Calling Them “The Cheatriots” Was Too Easy: Mutant Football League Review

Posted in Kulturecade by - January 30, 2018
Calling Them “The Cheatriots” Was Too Easy: Mutant Football League Review

Regardless of any opinions on the two teams heading into Super Bowl LII (can we say that on this site?), it feels like football fans have been sort of spoiled over the span of these couple of weeks. The Big Game (I’ll stick with that, I guess) is looming, Vince McMahon has announced, unanswered questions notwithstanding, the return of the XFL in due time, and, most importantly, I think, Mutant Football League has arrived on consoles just over two months following its initial Steam release, and after several years of tumultuous development and attempts to get the reboot off the ground.

Started by the developer of the original Sega Genesis title, Mutant League Football, Michael Mendheim, MFL originally began as a Kickstarter project in 2013 that would ultimately prove unsuccessful until a second try last year, this time with a much smaller goal, which it met easily. Although this second, more frugal attempt also brings with it the limitation of less content than was originally discussed, I think it’d be harsh for me to say that what we’ve received isn’t a quality and full-fledged project in its current incarnation, especially with a price tag of only $20 and the promise of more, free content updates going forward. This is great, since more content is actually one of the only real suggestions I really think I can make about the game that would still improve it, and free updates are always a tremendous show of solidarity from a developer.

I say this is one of my only suggestions because Mutant League Football is one of a few curious cases I’ve run into in my time where a game is exactly what I want it to be, but lacks the innovation or inclusiveness to be considered a “must-play” title on a large scale. As someone who loves the Genesis original and its Hockey counterpart for their style and tone especially, and is obsessed with any and all other arcade-style sports games such as NFL Blitz and NBA Street, MFL was a no-brainer first day purchase when it went up on the PS Store, a phrase which you’ll likely never hear again from my Nintendo fanboying, physical-copy requiring ass. But it’s because it’s so over the top and extreme from both a gameplay and stylistic perspective that I can only recommend it to folks who understand what they’re getting into and are as willing to embrace it as I am.

Strictly speaking in regards to the football gameplay itself, Digital Dreams wisely chose to base the engine seemingly on the latter days of the Blitz franchise, with not only a smaller number of players than Madden (comparisons are more appropriate than you might think, as the original games were based on EA’s existing Madden and NHL engines, respectively), but a much faster pace of play, which combine to both enable and necessitate big plays, which are still never quite over until the death tolls flash on the screen to let you know the cost of your almost-pick-6. It’s solid-if-simple football at its core that becomes truly strategic and unique with the Mutant League identity layered over it, with field traps, brutal hits, dirty trick plays, and the aforementioned high mortality rate all clearly established as vital ingredients to the game at all times. Tricks such as bribing the ref from the original game return alongside new plays such as the shotgun scramble, where the QB goes full-on Evil Dead, blasting holes through the orcs, skeletons, and aliens that make up the opposing defense.

The hilariously macabre parody of the game is perhaps none more prevalent than in the teams and rosters themselves. The majority of the game is played by teams included in direct reference to their NFL counterparts, with full-fledged rosters taken straight from the real depth charts. Possibly the funniest single experience of the game is taking a moment to look through the scouting reports of each team and chuckling about the inclusion of the “tight, corporate-owned squadron” of the Microhard Mutilators led by quarterback Hustle Killsome or the dominant mutant dynasty of the Nuked London Hatriots and the oft-maligned pair of head coach Spew Upchuck and his pretty boy skeleton QB Bomb Shady. The only downside to this is that only about half of the NFL’s teams are represented, which I can imagine is a tad disappointing for people who don’t have their hometown squad represented like I do with the Hatriots, where I can recognize not just the big names but run down the entire depth chart and crack a smile at some of the names representing real-life role players, down to third string D-linemen like Sinscent Brokenspine. I would really hope that future content updates can give us more of these to flesh out the real teams as well as a new fantasy team or two to join the Orcs of Hazzard and Tokyo Terminators (the return of the Sixty-Whiners and Galaxy Aces should be imminent).

Capping off the brilliant tone of the game is the inclusion of a truly unique and memorable announce team calling the action, led by Tim Kitzrow, a familiar voice for anybody with fond memories of Midway-published sports titles such as MLB Slugfest and, of course, NBA Jam. Kitzrow’s Mutant League counterpart, Grim Blitzrow and his colleague, Brickhead Mulligan, an ex-player with more than a few nagging injuries, as well as a second head growing out of his shoulder, call the action with an appropriate lack of filter or even a particularly strong focus on the on-field action. Overly graphic anecdotes and non-sequiturs abound between the two (or, rather, two and a half), that while not as numerous as the sheer number of lines recorded for mainstream sports titles, are genuinely funny and often long and unusual enough that it’ll be a while before players grow tired of them. On the same note, sideline close-ups featuring players taunting their opponents also make a return and, while still a bit corny compared to the commentary, are a fun inclusion as well.

I often find myself trying to wrap up reviews by coming up with a way of describing who a certain game is for and how enjoyable the average person will find it without redundantly saying “this game isn’t for everyone,” because really no game is truly for everyone. But Mutant Football League is the exact type of game that is held back by just that — by relying on nostalgia as a jumping off point to develop its most successful and identifiable features, it limits itself, at least at this point, where it is still trying to build itself into something greater, to the players who will actively seek out games that build on that same kind of nostalgia for their fix of over-the-top, arcade-style sports games that do the things that Madden and NBA 2K can’t. In the sense that it both is and isn’t a traditional football game, it may be an uphill battle to attract new players while keeping ground-floor level fans happy, and I think I have a perfect anecdote to illustrate that.

Until the announced Dynasty Mode update arrives, players are limited to exhibition, online, and single-season play, which is still enough at this point to get plenty of play time out of. At first glance, it’ll seem as though season mode is just a lot of exhibition games strung together since there isn’t as much clear focus placed on managerial depth as in a true simulation game. However, there is an extra layer of strategy that becomes more apparent after a few games, in that players that die in a game aren’t immediately ready to go in the next, rather you must pick and choose from a limited number, usually four, who you’ll bring back, while keeping in mind that if you lose all players at certain positions, you forfeit the game. This means you feel the need to play more and more carefully as the season wears down your team, lest you start dropping games out of nowhere from too many casualties. My Nuked London Hatriots dominated the regular season with an 11-1 record, making it to the conference finals against Tokyo, where they began to run away with the game at 35-0 in the third quarter, save for the fact that the three line bashers (linebackers, naturally) had been whittled down to one. After another interception would have put me in control of the clock a little bit better, the worst happened: my last line basher had been killed in the ensuing scuffle, I had to forfeit, and my Hatriots’ season was over in an instant. And I wasn’t even mad. It wasn’t cheap, it wasn’t unfair, it had been outlined for me clearly as a major possibility because of the nature of the game and its rules, and I played it wrong.

I don’t think a lot of people would be as forgiving as I am if they encounter something like that, just as they wouldn’t if their opponent in an online game went straight for their throat the entire game and won by taking out all their QBs, because it doesn’t happen in real football, despite the fact that none of the other stuff that goes on in the MFL happens in real football either. Mutant League Football isn’t more or less involved than Madden or even NFL Street, it’s just a different kind of game than either one, which I think is partly why this type of game has always been less popular than its mainstream counterparts, because despite legions of players that fondly remember their extreme nature, it’s difficult to convince the majority of gamers to embrace chaos the way that Mutant League Football does so intensely. If this type of game has ever been your type of thing, I can tell you that Mutant Football League does everything it sets out to do extremely well, and at $20 isn’t asking too much if it’s what is needed to provide more content for this game, and hopefully Mutant Hockey, Basketball, and Golf in the future.

This post was written by
He is a video game staff writer and dreamed of being a video game as a young boy. Then somebody told him that you can't really do that, so he compromised by doing a bunch of stuff related to that, playing video games, reading about video games, writing about video games, working at a video game store, and all those good nerdy things. Aside from video games, he's also a dork of all trades, with an interest in heavy metal music, wrestling, sports, and Magic the Gathering.

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