Mutant Football League Review
(Disclaimer - This game is in early access and the version reviewed may differ from the final product)
QUICK GLANCE: Mutant Football League
- Platform: PC
- Players: 1-4 Local, 1-2 Player Online
- Achievements: Yes
- Steam Trading Cards: No
- Controller Support: Yes
- Retail Price: Currently $24.99, developers suggest that may go up after official release as more features get added
High Level Premise: Post-Apocalyptic Football
Graphics/Style: Appropriately post-apocalyptic graphics. Player models are decent, I would like more of them. Lots of spikes on the uniforms.
Music/Soundtrack: Music is kept to menu screens and breaks in the action. It’s reminiscent of the kind of music you hear on regular football broadcasts.
Story: None to speak of.
Replay-ability: Fair. At this point, the AI is more frustrating than it is challenging. If it, and the game speed, get tweaked…this could be something very good.
Time Commitment: A typical game runs 25-30 minutes.
Value: It doesn’t have the depth of play, or the feature set of a modern football game. I feel like it’s a bit expensive when compared to other games of its ilk.
Favorite Element: I appreciate all the effort it took to make up so many puns for names of players, teams, cities, and even stadiums.
Way back in 1993, a little game came out on the Sega Genesis called Mutant League Football. It ran on the John Madden Football engine, but it was something altogether different. Gone were the NFL teams and players, replaced with skeletons and goblins in a post-apocalyptic game that somewhat resembled football. I don’t know for sure if it was a retail success, but everyone I knew either had it, or knew somebody that did…and they all loved it.
Mutant League Football was a 7 on 7 game. It generally followed regular football rules, but there were quite a few differences. For one, dirty plays weren’t just allowed, they were encouraged. Killing your opponent’s players was a viable strategy. And lest you worry about the refs calling a penalty on you, you could just bribe the ref, and they’d make up penalties on the other team. And don’t forget blowing up the halftime show!
Fast forward to today, and after a couple false starts the original lead designer of Mutant League Football is back with the ever so creatively titled Mutant Football League (MFL).
The basics of MFL haven’t changed much. It’s still a 7 on 7 game that mostly resembles football, bribing the ref is still in, all sorts of new dirty tricks are available, and the body count is even higher. Instead of blowing up the halftime show, you get some sort of Robotron inspired ref shooting game. It’s fun, but really hard to pass.
This is an arcade football game at its core. Think NFL Blitz on meth. There are only options for Quick Play, Season, Playoffs, and Practice modes. You’re not going to find Franchise Mode, character creation or any of that other stuff here. It’s stripped down to the essentials. I’m largely ok with this (although I think building your own Frankenstein’s Monster players would be quite a lot of fun)
Getting into the game, the first thing I noticed was OH MY GOD everything is a pun. Team names, cities, stadiums, and players: every last one of them is a pun of the corresponding NFL name. I can’t imagine just how many man hours went into this aspect of the game alone. There are 18 teams available in the game, and I believe 15-16 of them are based on actual teams…with over 50 players per team, that’s a lot of puns.
The main focus of this game is Season Mode. You’ll play in a 15-game regular season, and if you are lucky, you’ll make it to an 8-team playoff, all in the hopes of making it to - and surviving - The Mayhem Bowl. There aren’t many options to change going into a typical season. You can change quarter length, whether player death is permanent or not, and just how violent the game will be.
As a warning, if you make player death permanent (and you should, otherwise why bother), you can only resurrect 3 players each game. This means that if you have a particularly bloody game, you will go into the next game short staffed. This makes losing by forfeit a real possibility. I went winless my first season, and lost the final 13 games because I could never keep enough quarterbacks alive to finish the first quarter of the next game. If the AI sees you are weak at a position, they will pull every dirty trick possible to ensure that your players at that position are killed. This leads to a lot of frustration, as I quite honestly have not had my starting QB finish the first play of a game yet.
Graphically, the game is fine. Stadiums have incredible amounts of detail. You’ll see bubbling pools of lava, circular saws of doom, and Tokyo’s stadium is a swirly, trippy experience all its own. It’s actually interesting to have to learn how to play in each stadium, as things that work in one stadium may kill your player in another. I would like to see more variety in the character models. There’s only a few models, and there’s no variety within those models. There are some really nice touches like your screen getting splattered with acid / blood on particularly violent hits.
The game controls fairly well, although I have some minor quibbles with a few design decisions. When throwing a pass, the game delays until you let go of the button before going into the passing animation. It may seem small, but it really messes with the timing of throws, and throw power, especially when scrambling. It also bothers me that the colors of the receivers on the select play screen don’t match which button you hit to throw to them during the play. Currently, you are required to use a game pad to play MFL, although they have stated keyboard control will eventually be implemented. I can’t fathom playing this with a keyboard.
If you have played any video football game at all in the past 20+ years, you already know how to play this one. There are no real surprises. MFL uses a standard play-calling system, and the camera sits directly behind the offensive team at all times. The only thing I have to relearn is the “hold to kick” power meters, as I am far more used to the more modern and realistic right stick flick method of kicking . The playbook is far smaller than you’ll find in a regular football game. This is fine for an arcade style game, though it means less variety in plays.
I am not a fan of the content of the commentary in this game. Tim Kitzrow, the iconic voice behind NBA Jam among other games, was brought in to do commentary on the game. He’s got a great, distinctive voice, and I was hoping there would be a few winks to his previous work. Unfortunately, the humor aims straight for the gutter, and it lands there perfectly. I get that the game is supposed to be rude and crude, but littering the commentary with foul language for the sake of using foul language is just lazy. There is a feature to clean up the language for those of you who can stomach violence but not language though.
Overall, I feel like MFL is close to being, but not quite, a great football game. Granted, it is still in early access, so some of the things that bug me can be tweaked. I wish it played a little faster. Even the alien skeleton players seem to slog down the field, rather than being the quick moving agile things you’d expect. I feel like the AI is allowed to cheat too much. I get the old “rubberband AI” from NFL Blitz, but this is ridiculous. No lie, the computer threw 7 interceptions in a row, and all 7 were called back because my team likes Rush better than Led Zeppelin (WHICH IS A FACT ANYWAY!!!!!) This kind of cheap AI trick puts my controller at risk of being smashed into the wall.
MFL definitely has its moments, and I have no doubts that this will be a popular game. I don’t think it’s going to have the staying power to become a cult classic like the original. In 1993, Mutant League Football stood out because its theme was unique in a video game world filled with brightly colored Mario and Sonic games. Today, the video game world is stuffed solid with post-apocalyptic games, including other football style games, and this one just doesn’t stand out from the crowd in the same way.
(Editor's Note - For those of you who hate the Madden monopoly consider this game a protest vote.)