Retro Gaming Challenge Week Sixteen: Mutant League Football (Megadrive)

They really don’t make them like Mutant League Football any more — and I really needed working hands and a second player for this one.

Once more unto the retro games shelf for a week’s worth of gaming. For any first timers, I’m playing a different retro game each week for a year, with the 52nd game being my all-time favourite, Bubble Bobble. Until week 52 — a long, long time away right now — I’m not allowed to play it at all. Every week, the Internet votes on the next game I play from a selection or theme.
So far:
Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Road 2: The Next Generation (N64)
Donkey Konga (Gamecube)
The Firemen (SNES)
Space Invaders (2600)
Three Dirty Dwarves (Saturn)
Trog (NES)
Robocop vs The Terminator (Megadrive)
James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (Xbox)
Godzilla Generations (Dreamcast)
Devil Dice (PSOne)
Asterix (Sega Master System)
Toki (Atari Lynx)
Backyard Wrestling: Don’t Try This At Home Review (PS2)
Super Monkey Ball (Gamecube)
Unirally (SNES)
Now, on with the show.

Mutant League Football: You’re going home in the back of an ambulance (but there isn’t one)

As I noted last week, I’ve already written a retro-style review for Mutant League Football, which you can read right here. Go on — I’ll still be here when you get back.
All up to date? Good. This week presented two rather interesting challenges in assessing Mutant League Football; one sinister (in the proper meaning of the word) and one not so.
Honestly, it wasn’t my greatest week of gaming, so it was a good thing that I had a game to play that I was entirely comfortable and familiar with.

Mutant League Football: The Sinister Digits

I did something stupid late last week. Or to be more accurate, something stupid and accidental happened between me, a green waste bin, my fingers and a rather heavy log. You can work out what from that, I think.
It turns out that smashing your hand isn’t terribly conducive to clear thinking, but it does give the old “strong” vocabulary a workout. Once I’d determined that nothing was broken, just slightly bent the wrong way and heavily bruised, I could get on with my week.

The ball is in that puddle somewhere. You know, the puddle that used to be the quarterback.
The ball is in that puddle somewhere.
You know, the puddle that used to be the quarterback.

Except, of course, I’m right handed normally and almost all retro gaming gear is suited to right handers by default. It’s not something I’d ever really considered, but having (at best) one and a half hands, and the “working” hand being my non-dominant one put a real crimp in my gaming style.
Lucky I wasn’t, say, assessing Street Fighter this week, because Mutant League Football has at least some of its core Madden smarts for playmaking, so I could still make my way through some games. Just, reluctantly, and not as much as I would have liked to.
I'm not the only one who misses the old school 3-window passing thing from Madden games, am I?
I’m not the only one who misses the old school 3-window passing thing from Madden games, am I?

(For anyone pondering the whole “sinister” thing, it’s Latin for… oh, look forget it. Move on.)

Mutant League Football: They don’t (and won’t) make ’em like this any more

Mutant League Football is most easily described as Madden ’92 with mutants, robots, bombs and cheating all part of the gameplay matrix, and it’s an interesting experiment in gaming.

Maintaining standards is important for the growth of the game. Oh, very well. I bribed the ref. Are you happy now?
Maintaining standards is important for the growth of the game.
Oh, very well. I bribed the ref. Are you happy now?

No, it doesn’t always work; if you crank up the inbuilt death index to level 5 (quaintly called “Annihilation”) then games will almost always end when you run out of Quarterbacks, and you can simply punt the ball away if you do end up on offense and win most games with a simple smashing strategy.
Mutant League Football: You almost never see this in NFL games.
You almost never see this result in NFL games.

You only get complexity and depth by playing it moderate and leaving it on “Bone Breaking” or “Slaughter” settings, at which point it’s a nice mix of Madden basics and wacky mutant humour. Along with lots of death, because it’s always fun to declare that the Quarterback is, once again, toast.
Mutant League Football is also a good example of a fairly accessible game in a way that the actual more modern Madden games aren’t. There’s no truck sticks, no multi-button inputs, no complex manoeuvres that make sense to the experts who only buy Madden and nothing else. It’s quite pure, and quite accessible in that way, whether you’re bribing the ref, hurling bombs at your foes or trying a simple cut left run pattern on 3rd and inches.

Mutant League Football: Best played with friends

Mutant League Football is another of those games that I played quite relentlessly back “in the day”, with a wide social circle who also played quite a bit of Madden ’92 as well. It plays well with two players, but nowhere near as well with just a single player, even if I did crank down the death index and let my players run some plays themselves.

Pass interference is for other, lesser sports games. It's tough enough staying alive, let alone whining about "rules" to a "ref".
Pass interference is for other, lesser sports games. It’s tough enough staying alive, let alone whining about “rules” to a “ref”.

My hand injury limited my retro time this week anyway, but even so without a second player on hand to hurl insults, footballs and intermittent trash talk at Mutant League Football isn’t incredibly enticing on the whole.

Mutant League Football: It’s not “in the game”

Typically speaking, sports games age badly. There are exceptions — Sensible Soccer if you’re British, Tecmo Bowl if you’re American — but generally improvements in technology have led to better and better titles, even if nobody can quite agree if the current generation of FIFAs, Maddens et al have “peaked”. Still, if you want an old Madden or FIFA, they can be had for pennies, because they generally don’t compare well, especially from this era.
Mutant League Football, even with a broken paw still does stand up well. However, it’s a shining example of the kind of game that EA flat out wouldn’t make any more. Not just doesn’t, but wouldn’t.
It dates from a period where the NFL licence was something granted to multiple game makers. Yes, Madden was the best of them, to EA’s credit, but it jostled with the Gamedays, Joe Montanas, Quarterback Clubs, Troy Aikmans and probably a dozen other NFL games I’ve forgotten about. There’s probably someone out there on the Internet, playing through all of them right now. Poor sod.

The same crowd seems to be present at every single game. Coincidence, right?
The exact same crowd seems to be present at every single game. Coincidence, right?

In that context and at that time, EA could easily release a “silly” NFL-esque game without worry. Since then, of course, it’s paid the NFL some ungodly quantity of cash for the NFL exclusive, which rather quickly killed off the competitive market. Having spent that much, it’s not likely to go back to the Mutant League well any time soon. Mind you, I’ve never actually played the followup, Mutant League Hockey. I should correct that at some point.
Just to keep the pedants happy; yes, I know about Blood Bowl. I played a lot of actual physical Blood Bowl at the time I was originally playing Mutant League Football, and I’ve played both the older DOS Blood Bowl game and the newer Blood Bowl titles as well. They’re… OK, at best. I’d pay real money for a new-Madden-engine Mutant League game, but I don’t hold out any hope of it actually happening. No, the easter egg in Madden ’09 doesn’t count.

OK, you got me. Where can I get it?

As noted, EA doesn’t seem keen on resuscitating Mutant League Football, which means that it’s not on any virtual console services.
It is, however, weirdly enough, available on two console systems, even though it was only developed for one. There’s the Megadrive/Genesis original, and then it’s also part of a PSP-only compilation called EA Replay. I only know that because (naturally) I own a copy of EA Replay. The only copy I’ve ever seen, so you may have some trouble tracking that one down, presuming you’ve got a working PSP in the first place.
Either way, the lack of genuine digital re-release means it’s once more off to eBay for a copy if you want to keep things legit.
You’d make me (relatively) happy if you used this (affiliate) eBay link to search for it. But it’s a free world, and all that.

Next week (and voting time!)

Voting was never massively in doubt for my Atari 2600 challenge, with stalwart fan of both cubes and swearing Q*Bert always in the lead. So that’s what I’ll play next week, and it’s a choice I’m quite happy with, given the still-healing nature of my hands right now.
But what of the week that follows? Having done a console pick, I think it’s time to jump back into genre picks.
Everyone moans about movie tie-in games, because without the obvious pick of Goldeneye, they’re all rubbish, right?
Not so fast. I don’t quite think that’s true, and there’s a number of titles in my collection that think otherwise too. So this week’s selection will be movie tie-in games of at least passable quality. So these are your choices to vote on, bearing in mind that I won’t be playing them until the week after next.
[socialpoll id=”2376193″]

About the author

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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