At one point during our first Lethal League Blaze session, James screamed for five seconds straight. It's a natural response when you've just hit a ball so hard it's moving faster than light with the power to liquidate matter, and then someone else hammers it in mid-air and suddenly the screen is flashing and colors are inverted like you've just punched a hole in reality.
Lethal League Blaze gets intense, is what I'm saying.
This half Pong, half fighting game is the sequel to 2014's Lethal League, and the basics are unchanged. You choose a character from a bizarre roster, including a couple robots (one is a boombox), an alligator man, and a floating lady with an afro and a giant hammer. You smack a ball around the arena, adding speed with each hit until it's traveling at supersonic speeds. Get hit, and you're shredded. The whole thing is soaked in a Jet Set Radio-inspired "street" aesthetic, with music to match (including some tunes from Jet Set composer Hideki Naganuma).
There was a purity I loved in Lethal League. Get hit and you're dead. There were just two buttons: swing and bunt. Hit the ball until everyone else dies. There was enough depth hidden in those mechanics for Lethal League to end up at the fighting game tournament EVO, but it was also simple enough to play with four people on a couch and have a great time.
Blaze is both more complex and more forgiving than its predecessor: it adds a "throw" move to grab and redirect the ball and health meters for characters, so you can survive more than one hit. This means matches can last longer, though they're still usually finished within a minute. The faster the ball is moving, the more damage it does, and by the time it's supersonic you don't wanna get hit. There are also items, now, which modify the ball to make it invisible or controllable in mid-air or splinter into multiball.
The health bars felt like a big change at first, but after a few minutes I really liked them: they let matches develop a bit more, making room for surprising upsets. Same with the throw: it's simple enough that it doesn't overcomplicate things, but another variable in a game that moves at this speed can make big waves. It adds depth to the split-second decision making running through my head every time I try to hit the ball.
Should I go for a basic hit, which will be easier to predict and hit back in my face? Should I try to bunt and then hit the ball again for the follow up, building up speed? Or should I throw it, changing up the timing just enough to catch someone blinking?
I am not good at Lethal League Blaze, but it's so satisfying on a visceral hitting-things-and-watching-shit-happen level that I don't care when I lose. It's all worth it for pulling off that one blinding speed rebound.
With the first Lethal League, I never really felt a compelling path to get better playing solo. It was a great game to play with friends, but I wasn't going to practice. Blaze, though, has a story mode, which adds some fun, if simple lore to its world and characters. As you'd expect, the lethal league ball game is an illegal, underground sport, outlawed by The Man after someone died playing.
There's also a light progression system, with points you can use to unlock more characters, arenas and music. It's just enough to make me want to play through the story and get better at Lethal League in the process.
My only disappointment so far is there's no way to add bots when you're playing with other people online; with a party of three, I'd like to be able to add in a fourth for team matches. At least online works well: in all the matches I've played so far, I haven't had any issues with lag.
To get a bit hyperbolic at the end here, I'll let this Steam review close things out:
"A lot of people ask me,
'If Perfect is so good
why haven't they made a Perfect 2?'
Well thats because they just skipped to Perfect 5,
and that's Blaze."
~Wise Old Man
Play Lethal League Blaze.