Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mutant League Football Retrospective



1993 was a pretty great year. Steely Dan reunited, and a young Meg Ryan's performance stole America's heart in Sleepless in Seattle. The Sega Genesis (or "Mega Drive" for our friends across the pond) was also in its prime and a little company named Electronic Arts was taking a lot of chances with new and interesting IP's. Among them was Mutant League Football; the brainchild of Mike Mendheim and his team. Mutant League Football (MLF from here) was a horror parody of the National Football League, and also incredible. It took the basic concepts of "arcade" style football games like Cyberball and said "what if we mixed trolls and toxic waste pits and terrible puns in here?" The basic premise is that a nuclear apocalypse combined with an alien invasion has decimated the Earth and mutated a large portion of the remaining human population. This destruction didn't diminish everyone's love of football, so we end up with professional teams trolls, robots, mutant supermen, and an army of the undead.

What I love so dearly about MLF is the balance it struck between sports games like Madden, and violent games like The Immortal and Splatterhouse. It brought them together in a way that was accessible, funny, and way more affordable than finding a copy of Blood Bowl. At the time, my teenage self only cared about how cool it was to control a team of giant skeletons, but revisiting the game decades later I have new found respect for a number of reasons.


First, the amount of time and energy put into the parody and terrible jokes was huge. "Bones Jackson" and the "Midway Monsters" were just a few of the on-point jokes peppered liberally into the game. Unlike so many other arcade football games like Cyberball or even NFL Blitz the designers created this entire ridiculous world around the game's concept. They put enough effort into it that a cartoon series was spun off and ran for two seasons. If you get the chance to find any episodes, watch them. It was strange, violent, and totally not appropriate for its target audience.

Second, MLF was actually a decent football game. It pared your team down to seven players on field, but still allowed enough strategy to formulate real plays and execute audibles. The "nasty audibles" were things like jet packs, rigging the ball with explosives, or simply a full blitz assault attempting to murder the other team's QB. Leveraging the engine from Madden '93 gave MLF a leg up on titles like Blood Bowl and the oddly endorsed Jerry Glanville's Pigskin Footbrawl. Their AI and ruleset was just pitiful in comparison to the players and coaches you'd face off against in the Mutant League. The violent horror elements also added a new layer of strategy, because in career mode you risked losing key players to brutal deaths on your way to win the championship. That, and you couldn't actively bribe or murder the referees in either of those other games!


Mutant League Football is a wonderful relic. It's an anomaly from the time when video games hit their stride in terms of creativity, and were totally IN YOUR FACE TO THE EXTREME because it was the 1990's. It was clearly made with a unique vision, much passion, and careful use of parody law to avoid litigation from the NFL. There was talk of a Kickstarter project funding a remake which I'd love to see, but may not happen. Either way, if you're a fan of horror and the gridiron you absolutely need to track down a copy of this game and give it a spin. Maybe you'll win the Mutant Bowl and get inducted into the "Hole of Flame"!

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