I’m pretty sure my neighbors hate me. It’s not my fault, really. I can’t be blamed for shouting and yelling until all hours of the night when I’m playing Reptile Games’ new four-player smash-fest Lethal League. It’s just that kind of game. My neighbors are going to have to get over it. That, or they’ll have to engage in a smash-fest with me as the target. Whichever, really. I’m ready for them.
Lethal League casts you as one of several oddball characters and gives you a simple goal: you’ve got a bat, there’s a ball, hit the ball into the other players. You’ve got a basic swing that can be aimed in a variety of directions and a bunt used to pop the ball into the air to reposition it. Attacking the other characters with your bat doesn’t accomplish anything, so the ball is both your sole weapon and the bane of your existence as a single hit will take a player out. The last player to hit the ball is generally immune to its effects, meaning you’re safe until someone else tags it. Repeatedly hitting the ball causes it to speed up and also increases a power meter that can be used for character-specific super shots.
That’s…basically the whole game, really. It sounds simple because it is. What can’t be conveyed as easily through text is the absolute chaos that this setup can produce when you throw four human players into the mix and start incorporating the game’s many quirks. For instance, when I said that hitting the ball causes it to speed up, I neglected to mention that it can speed up so much that reality itself starts to collapse and the ball becomes an orb of absolute destruction. Things start moving at a pace too quick for the eye to follow. It’s absolutely insane and becomes even more crazy when you incorporate the above-mentioned super shots, like a shot that causes the ball to exit the screen and wrap around the other border.
This doesn’t mean that the action is random, though. When the ball speeds up to a certain extent, hitting it causes the attacking character and ball to freeze in place in a charging momentarily. It’s possible for other players to time their own hit to land just as the ball would go flying off to destroy everyone, causing them to tag it and begin their own charging animation. This, in turn, causes the ball to speed up even more, meaning it’ll be even more destructive when someone inevitably messes up their counterattack. That’s not all, though: it’s possible for a charging character to counter another player’s counterattack, stun-locking them briefly and ensuring their demise. One character is even capable of using their super shot to prematurely end the charging animation and hit the ball instantly!
The deadly dance of hit-counter-counter-hit-etc. that takes place as players become more adept takes Lethal League from a basic Pong-type game to a sort of fighting game. You’ll need to learn how your opponents play so you can predict their moves and time your counterstrikes, hoping to catch them unawares. Further, the different characters angle their shots slightly differently so you’ll need to keep that in mind. It’s a much more involved game than the extremely basic premise might suggest and it works astoundingly well.
With all manner of other titles available for cooperative or competitive play, Lethal League has been my friends’ game of choice night after night since we started playing it. The GGPO-based netcode also ensures that matches are mostly lag-free, though we’ve had our share of disconnect problems every now and again. If you don’t have people to play it with, it’s harder to recommend Lethal League; single-player and random online options are available but I don’t think they could compare with the full yelling, screaming experience
Lethal League’s presentation suits its simplistic basic style; this was originally a popular Flash game and it shows. Things don’t necessarily look “bad” but the character designs and art are a little on the bland-yet-functional side. The backgrounds, on the other hand, look amazing and dynamically change throughout the match as the ball speeds up and slows down. The star of Lethal League’s presentation is definitely the hip-hop inspired soundtrack. The pounding beats suit the staccato rhythm of ball-wrangling during matches.
Lethal League is the kind of game that would have made and shattered friendships back in the glory days of couch co-op. Now that online multiplayer gaming has progressed to the point where lag-free matches are possible, the experience stands out against the competition with its simple-yet-deep gameplay and extremely quick pace. If you’ve got a few friends to enjoy it with, Lethal League is a fantastic and inexpensive choice that you won’t regret. Just try to keep the noise level down; you wouldn’t want to get evicted.