Saturday, February 6, 2016

PC review: Lethal League

Lethal League is neither a particularly complicated nor expansive game. But it is a game that knows what it’s all about, and strives to offer an energetic and fun party format that pits players against one another in intense, high-stakes racquetball matches. Drawing its rule set from arcade fighting games and utilizing an experimental technopop soundtrack that would make Jet Set Radio fans proud, Lethal League is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.

The rules are straightforward – players try to smack a ball around a two-dimensional space in order to K.O. one another and be the last man standing. The ball is able to bounce off the walls, floor, and ceiling, and successive hits to the ball will increase its speed, which can reach an absurd velocity. It’s a risk-reward system – jumping in the ball’s path to smack it back at your opponent gives you a chance to knock them out of the ring, but at the cost of placing yourself in the ball’s path of destruction. Multiple hits from a single player will reward them a power move, which varies from character to character, but includes a bounce, the ability to stop the ball and relaunch it at a new trajectory, and even pass through the walls to strike from behind.

Each of the half-dozen playable characters boasts a different degree of mobility, speed, and agility, making the selection process prior to a match more complicated than simple aesthetic appeal. On that note, the characters bear cel-shaded designs with comic book sensibilities, while stages are largely urban, all of which matches well with the aforementioned soundtrack direction. Menus are simple but clean, and character animations on the whole look smooth. Hit detection is about as perfect as anyone could hope for in a game that falls into a such a grey area between genres.

While the default mode pits all four players against one another, there is an option for team-based matches. Lethal League even includes an alternate game mode that requires players to aim for targets instead of one another, though this mode is admittedly less enjoyable than the default scoring system on account of the tense risk aspect being almost wholly removed. A single player mode progresses in strikingly similar fashion to the Classic Mode of the Super Smash Bros. series, while online play is presented for players who do not have opponents readily available to play nearby. Lethal League may not be a very big game, but it knows what it’s aiming for, and – for the most part – hits high notes.

My rating: 8 (out of 10)

Anime review: One Punch Man

An energy-packed twelve-episode run, One Punch Man falls into the action and comedy genres, excelling at its delivery in both.  From the first episode, Saitama – aka, the titular One Punch Man – is shown to have immense, possibly immeasurable strength.  Each and every foe he encounters, from lowly street thugs to world-threatening foes that might as well be ripped right out of a superhero comic or sentai series, can be beaten by a single punch of Saitama’s rocketing fist.  While this might seem like an all-too-convenient trump card that would wipe out all of the series’ threats in no time, it’s Saitama’s outlook on his role as a hero that keeps both him and the larger narrative compelling through the finale.

            Saitama’s incredible strength has left him bored.  Each fight he gets caught up in is a cakewalk, and half the time he doesn’t bother to catch his costumed opponent’s name or really even pay attention to them as they attempt to overwhelm him.  Saitama is a self-proclaimed ‘hero for fun’, and finds it very odd when a young cyborg by the name of Genos wishes to train under him.  Saitama initially dismisses the notion of having a pupil, but is persuaded when Genos promises to help pay for rent and take care of chores around the apartment.  While Saitama’s gains from this partnership initially stem from his being selfish and a tad lazy, the two ultimately grow to trust one another, recognizing the strengths they possess both independently and as a team.  They forge a mutual respect, and Saitama begins to see that maybe there is more to being a hero than simply getting an adrenaline rush, though his quest to find a foe of a comparable strength to his own never ceases.

            Despite first appearing as an inattentive goofball, Saitama has a lot of heart and is willing to make some hard decisions that other heroes might hesitate on.  With regards to the other heroes, there is quite a large community displayed in the series.  Occasionally, other heroes will have a quick cameo, but for the most part, the other heroes return in later episodes.  This helps to make them feel more like rounded characters in a grounded organization, rather than simply being part of the scenery.  The designs of the other heroes do well to appeal to specific genres and eras in anime, without lending their outfits or hairstyles too closely to any particular series.  Though Saitama and Genos are the central duo to One Punch Man, a small collection of high-ranking heroes join in the fray late in the series.  Meanwhile, the C-class bike riding do-gooder known as Mumen Rider brings plenty of laughs to the table with his overconfidence against some of the series’ monstrous villains, though he too has greater character development than one might expect.

            One Punch Man boasts one of the most energetic and rockin’ theme songs from an anime in quite some time, and goes the extra mile in helping to set the tone of the series before Saitama is found staring down a fish man four times his size, an insect woman who spreads thousands of mosquitoes throughout the city to drain the blood from animals and humans alike, and a climactic face-off with an alien invader that gives any one of the major fights in Dragon Ball Z a run for their money.  The animation is great throughout, with the fight sequences proving obvious highlights, while downgrades to cheaper character renderings helps drive the comedic moments home.  The series ends with a satisfying wrap on all the major threats faced thus far, but a few threads are left hanging – a couple of which are introduced within the final couple of episodes, oddly enough.  Still, there is plenty of opportunity to continue exploring these heroes should One Punch Man get picked up for a second season.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)
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