces one of its separate play modes, Strikers, in story mode, but it’s just for one mission.
Additional costumes can be unlocked in Story mode after completing certain levels, but they will then need to be purchased afterward, which kind of takes away from the whole “unlocking” experience. It’s not hard to unlock in-game currency, pretty much everything you do adds to your wallet, but it feels less like a reward and more like another grind when offered through this method. There are also plenty of items without unlock requirements, leaving players in the dark on how to actually access the content. Its a nod to the older days of gaming that made unlocking items special and rewarding, but having to use in-game currency on top of not knowing how to unlock the item is a little overboard.
In a strange development move that was surely done to add playability, most additional modes are locked behind the in-game currency. Even training mode, albeit at a much lower cost compared to other modes like Strikers and Volley, must be purchased before use. Even the second tutorial needs to be purchased with in-game currency. Sure the asking price isn’t very high, but it certainly is a strange decision.
In Strikers mode instead of trying to hit each other, players must direct the ball into a target on their opponent’s side of the stage. It adds an entirely different mindset to the game, especially considering hitting your opponent with the ball doesn’t do any actual damage. Volley plays just like a game of volleyball and players must hit the ball onto their opponents’ side of the stage without it hitting the ground on their half. Players are allotted three strikes before needing to slam it on their opponent’s side of the stage. These are nice new modes to offer extra longevity to the title, but the main attraction will probably always be the standard Lethal League match. Especially considering the online modes do not have the option to play with either of these rules.
Showcase mode allows players to view and unlock additional colors, costumes, modes, songs, and stages. The character colors and costumes all add plenty of variety to the character’s already stellar designs. It would have been nice to have additional costumes for the entire cast, but understandably the new characters introduced in this title did not receive any alternative threads.
Everything feels like it costs too much in-game currency to unlock, at least at the beginning. When faced with unlocking either a new character or a new game mode, odds are players will go for the former whenever their costs are nearly the same. Some songs and stages cost almost the same as a new character and this is additionally strange. Through this method of unlocking, nothing feels special whenever it’s your choice to unlock the item. It’s a tactic to make the game last longer which is strange because the overall gameplay is so solid, that alone will bring most players back to the entertaining title. If unlocks were more specific it would be more rewarding.
My experience online has been a little mixed. There are two separate modes, Quick Match and Ranked Match, and both work as you would expect.
My first Quick Match took about a minute to locate, which was fine, but once the pairing was made the connection was dropped. After searching again the same problem occurred, but the search time lessened. The third time was the charm thankfully, and once the match connected it, was smooth sailing. There were no issues with the netcode, lag was nonexistent, and rematches were easy to continue. Once you left a lobby, however, it was back to the drawing board. Quick Match can go up to four players in the standard Lethal League match with no other options for customization.
I had the same experience in Ranked Matches as well. I found more consistent matches very quickly but once the game loaded the match dropped. The gameplay itself was smooth whenever I had the chance to actually play against an opponent. Surely the folks at Team Reptile are hard at work to ensure the dropping issues are lessened, but only time will tell if that’s the case. Also, there’s no option to replay an opponent in ranked mode, which is most likely done to prevent boosting, but it would be nice to have the option to continue playing against a tough combatant for a best two out of three at least.
The online offering is a little barebones, especially considering its the headlining feature in the main menu. Hopefully, there will eventually be the option to play Volley or Strikers online to give them more time to shine.
Lethal League Blaze is a worthy successor to the original title in every way. With new and interesting characters, improved visuals and gameplay mechanics, and a banging new soundtrack, it’s definitely a title worthy of your time. There’s no other game like it, and it’s certainly an experience you need to have if you’re looking for something that’s truly exceptional at what it does.
Anyone can pick up the game and feel like a champ as long as they’ve got a dream and a well-timed swing! Currently, Lethal League Blaze is available on PC through Steam, and will soon be released on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch — in early 2019.
My PC specs:
Intel Core i7 Processor 6500U 2.5 GHz 2.59 GHz
16 GB RAM
2 GB Dedicated Nvidia 940MX graphics
Overall I had a pretty solid experience on my computer playing Lethal League Blaze with my specifications. I will note there were multiple times where loading screens got stuck and I had to close the game and reopen it, but it was never a severe problem. I was able to play with four local players without slowdown as well.
Team Reptile provided Shoryuken with a review copy of Lethal League Blaze on PC.