Ain’t nothin’ like a funky beat!
If a fighting game had a child with the game of tennis and that child was raised by a copy of Jet Set Radio, the result would probably look a lot like Lethal League Blaze. Developed by Team Reptile and finally making its console debut after a PC release in 2018, Lethal League brings to the Switch fast-paced, ball-hitting action that any player will find fun. However the game hides a surprising amount of depth behind its seemingly simple gameplay, which when put alongside a killer soundtrack and a charming cast of characters makes it an absolute hit among multiplayer games on the system.
Unlike a usual fighting game where a player’s goal is to hit their opponent directly, Lethal League instead works more like a deadly game of Pong. The players goal is to hit a ball that bounces around the stage, marking it in their color and aiming to hit their opponent with it. While the ball moves slowly at the start, each hit gradually increases its speed until it has transformed into a bullet that requires precise timing to successfully hit. Each time you’re hit by your opponent’s ball your health will decrease, with the amount of damage depending on the speed of the ball. There are a variety of ways each character can hit the ball from spiking to bunting to smashing, and each character has their own range, space, and special skills that can be used to catch your opponent off guard.
While the game may seem simple from the outside, a closer look will reveal an amount of depth that any indie fighting game would be proud of. For instance as the speed increases, so too does the strategy, as hits come with a delay before the ball is actually released. During this delay a fantastic rock-paper-scissors dynamic emerges as the hitter can choose to press A and parry during the wait, which will stun the opponent if they try to hit it immediately. Pressing X will allow you to catch the ball and throw it forward at a high speed, and this can be used to counter a parry as a ball in parry mode can simply be grabbed away and immediately thrown. If the opponent cancels their parry and you attempt to grab it, however, you’re merely going to be rewarded with a high speed ball to the face. It’s this kind of strategizing that makes the game so interesting.
The cast of characters is incredibly memorable, from the robot alligator Latch, to the lovably goofy and insane Candyman, to Jet, a character so obviously inspired by Jet Set Radio I’m surprised SEGA hasn’t assumed she’s a pitch for a new game and turned her down. On the surface, these characters all appear to play largely the same, but once again after a deeper look you’ll find they all have gimmicks that make them special. Jet has a jetpack that can be used to hover; Latch can climb on walls; Sonata has three jumps: you get the picture. The problem that arises due to these differences is that nothing in the game actually teaches you about them, causing you to have to go elsewhere to learn. Despite playing several games with her and using it quite often, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what Jet’s special actually did until I watched a video on YouTube explaining it. Tutorials do exist in game but they appear to only to teach you about the things that every character can do instead of what makes each one special. With such a relatively small roster, it’s a shame that there’s no character specific tutorials to truly show new players what the game is capable of.
A single player story mode is present in Lethal League but is really nothing to write home about, being your usual fighting game fare: a small bit of visual novel style dialogue followed by a regular match with an AI opponent. Arcade mode is also present, but it is once again exactly what you would expect. In this way, Lethal League doesn’t provide a lot in terms of single player content, but it more than makes up for it in multiplayer. Games can be played in free-for-all or team format with up to four players, or even in 1-v-1 if you really want to make it personal. There are also two unlockable modes: Lethal Volley, a volleyball style game, and Strikers, a game about hitting a target on your opponent’s side of the stage, but neither of these really had the same charm as the regular matches.
In the end, I struggle to call Lethal League Blaze anything but awesome. With a combination of fun gameplay, likeable character designs, and an incredible soundtrack that even features a song by the legendary Hideki Naganuma, this game is sure to have your friends screaming in pure hype as everybody in the room gets the hang of it. As my roommate and I played and gradually improved, we got into sections where the ball got faster and faster, eventually reaching speeds of 1000 miles per hour that had me sweating since I was so excited for what was happening. If you enjoy a good multiplayer experience, Lethal League Blaze is a must-have.