In the 1990s and early 2000s, game developers weren’t afraid to take risks by creating unique games that parodied the seriousness of simulation sports titles.
Back in 1993, EA actually decided to release its own over-the-top arcade football game called Mutant League Football for the Sega Genesis. The game quickly became a cult classic to fans, and even spawned a hockey spinoff and an animated TV show. In the two decades since, however, the Mutant League series laid dormant as the industry moved forward with an even larger focus on simulation, thus pushing arcade games more to the wayside.
But after 24 years and a successful Kickstarter campaign, the man behind the original Mutant League franchise, Michael Mendheim, has brought the series into the modern age with the release of Mutant Football League.
There are a number of modes to choose from, including play now, a practice mode, season mode, playoffs, and online head-to-head. There’s also a fun little halftime mini-game that features a player taking a shotgun to a horde of zombie referees.
The game doesn’t feature an official NFL license, but that doesn’t stop Mutant Football League from clearly taking inspiration from the league for its team and player names in the form of parody. Primarily chosen by its backers on Kickstarter, the game features 18 teams that include squads like the Mile High Chronic (Denver Broncos), the Deadlanta Vultures (Atlanta Falcons) and Nuked London Hatriots (New England Patriots).
Each team is made up of different species like skeletons, mutated humans, orcs, aliens and bruiserbots. All of the different players have a unique style to them that look as good as any game you’ll see for the current generation of games. It’s impressive how AAA-like Mutant Football League looks after being built by a small development team.
Players like Throb Bronkowski, Ghoulio Bones and Hambonio Crown all take the field in fantastic-looking stadiums that feature various sabotages like smoke in the air getting players high, or saws that will cut players in half and render them useless. But it’s not just the saws, lightning bolts and landmines you need to worry about in the stadiums.
Each team features a set of “Dirty Tricks” that can be utilized to gain a bigger advantage against the opponent. From paying off the referees to making your players true giants on the field, there are numerous ways to either ensure a turnover, score a touchdown or even prevent a score. These tricks often take away the significance of a player’s ratings because they can be killed and removed from a game at a moment’s notice. The real strategy on the field is about when you utilize the tricks and how much you can decimate the opposition. To make it even more interesting, each of the teams in the Mutant Football League have their own tricks to utilize to avoid too much repetition.
It may seem over-the-top, but it’s exactly those types of antics that make Mutant Football League the truly unique football experience that it aims to be.
Of course, if you just want to have a regular game of football with no risk of losing due to forfeiture for not having enough players, you can choose to turn player deaths and even “Dirty Tricks” off. It’s that type of freedom that allows players to make the game their own custom experience.
Where Mutant Football League falls short is actually teaching you how to play the game. When you first start playing, you can find yourself getting easily frustrated when touchdowns are being taken away for selling bootlegged copies of Phish albums. It isn’t until you realize that you need to kill the referee that you can finally score, unless you’ve already turned the ball over before that.
The game also feels too slow on the default game speed, so it’s highly recommended that players push the speed up to the “fast” or “very fast” settings in order to really enjoy the on-field experience. Without it, you’ll quickly find the players run too slow after their turbo rapidly depletes and that long plays seemingly take forever.
The legendary Tim Kitzrow (NBA Jam, NFL Blitz) returns as the main play-by-play voice of the game with his usual enthusiasm behind the mic. While the commentary as a whole is enjoyable, it can become repetitive after a few play throughs, and the humor can come off as a bit forced.
Online gameplay proved to be strong with little to no connection issues or any sort of lag in the handful of games that were played.
Since the start of development, Mutant Football League wanted to take everything fans loved about the original incarnation, and bring it to the 21st century. The sabotaged stadiums, various player species, and the blood and gore all bring back memories of the Genesis cult classic.
It’s not a game without its issues as it doesn’t do a good a job of teaching new players the game, the humor can sometimes feel forced, and the player and referee cutaways can get quite repetitive. However, with fun on-field action, excellent visuals and a number of modes to choose from, Mutant Football League is the best arcade football game since NFL Street 2.
**A PC copy of Mutant Football League was provided for review purposes. Mutant Football League is out now on PC via Steam, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.