I remember a time when there was a new tennis game released every year. I’m not the biggest fan of tennis or anything, but they made for entertaining party games nonetheless. Lethal League, in its simplest form, is multiplayer battle-tennis. Up to four players can play locally or online in a frantic fight where the aim is to hit your opponents with the ball. It’s been out on Steam for a while, so you may be familiar with it already, but the PS4 release means it’s now even easier to get a bunch of friends over and play some tennis.
I’m quite surprised that the concept hasn’t been explored before, because although it’s an extremely basic idea it’s an incredibly entertaining multiplayer experience. The controls are really simple, so pretty much anyone can grab a controller and join in. Movement of your character can be done with either the left-analogue stick or the D-pad, X jumps, square hits the ball, and circle bunts it. The ball’s direction can be modified by holding up or down, and it will bounce off of the walls, ceiling or floor. Get hit by the ball and you’re out. Easy.
The game offers six playable characters, each of which have different movement properties and boasting a unique ability to use. Hitting the ball builds up a special meter, and four hits will allow you to unleash your special move. Latch (the cyborg crocodile) for example, can climb the sides of the arena and his ability will snatch the ball into his mouth and fire it in any direction. Sonata can double jump and her special allows you to change the direction of the ball mid-air. These traits allow each match to become more than just hitting the ball back and forth until somebody dies, and rewards skill and mastery of each character.
Each hit will increase the speed of the ball, and this is where things get really interesting. The first few rallies will move at a reasonable enough speed, but after a while it gets ridiculously fast. I’m talking so fast the the ball stops being a ball and becomes a blurry line. To compensate for these insane speeds hitting the ball after a certain speed is reached will put you in something I discovered to be called ‘Hit Lag’. Basically, the screen will shake or change colour, a sonic-boom sound effect will play and your character will stay still as he or she hits the ball. At first I thought this was merely an anime style effect used to show just how hard you are hitting, but in reality it’s there to balance out the game as your opponents can still move to position themselves to receive whatever ludicrous shot you are making. It’s an extremely well thought out system, as it looks cool as hell and allows at least a chance to return the ball.
Visually Lethal League is presented in a 2D format reminiscent of the SNES era, and it looks just fine. The slightly pixelated characters models all feel different from one another, and the animations are simple, yet effective. It’s not going to blow you away or anything, but it does the job well enough. The sound design is also in this same camp. The music playing behind each match is pretty repetitive, but there is just enough variety to stop it from becoming annoying. Each character has one or two phrases they will utter upon victory or defeat. Nothing to write home about, but in reality does the job well enough.
Theres a single player mode that I couldn’t complete. It annoyed me for a while as I thought I was getting pretty good the game, but when I went into a VS match with three computer opponents ramped up the highest difficulty, it became clear why. The computer is a goddamn cheater. I would be out almost immediately, but watching the AI on the hardest setting was like watching a bunch of super-saiyans go at it. They knew exactly where to position themselves to return each shot, no matter the speed. It was obvious. Even when they were using super abilities on each other (one of the characters can make the ball teleport through the wall for gods sake!) they still knew exactly where to be to hit it, no problem at all. My second concern is the net-code. Without friends over, online seemed to be the place to go for the most fun. But any more than two players in a match would cause a huge amount of lag or disconnect problems. Hopefully this is something that can be fixed with a patch, and while two player games are still a huge amount of fun, it would be better if you could have the four-way-throwdown without everybody being kicked out after a literal second.
Lethal League is a great game. It’s a huge amount of simple fun that will reward you if you put in the time to get better. The characters are wacky and unique, couch-based multiplayer is a blast, and if Reptile Games can fix the online problems then it’s a solid game all round. It’s best played with friends, but even without them (or an internet connection), you can still try and take on the arcade-style challenge mode or even just have a VS match or two with up to three AI opponents. It’s Pong for 2017, and it’s glorious.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - /10
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