Lethal League is a difficult game to review, because the experience it offers is like a magic trick. The first time you see a magic trick it is amazing and all you want to do is tell a friend, but once you learn the secret it becomes standard and nothing more than a trick. My reaction to Lethal League worked in the same way. It offered me a unique gameplay twist to the 2D fighting game, but for all the unique, odd, and interesting pieces in the game there are numerous places where the game fails to move beyond the unique and simple gameplay twist it offers. It isn’t magical; it’s just a trick.
Lethal League is a 2D fighting game crossed with a baseball game. It is Pong meets 90’s Mortal Kombat. Two or four players square off against each other, in a backdrop that seems ripped right out of someone’s dystopian nightmare, with clubs and then a baseball drops between the players. Each hit of the baseball makes it move quicker and forces the players to adjust their swing speed and distance on the fly.
And that’s basically it for the game. There is some variation to the angle at which the ball moves. At first it moves side to side, but then the player will realize that they can hit the ball up and down and angularly to make the ball more difficult to see and react to. There are the standard online multiplayer, local multiplayer, and challenge “tree” that all fighting games have, but none of them change the core gameplay.
Then there are three game modes in total. The game is built on the standard 1 vs. 1 fight found in all fighting games. When the player hits the ball it turns their color and if the ball hits the other player then they lose one of five life squares. The other two game modes are variations of this (2 vs. 2 and hitting a target on the opponent’s side of the screen).
This is why it is a difficult game to review, because the gameplay is unique and something that can’t be found anywhere else, but the game doesn’t offer enough variations on that core concept. Even fighting games, where this game pulls a lot of its structure from, have different combos and moves to keep the gameplay from getting stale, but here the player swings the club at the ball and chooses between up and down or horizontal. Each game mode is basically the same experience with only minor tweaks.
There was one factor that kept me playing the game—outside of having to review it—which is the leveling system. It is based on experience points, like many other leveling systems in games and depending on how long a match goes or how difficult the adversary will dictate how many experience points are awarded. This quality kept me playing just to see what in-game reward I could unlock and it did take a while, because many matches within the challenge mode only last a few minutes so the player doesn’t acquire much in the way of experience points for each individual match.
I kept fighting my way through match after match, thinking that I would get a new playable character, setting, or mode. I thought to myself, “the game must have more depth hidden away”. This thought was bolstered by the fact that there is a trophy for achieving level 50. As I crossed the level one threshold I was awarded…nay…achieved…a new color for my character. I was dumbfounded; I thought “maybe that’s just level one and at level five there will be something cool”. So, fair reader, I soldiered on and acquired three other color changes for my chosen character before crossing the level five threshold…and…achieving…another color. At this moment I shouted (with an indoor voice as to not to piss my wife off) “I will not play your game…game; you have stolen hours from me and I will not allow you to steal anymore”.
The above situation perfectly sums up my feelings about this game. It is a magic trick once you learn how it is done. It has an interesting twist on an old standard of gameplay that makes you want to play it, because you have never seen anything like it. But, then you play it and realize that there is nothing to it; just smoke, mirrors, and now your wallet is missing.
However, based on what’s there, there are many qualities to like and enjoy. There are many fun little adjustments that were added to the game and they play up the uniqueness of the game. For example, as the baseball gets hit, by each player’s club, it speeds up (this is monitored by a boom box-shaped meter at the bottom of the screen) and if the speed goes high enough then the background will change based on the speed of the ball. The environment reacts by losing color as the baseball’s speed rounds the million mark.
These odd and unique features to the game offer some fun when the player may not be expecting it. The problem is that if the player isn’t screwing around with a friend, unique moments like this would never be seen. In the entire time I played the game against AI the speed of the ball never went over 40 and this is after I completed the challenge mode and many single matches.
Another nice touch is the look and feel of the game. It reminds me of being in an arcade and pumping quarters into a machine to keep playing as my favorite fighter. The controls, visuals, and straight forward gameplay all enhance this emotion. The problem is that I’m not playing this game in an arcade. I’m playing this game in my apartment and can jump into any match at will. There is no barrier between quarters and gameplay, which allows me to see all the bells and whistles up front instead of playing the game for weeks and being amazed when I learn something new about the game.
There is no narrative to go along with the game, aside from a paragraph next to the character, when choosing them. This isn’t a major problem, due to the laughable quality of narratives in many fighting games, but not having anything does highlight that a narrative, however silly, is a necessary quality for encouraging additional play throughs as well as encouraging the player to continue on their initial play through.
The character roster only offers six playable characters. Each character is unique, but even the original Mortal Kombat offered more playable characters than that 25 years ago. The sound bytes are repetitive and the tutorial could be more clear. I could go on with the negatives, but I think the point is sinking in.
Lethal League PS4 Review
Unique gameplay mashups and twists are great at hooking a prospective player, but if the game doesn’t evolve past that initial gameplay, they won’t play for long. Lethal League’s unique qualities like the gameplay and the arcade feel don’t compensate for a game that has very little depth and repetitious gameplay. It would have been worth three or four quarters back in my arcade days, but then I would have moved on to a different game. Don’t get sucked in by this magic trick; and for goodness sake, put your wallet on a chain.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital code provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
*Reviewed using a base PS4.