Baseball introduced into a fighting game is certainly a novel mechanic, mixed with a short life cycle and quick player movement, Lethal League can offer moment to moment rushes not often seen in the genre and against friends over a few drinks in a party atmosphere it can have you in hysterics.
The first time I saw Lethal League it was at an indie game showcase at the EVO fighting championships and it seemed interesting, a central sports mechanic and combat influenced by titles like Super Smash Bros. meaning the potential was there for a crowd pleasing title, but after that little was heard from Team Reptile, the developers of Lethal League.
The route to victory is a simple one, hit the baseball into your opponent and take a shard of life away from them. Empty their whole life bar and you win. Things get interesting the longer the rally, where each successive can speed up the movement of the ball, bouncing around the arenas, creating a deadly projectile able to take out your competition.
As with all fighting games there is a skill involved and button mashers out there will want to look elsewhere because in Lethal League, timing is king. The player is offered two options of contact, a standard hit and a bunt. The former is used to make a direct contact with the ball in a bid to speed up play, starting at 10mph and increasing in speed, reaching ridiculous levels into the hundreds of thousands. The latter allows you to slow the play of the ball and to tee yourself up because a jumping strike down will always speed the ball up considerably and make for more awkward angles for your opponent to return.
I played Lethal League numerous times against different friends over a short period and we all had a good time, it was silly, simple and unlike other fighting games out there such as Killer Instinct, Injustice 2, Tekken 7 etc. it doesn’t require knowledge of string combos or a complex understanding of characters and their weaknesses.
Unfortunately, when it came to playing through the Arcade and Challenge Modes of Lethal League, the things I enjoyed the most about playing with friends disappeared completely. It became a mess of hyper-reactive characters who knew exactly where the ball would be and it was at that point that it dawned on me what I liked so much about playing with friends. Human error. Every moment of pure laughter and conversation came as a result of someone messing up. The skill of Lethal League relies on you being the last person to make a mistake and when the AI doesn’t (bar pre-programmed tendencies) then every ounce of fun is sapped away.
Playing Lethal League became an unpleasant experience, one that would leave me drained after playing. Against the AI it simply wasn’t fun and things began to grate. Visually the animations would annoy, lacking the smoothness of many other fighting games and, whilst made on a budget, in a world where games like Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator and Street Fighter V exist, you can’t help notice the lack of polish. What is even more guilty however is the unoriginal character designs, and whilst the movement of the characters would differ somewhat, it was so minimal that it didn’t really matter who was chosen bar Candyman mainly as a way to avoid his obnoxiously annoying voice lines that soon had me muting the television.
Ultimately Lethal League shines as a small party game where you can get a group of friends together and play with up to four people on the same screen. It’s fun in the same way Towerfall or Gang Beasts are and shares the same shortcomings, if you’re only going to play against the AI then it’s just not fun.