Published on January 31st, 2018 | by Chris Scott0
Mutant Football League Review
Summary: It offers a fun alternative to Madden an a brief escape from the NFL.
It is not often that a game from a quarter century ago gets a spiritual sequel. Yet that is exactly where we are with Digital Dreams’ release of Mutant Football League. Inspired by Mutant League Football, the 1993 Sega Genesis cult-classic, Mutant Football League is a modern day take on arcade football set in a post-apocalyptic world populated by mutants, zombies, skeletons, aliens, and cyborgs.
For years, due to EA Sports’ total lockdown on NFL-related games, Madden has been the one-stop shop for those looking to get a football fix. It’s been six years since the last NFL-related arcade football game, EA’s faulty revival of NFL Blitz in 2012, and given how games without the NFL license fair, we haven’t had much on the fantasy side either. So, Mutant Football League is sliding in to a very open area but, does it have the chops to be a good alternative to the more simulation minded Madden? The answer to that question should be an easy yes or no, but, MFL mucks up the engines with some huge caveats that make it impossible to wholly recommend.
From the menu, I knew I was in for a wild ride. This screamed late 90s/early 2000s era bro-cool with its pop punk menu track. And the teams created for the game have that vibe of “we’re so edgy, we don’t know what to do with ourselves.” Teams like the Nuked London Hatriots, Scarolina Panzers, and the Malice Hellboys mimic the look and sound of actual NFL teams and have players to match like QB Wham Neutron, a flashy but strong cyborg. It’s that type of game. If you aren’t in to that, then look elsewhere because it only doubles down on its worst aspects.
Personally I’m down for the goofy team and player names. I’m down for the deathtrap laden fields that make everything just a little more interesting. I’m down for the late hits and player “deaths”, something that was sorely lacking from NFL Blitz-style games shortly after they debuted. Everything in Mutant Football League is blown out to the next level and it works because of that. This isn’t a game that you can play cautiously, not when one of your plays is to have your QB scramble with a shotgun shooting defenders in the way. It’s meant to be absurd and it 100% accomplishes that.
I’m most down with the NFL Blitz on crack style of gameplay. While the playbook is more robust than NFL Blitz’s ever was, MFL is at its core a game about breaking big runs, throwing big passes, or making huge defensive plays (most of the time involving the murder of an opponent) and the plays here give you every opportunity to either make a great play or make a huge blunder. It’s a back and forth arcade sports game reminiscent of the best Midway had to offer.
What sets Mutant Football League apart, aside from its aesthetic, is its inclusion of Dirty Tricks and an expendable roster. Dirty Tricks are special plays, like the shotgun scramble I mentioned previously, that can be used once a half and offer a super powered boost to your playbook. Both the offense and defense can make use of Dirty Tricks and knowing when to use them best can make or break a game. These dirty tricks also include bribing the ref (or killing him) to give you an advantage. The ref bribe can be super frustrating early on if you aren’t careful and readily aware of the use of it because I scored three straight touchdowns only to have each and every one reversed because the ref was calling for the other team. It’s a sometimes frustrating call that fits the tone of the game but I don’t think adds much to it other than occasionally frustrating flavor.
Something else that adds a lot of flavor though is the expendable roster. Every player on the field is expendable and some are vitally important to keep on the field (or else you’ll be forced to forfeit). For instance, losing all your running backs will limit the plays you can run to be only passes. But lose your QB or your offensive line and you’ll have to forfeit. As a player on the receiving end of losing all my QBs or lineman, I can tell you it is anger inducing, especially when you have a lead. But dishing it out, and actively using it as a gameplay strategy to win a game feels great.
The expendable roster adds a bit more strategy to the season mode as well. This is because you can lose a player to “death” during a game but that player doesn’t immediately come back after the game ends. In fact, teams can only resurrect up to four players each week, meaning that after a particularly brutal game, you may have to make some really tough choices. Considering the rest of the game is pure arcade play, this added level of depth is actually quite engaging.
It’s all quite fun but, remember when I said it doubles down on its worst aspects? Well, that all plays out in the extremely juvenile and misogynistic play-by-play and color commentary. The game actively thinks that using swear words and making fun of women and other marginalized groups is funny and none of it plays well. Add in the fact that the commentary starts getting repetitive pretty early on and it is left with no redeeming qualities. Worse is that playing without the commentary makes the game a bit too quiet so you are left with the choice of listening to garbage comments that repeat or playing in silence. It’s a bad choice that better writing and or more minimalistic play-by-play could have helped out. As it stands it really brings the game down a few notches.
Still, despite its juvenile tendencies, Mutant Football League does offer a fun alternative to Madden and in a year where the Patriots are yet again in the Super Bowl, it might be the game to give us a brief escape from the NFL.
This review was written with material provided from backing the project on Kickstarter for Xbox One by the reviewer. For more on our review process, please read here.