Retro Review: Mutant League Football (Megadrive)

Time once again to delve into the vaults for a Friday retro review. This week: EA’s off-beat science fiction American Football game, Mutant League Football.

Mutant League Football: On the plus side

Mutant League Football is a game EA could never make now, and it’s no accident I chose it for this week’s retro game, having spent some time this week playing the 25th edition of Madden Football itself. The Madden brand, and associated NFL licence is just too valuable for EA to do anything else — and that’s a pity.
Mutant League Football takes the Madden engine of its day — I guess it’d be Madden ’93 — and gives it a brutal science fiction makeover. It’s still basically gridiron rules, but with an assorted bevy of mutants, aliens and freaks as your players, and a variety of playing fields with all sorts of hazards as part of playing.

Where Madden ’93 had ambulances, Mutant League Football has death, and plenty of it unless you play at reduced injury settings. Which is somewhat besides the point, because this is largely a comedy game that’s as much to do with attrition as it is point scoring. Alongside standard plays, each team has a limited selection of “Nasty” plays that give you single-play superpowers, whether it’s reversing enemy controls, suddenly going invisible or super-strong, or exchanging the football for dynamite that you then lob at oncoming defenders.

Don't weep for Kaylor. Just sweep the bits off the field and keep playing.
Don’t weep for Kaylor.
Just sweep the bits off the field and keep playing.

What surprised me sitting down to play Mutant League Football was how eminently playable this all is, even though it’s not terribly serious.

Mutant League Football: On the minus side

Having said it’s not that serious, as an actual sports game it has its failings. It didn’t take long back in ’93 to pick that Mutant League Football could easily become a game of “kill the opposing players” rather than “score the most points”, and that’s still true today.

Boss, Jackson ain't lookin' so healthy? What's that? Right, Jackson, BACK ON THE FIELD. WALK IT OFF!
Boss, Jackson ain’t lookin’ so healthy? What’s that?

It’s much easier to play in defence as a result, because that squad on almost every team is quite a bit tougher than the opposition side, and if they run out of players, they have to forfeit.
It’s also obviously rather dated, and it does make me wish that EA would release a sequel.
I also never realised that there was an associated animated series, although looking at what’s on YouTube, that might have been a good bit of ignorance.

Mutant League Football: Pricing

Oddly enough, there’s no emulated version (officially, naughty people), despite the fact that this has no official NFL status that might trip EA up. Again, though, I suspect that’s a matter of keeping the NFL happy, so if you want Mutant League Football, you’ll need a cartridge version. A quick eBay trawl suggests pricing starting from around $8, although predictably there are a few looking for much higher prices.

Mutant League Football: Fat Duck verdict

The key thing I always try to separate out for a retro review is whether a game that’s old is a game that’s worth playing, and not just one that I have personal rosy memories of.
I’m fond of Mutant League Football from those kinds of associations, but picking it up — and my copy is a bit shamefully dusty, because I don’t think I’ve played it for around five years or so — I find that it’s still a charming, violent, arcade-focused, silly bit of sports gaming.
It’s a game that in some ways has improved with time, because 20 years ago it was a full priced title where if you played it at full strength you couldn’t entirely get through a game without running out of quarterbacks. Now, at around ten bucks, it’s an easy recommendation.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a ref to bribe.

In some ways, Madden is weak. I mean, when was the last time anyone got called for drooling?
In some ways, Madden is weak.
I mean, when was the last time anyone in Madden got called for drooling?

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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