I’ve tried to explain Lethal League to a lot of people. I've found that the best way to describe it is “If Mario Tennis and Smash Bros. had a baby, and it was raised by European DJs who love baseball.”
Now if that doesn’t sound interesting to you I don’t know what would.
Lethal League (PC)
At this point, many people’s first exposure to Lethal League was in 2013 as a flash game. I first saw it as the final event of the UFGT9 (a popular fighting game tournament) Mystery Game Tournament. Since then, developer Team Reptile announced it would release a more fleshed-out version of the game on Steam in 2014 which has since been shown off at many exhibitions and tournaments, including EVO's Indie Game Showcase.
The core of the game is simple -- hit the baseball into your opponent. You face off in a small rectangular arena, and the ball will bounce around until it hits the player other than the player who last hit it. You cannot directly attack them, but rather your attack swings your bat (or, depending on the character, your cane, tail, hammer, or skateboard) so that you can hit the ball, regain control of it, and hope it hits the other person before they make contact with it again. You can also bunt the ball to slow it down temporarily. If you can do these things, you can have a lot of fun with Lethal League. The trick is, however, that this game is far more deep than it initially seems.
Hitting the ball regularly back and forth very slowly builds the speed of the ball, which starts around 10 miles per hour. The only way to really get the velocity going is by jumping in the air and hitting it with a down swing, doubling the speed. League is at its most fun when the ball is going in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of miles per hour.
There are five different characters to choose from (the developer states they plan on releasing more for free), all with their own movements, angles when hitting the ball, and move properties. Characters vary from Raptor, the “Shotokan-like” character who is decent at everything, to characters like Candyman -- an eccentric masked figure who relies on using trickery to defeat his opponents. Each character also has their own special attack, which you can unleash after hitting the ball a few times.
I could go on about all the little features like clashing, clash baiting, and meter control that make this game incredibly deep, but the best part is even at the most basic level it’s just a fun game to play. It's an amazing love letter to fighting games, even with a Guilty Gear “Heaven or Hell Let’s Rock”-esque introduction to the rounds, but it doesn’t require the levels of memorization or mastery of input of an actual fighting game. It’s much more akin to a game like Towerfall or Samurai Gunn in that respect. While at EVO I played the game for a few hours with a crowd of people that grew and grew as the day went on. Everyone had to see why we were all getting so hype for this baseball game, but they quickly joined us in the fun.
Lethal League can be played multiple ways. Up to four people can play at once, so along with your 1v1s you can also play free-for-alls, or team-based games. It also features online play via GGPO, a popular online service designed specifically for fighting games, such as the recent re-release of Street Fighter 3rd Strike. The only online mode is currently a quick match sort of set up where you can invite friends to play.
It would have been nice if there were more options, such as ranked matchmaking and an online leaderboard. The game plays smoothly, for the most part, but all of my testing was with other people in the same region. There is a single-player challenge mode, which is quite difficult and I’ve only managed to beat most of the way through. In fighting games, playing against the computer is often just “how many times is this bot programmed to let me hit it,” and the harder difficulty levels in this game suffer from that greatly.
One of the best features though is the music. Each of the six stages has its own “bangin” track, which vary widely. The HUD of the game is presented on a boombox which also displays the track title and artist of each of the songs, which are all not widely-known DJs. The music is supremely catchy, and even the menu theme will stick with you long after playing.
There is controller support, as well as mouse and keyboard. This game can be played on pretty much any USB device with controls, and performs very well on fightsticks. There is, however, a little bit of jankiness with the menus while using a controller, but none of that persists in the game.
Aside from lacking robust online options and a few clunky menus, Lethal League is an amazing package. It’s my personal favorite of the revival of couch co-op games, and may be my favorite “tell a friend” game of all time. I know I’ll be spreading the word, and maybe even one day we will be watching streams of high-level League play. Team Reptile really hit it out of the park with this one.
THE VERDICT - Lethal League
Reviewed by Ben Pack