When it comes to fighting games, I usually find myself drawn toward the more non-traditional sort (unless we’re talking about UNIST, anyway). Mainly because they aren’t terribly complex and don’t have high execution barriers due to combo systems, making them easier for me to pick up and learn and stick with. Lethal League was one of those games that immediately clicked with me because of how easy it was to learn. That game already felt pretty close to perfect, but with it’s sequel, Lethal League Blaze, which was recently released on console after launching on PC last year, developer Team Reptile takes everything that it’s predecessor did so well and makes it even better.
Lethal League sees up to four players attempting to knock each other out of the arena by hitting a ball that bouncing around at increasingly high speeds. It’s essentially combat by proxy. You can’t hit each other directly — you can only hit the ball and try to direct it toward your opponent. Whoever hits the ball is safe from it as long as it remains under their control. With each hit, the ball’s velocity increases, thus making it bounce around the arena faster and faster until it’s basically nigh impossible to keep up with, at which point one touch is all it takes to knock out an opponent.
Defensive options come in the form of parries, throws, and blunting the ball. Parries let you keep the ball in your control if your opponent tries to hijack it right it as releases, thereby providing a brief period of invincibility where they can’t hit it. Throwing lets you counter parries and also serves as a good mix-up tool since it always throws the ball at high-speed regardless of what its current speed is. And blunting allows you to essentially reset the ball’s velocity temporarily, perfect for redirecting the ball’s trajectory.
The game’s 11 characters also all have their own special skills. Latch can catch the ball and hold onto it briefly, for example, allowing him to release it anywhere he wants. Jet creates a bubble around the ball that protects it from being hit and gives it a speed boost once popped. Candyman makes the ball pass through walls, Toxic throws down graffiti that redirects the ball when it comes into contact with them, and so on. They’re easy to use and can regularly turn the match in your favor, but never by feeling unfair or overpowered.
One new mechanic in Blaze is the addition of health bars. In the original Lethal League, one-hit knock-outs were the name of the game. In Blaze, those are only possible when the ball is moving at triple-digit speeds. Any hit from the ball just takes a bit off your health otherwise. It’s a very welcome change, as it makes every game feel like a proper match since everyone has more leeway for mistakes and comebacks. In the last game, one-hit KOs may have made for quick matches, but it also meant there was basically no room for error. Miss the ball and you’re out. Kinda frustrating when you mistime your swing when the ball speed is at 5 or 10.
With a full four-player brawl, Lethal League turns into a cacophony of chaos a la Super Smash Bros, as everyone scrambles to hit the ball. When power-ups come into play — which do anything from adding a second ball to turning it into a football — chaos only doubles. It’s absurd in all the right ways, which is what makes it so much fun. In a one-on-one setting, it feels more in line with a traditional fighting game, the pace being more controlled as both players carefully try to angle the ball just right to catch their opponent off guard. The defensive options shine brightest here, as you have the time to think and react to your opponent’s moves, especially as the ball speed jumps to triple- quadruple-digits.
It’s a game that naturally lends itself to both casual and competitive play, as the mechanics easily adapt to both styles. It’s easy to pick up and only gets better the more you play and pick up on some of the higher-level tactics. The same applied to the first game as well, but with Blaze‘s tweaks and additions, it’s especially true now.
As a quick aside, the game also performs well. The Switch version I played held strong even amid all the chaos of a four-player match. One stage set in an elevator caused the game’s frame rate to dip a bit, but never to the point of drastically impacting the game. Playing the game with the Switch docked definitely has more consistent performance, but even in handheld mode where the frame rate is a bit lower (around 30 or so), it was still totally playable even at its most wild, intensive moments.
There are other modes as well, which are fine. One sees you basically playing volleyball, while another has you hitting targets on each side of the field to score points. None of them quite stack up to the core mode, but they’re fun diversions. As far as single-player options go, Lethal League Blaze is pretty bare. You’ve got your standard arcade mode and a story mode that provides a fun bit of lore about the world and the characters. Multiplayer is where you’re going to get most of the longevity out of the game.
If you don’t have a group to play with locally, however, you’ll probably have to arrange games via a Discord server, as the online (at least whenever I tried) didn’t seem particularly active. It’s a common problem for multiplayer games that aren’t immensely popular granted, but still — worth noting. That shouldn’t keep you from checking it out, though. Regardless of how you play, Lethal League Blaze is a blast.