If there’s one word I could muster to best describe the Nintendo Switch’s latest 8-bit 2D platformer, it would be “minimalist”.
This doesn’t necessarily imply that League of Evil is a stripped-back experience worth overlooking, just one that can’t quite shed its IOS and Android origins no matter how rewarding it's thrills can sometimes be.
Originally finding success back in 2011 with a release on mobile platforms, League of Evil is a no frills yet dangerously addictive platform game in its purest form. One that isn’t afraid to ratchet up the difficulty without a moment’s notice. This continuing sense of surprise and challenge is how League of Evil chiefly tasks you to best each one of its short but fruitful levels, introducing more booby traps, enemy types, and increasingly wacky hazards to overcome the further you soldier on into them.
One of the best things League of Evil has going for it, without doubt, is that its punchy style of short-burst gameplay makes it a perfect candidate for Nintendo’s new hybrid platform. What could’ve easily been treated as a quick cash-in by developers Ravenous Games is actually surprisingly intuitive both docked and on-the-go, and more than once did I find myself blazing through two or three levels within a matter of minutes whenever I had few moments spare while travelling.
It helps that for as cataclysmic and earth-shaking the minor plot is initially set up to be, League of Evil never beats you over the head with unnecessary exposition. Instead, it's effortless for players to jump into a stage with an incredible amount of ease, making it ripe for those who can’t help but fall into that “one more time” mentality of play. I can't imagine anyone is going to immerse themselves in the light amount of lore sporadically plopped in between League of Evil’s four chapters, but hey, the game thankfully knows where its strengths lie – the levels themselves.
When taking on any one of League of Evil’s 140 levels, expect traps that are deviously set, sequences intended to purposefully trip you up, and maze-like stage layouts that consistently keep you guessing for an added sense of challenge. Almost all (unless early on) include multiple routes to take, and various angles in which to approach the many enemies that are dotted about, giving each attempt the means to stay fresh as you find yourself grinding harder and harder to secure that precious three-star rating. How do you achieve such a feat? With an acute combination of skill and timing, of course.
Whatever League of Evil might lack in terms of glitz and pizzazz aesthetically, it more than makes up for with a great deal of responsive control. Don’t be surprised if you're greeted with the sight of your character darting about the screen, on and off walls, at the rate of a speeding bullet. A bullet that feels like a dream to control and manage, so much so that you can forgive League of Evil’s sudden ramp in difficulty in later chapters, as any failure is often your own fault, as opposed to the cheapness of the levels.
Where League of Evil falters slightly is not through design, art style, or soundtrack, but a downright strange choice to include arbitrary collectables. These random pests rear their head at least once per level in the form of a briefcase, and I’m not over exaggerating when I mention that they serve no purpose at all. Cool character skins? Nope. Extra bonus levels? You wish! Rather, they’re there to simply bolster each stage and add a light amount of replay value, but any good intention they have in doing so simply dilutes the purity of League of Evil’s break-neck pace somewhat.
A nifty little feature that’s more in line with League of Evil’s core sense of challenge and skill however, is a fairly in-depth level creator. Showing slight shades of Super Mario Maker at times, it’s in this mode where players can create their own 8-bit stages capable of making those who attempt it throw their Switch across the room in frustration – depending on how kind you are. It works via a simple grid-based drag and drop system that helps to make light work of laying your own traps, placing your own enemies - and perhaps regrettably – those maddening briefcases. It avoids the pitfalls of being considered a secondary afterthought, being a nice playground that lets players tinker and tweak accordingly, long after you’re done with the base game.
Any way you look at it, you have to give League of Evil props for just how candid it is. Very much cut from the same cloth as Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, and the recently released Slime San on Switch, the game makes its hardcore 2D platforming influences known, but in turn trims the fat these types of games can sometimes suffer from. At its best, League of Evil is a simple but challenging ride suited to short bursts of play. One that controls exceptionally, but struggles to fully amaze where its peers do so elsewhere.