One of the great things about independent games and the distribution power of the internet is all sorts of strange concepts can come to life to the gaming public. Whether it is the two-button fighting game Dive Kick, to the rectangular-based puzzle platform of Thomas Was Alone, it isn’t too much of a surprise that sees a game like Lethal League come out of the minds of Reptile Games. Originally a flash game, this multiplayer pong-based fighting game is now fleshed out for the masses and released now on Steam.
Lethal League - Gameplay
Lethal League’s foundations are built around a simple set of mechanics and a control scheme that anyone can easily grasp. There are only three buttons: Swing, Jump, and Bunt. Your objective is to try to hit your opponents with the ball while avoiding being knocked out yourself. There is only one ball in the arena, and the last person to hit it is the one who controls it. Each character has their own ball angles, jump mechanics (ex: wall climbing), and a special move that can be used after four successful hits.
On the surface, Lethal League plants itself as an ideal party game. With simple controls, mechanics, and concepts to grasp, anyone can easily join in the fray without much trouble. Much like its major influence, Smash Bros, the idea is to have quick matches that are full of dramatic changes in each round. There is also a complete lack of random events that are out of the player’s control, inviting competitive players to try to master the game. It’s a game with simplicity that has surprisingly deep gameplay due to the numerous ways to attack your opponent.
Lethal League - Presentation & Multiplayer
Presentation-wise, Lethal League’s inspirations come from Sega’s underrated series Jet Set Radio. With the use of thick black lines, exaggerated clothing features, and an audio track to get the match hype going, Lethal League is a game laced with a unique style that definitely fits into the quirky theme of this insane “sport." With characters such as Latch the Cyborg alligator, Switch the Robot Skateboarder, and Dice the Buddhist Monk with a ping-pong paddle, it's hard not to take a second glance at Lethal League's art direction
With all this being said, it does sound like the ideal multiplayer game. However, dwelling on the meat of the game reveals some major problems that could’ve been easily remedied if more time was spent with the offline players in mind. For starters, there are only three modes in offline play: Versus, Challenge, and Training. Training is a solo experience where you are free to experiment with the mechanics of the game. Challenge mode is the closest thing to a “campaign” mode, where the player must battle through a series of fixed events and eventually face the end boss. The last one is versus, where players can face other players or against bots in either teams or free for all.
Lethal League - A Few Complaints
With its price tag, there should’ve been more content that uses its mechanics in different ways outside simply fighting other players, such as a survival mode or hitting targets. It doesn’t help that the AI, while challenging, has the tendency to use the same tactics over and over, no matter what character is used. Online play could’ve been this game’s savior, but Quick Matches often result in one versus one matches due to the lack of population with five-minute wait times. There is an active competitive scene with tournaments held every week via Steam Chat, but casual players who want to experience straightforward online play will not find anything like that in Lethal League.
Furthermore, while the mechanics of Lethal League are well done, the game doesn’t stretch its mechanics far enough. At the time of this writing, there are only six characters to choose from, and each stage is a simple rectangular variation. While the stages do adjust the angle of the ball’s trajectory in subtle ways, it would’ve been nice if Reptile Games went even further into this direction, just as angled corners or something that goes beyond rectangular-shaped rooms. In a game about angles, there were numerous ways to explore different opportunities to take advantage of this concept, but Lethal League fails at this point.
If Lethal League was a cheaper game, this would’ve been an easy recommendation for anyone who has a slight bit of interest in local multiplayer or, if the population supported it, online. At the price of $13.99 USD, it doesn’t offer many elements and features to keep the price justify its value. For a game with such great mechanics, it’s unfortunate to see it fall short with its lack of single-player content and a healthy online community to test your skills.
TechRaptor reviewed Lethal League on PC via Steam with a copy they purchased. This review was originally published on 11-24-2014. While care has been taken to update the piece to reflect our modern style guidelines, some of the information may be out of date. We've left pieces like this as they were to reflect the original authors' opinions, and for historical context.