I’ve never been a fan of fighting games. I think it’s all those button combos that are thrown at you. The fact that I get demolished every time I play against anyone else doesn’t help either. So it was a pleasant surprise to play Lethal League Blaze. It’s unlike any other fighting game I’ve played, taking a beautifully simple concept and executing it to perfection. There aren’t reams of combos to memorise and it’s accommodating of everyone, regardless of skill level.
Rather than fighting with fists and feet, battles in Lethal League Blaze are fought by hitting a modified baseball as it flies around the arena. The aim is simple: hit your enemy enough times with the ball to deplete their health-bar and knock them out of the game. How you go about doing that is just as simple and anyone can pick it up and play. Lethal League Blaze only gives you five moves to battle with, all of which can be completed with just one or two button presses. There are none of those lengthy combos to remember.
The most basic move in your arsenal is a simple hit. This will bring the ball under your control and render you immune from damage until someone else hits it. You’ll also be able to throw and bunt the ball, which will slow it temporarily so that you can hit it at an increased speed. Parrying allows the player to thwart attempted hits and bunts from enemies by stunning them. Finally, each fighter has a unique special attack that can be used once they have filled up the energy meter. Players shouldn’t worry, because these are particularly well balanced. Each one is powerful, but not overly so, and they can be countered if you know what you’re doing.
Every hit speeds the action up, and you shouldn’t be surprised to encounter balls that are travelling at thousands of miles per hour. At these speeds it’s possible to be knocked out in one hit, so you really need to bring your A-game. Each round has the potential to get very intense, very quickly, and it’s an absolute joy to play. This is partly because everything is so simple, smooth and responsive, and partly because Lethal League Blaze responds brilliantly to massive hits. The game slows down, loud booms play and bright colours appear. It only serves to make the action that much more intense and there’s just something so satisfying about whacking the ball when it’s moving so fast that it seems to be everywhere at once.
Hitting the moving target that appears part way through most rounds will bestow a power-up onto the ball. These could be anything, and range from speeding the ball up significantly, to changing the ball into an American football that will bobble all over the arena. You might find yourself having to avoid two balls instead of one, or dodging a ball that is invisible. Of course, you can turn the tables on your opponent by whacking the ball back at them. No matter what you get, a power-up has the potential to significantly raise the tension of each round, and because of that, they are another great element of Lethal League Blaze’s gameplay.
I’ve raved on about how simple this game is, and this might put some fighting experts off. But it shouldn’t. The controls may be easy to pick up, but they are hard to master. You’ll remember which buttons do what within the first five minutes of picking the game up, but putting it all together when a ball is hurtling towards you is another story. The game released on PC the best part of a year ago, and seeing what some of the Lethal League Pros can do with that same limited move-set is staggering.
There is also a strong Jet Set Radio vibe to it. The action is chaotic, the cell-shaded visuals are brilliant, and the soundtrack is made up of absolute bangers. Lethal League Blaze is loud, bright and bold. Each of the characters on offer fit the style perfectly, whether that be Latch the crocodile-cyborg hybrid or Switch the skateboarding robot. And Team Reptile has managed to make every fighter feel truly unique too – impressive considering that everyone is essentially playing with the same limited move-set.
You’ll find that every game you play rewards you with currency. And you’ll be able to spend this in the showcase menu. There is a ton of content available – new characters, skins, stages and beats. There are also two new modes – Lethal Volley and Strikers – just waiting to be unlocked. The former, as the name suggests, is a version of volleyball where players take turns knocking the ball over the net. The latter is a game where players score points by hitting the ball into their opponent’s target. They aren’t nearly as good as the standard gameplay, but they are nice to have nonetheless.
The online mode is probably where you’re going to be spending most of your time. Lethal League Blaze fits with the trend of other fighting games, in that you’re going to run up against some absolute gods who will knock you out with ease. I got bodied more times than I care to admit and I’m sure that will be the experience for a lot of players.
Importantly though, I haven’t ever found myself getting annoyed at these constant beatdowns. The game does a great job of ensuring that anyone can have fun online, and that’s all down to the simple gameplay mechanics. One hit of a fast ball can put you right back into a battle, and it’s entirely possible to win a round or two against players that are clearly better than you. All in all, I had a real blast playing online. The only issue was the difficulty in finding matches. It seems that the player-count for this game is tiny, which is a real shame considering how good it is.
The only area that needs some love is the single player. There is really nothing special and it’s all rather bland. The story mode will give you a bit of a backstory surrounding Lethal League, but the matches you’ll play are your run of the mill one-on-ones, with a few exceptions along the way. The arcade mode is just as simplistic too, leaving you to pick your character, and run through a set of increasingly difficult opponents. These modes do little to prepare you for the online mode as the AI opponents you’ll come up against here are far too easy. You won’t really be exposed to the speed that you’ll need to get comfortable with if you want to survive online.
Put simply, Lethal League Blaze on Xbox One is one of the best fighting games going. Its funky aesthetic, banging soundtrack and beautifully executed and addictive gameplay sets it apart from other titles in the genre. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fighting game pro, a fighting game noob or somewhere in between, there is tons of fun to be had here. The single player is disappointing, but even that cannot take away from the fact that Lethal League Blaze is a brilliant finished product.