Everyone has that one thing they just keep trying to get into and ultimately never do. Maybe all you’re friends are metalheads and you keep listening to different bands, hoping you’ll get the appeal only to go back to Fleetwood Mac. Lots of people think they’ll get wrestling a shot only to have no idea what’s going on and feel uncommonly concerned for the physical well-being of large men in speedos. Hell, maybe it’s just a pair of jeans that you’ve been hoping will fit after a long and exhausting diet.
My point is, there are some things that we desperately want to love but sometimes just don’t get around to it. For me, I have two of those: Fighting games and sports. Whether it be Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter, I’ve struggled to fully immerse myself in the nuances of the fighting game genre. As for sport, I’ve yet to find one that holds my attention for an entire match let alone a season. How do you remember all their names? They all look the same from so high up!
So when Lethal League Blaze slid across my digital desk I wasn’t quite sure what I would make of it. A fictional, futuristic sport that’s been moulded to appear like a fighting game and yet despite my lack of interest in both genres, I keep going back to Lethal League, largely because it’s so much damn fun.
Two players in a 2D-arena hit a ball at each other. With every hit, the ball gets a little faster. Which seems manageable enough to start; when I first started up a match of Lethal League I was questioning the lethality of this so-called league when the ball was served at me the speed of a cat being told to come in from outside while you hold the door open for it. Then my opponent spiked the ball, so I returned the favour, all the while watching in awe as with each progressive hit the ball became faster and faster until it was a mere blur on the screen, daring either player to fool-heartedly leap into its path and give it a whack. Each player has a life bar and a set of lives and if you get hit too many times, or just once with a ball that’s broken the sound barrier, that’s a knockout.
Maybe I’m looking at it through the wrong lens (far be it from me to speak towards developer intentions) but Lethal League Blaze feels like a fighting game that the developers got bored with, which isn’t a slight to their game at all. Instead of giving all the unique fighters combos and distinct combat stances, Team Reptile rather spent their time perfecting how one can interact with the ball. Sure, you could just hit, but there’s so strategy in that. Why not spike it for an instant speed boost? Maybe it’s going too fast so you bunt it straight up, slowing it down but opening it up to be stolen by your opponent. Throwing the ball diffuses any weird bouncing angles it’s fallen upon, meaning you can change the ball’s direction in a heartbeat.
To make matters even more interesting, the playable characters all offer up a special super attack to switch things up even more. Sonata bounces the ball off the air while Candyman makes it phase through the arena for a single bounce. A small and tight selection of mechanics to ensure that there’s enough strategy to keep players thinking and on their toes, because Lord knows you’ll need to be both proactive and reactive when that little grey sphere comes hurtling at your face.
Above the clever design and delightfully fun gameplay, Lethal League Blaze also just oozes cool. The vibrant retro-funk style of Jet Set Radio is present in every frame of the game, matched only by the groovy tunes you’ll be playing to. While not exactly the most graphically intense experience, there’s so much going on with the art and character design that I never got bored with the game’s aesthetic.
Which I wish I could say for the game’s single-player campaign, which is serviceable at best. There’s a loose story about the government banning Lethal League and some secret tournament that’s being held but this was clearly never at the forefront of development. While it does provide some context for the zany cast of characters you’ll get to play as, which on a side note all look really cool. Shout out to Doombox, an evil sentient boom box determined to destroy the world.
Thing is, I could bash the campaign further but why bother when it clearly wasn’t the main intention of the developer? It serves as a neat add-on to the game that already offers so much in terms of unlockables including music, stages and skins for your roster of characters. I will say that if you’re playing by yourself I could see the grind for these largely inconsequential rewards becoming tedious quickly but Lethal League Blaze isn’t meant to be played solo. This game is without a doubt in the spotlight when sitting down with a group of friends. It’s impossible not to get hyped as an ultra-ball gets an impossible return, or you get smashed with a sneaky backwards throw. Blaze is always trying to up the hype and get everyone excited with its boppy music, captivating visuals and all-round speed.
Lethal League Blaze is a surprisingly competent mash-up of two dissonant genres. Offering players the accessibility of ball sports with the timing and technicality of fighting games, Lethal League Blaze is a riot to play with friends and still manages to be a fantastic time solo as long as you’re happy to play against an AI or strangers online. While I personally have taken to either fighting games or sports, all it took was blending them together to create something that warranted my investment. Now if the same logic applies, could some join vegetables with Warframe?
Last Updated: July 16, 2019