Hi there, retro game peoples! It’s been a fortnight, so it’s time once again for me to angrily crawl out of my static carapace and write some more words about an ancient gaming franchise! This week, I’m going to talk about MY FAVORITE SPORTS GAME OF ALL TIME: Mutant League Football!
Now, my actual experience in sports is a common one in these circles: I’m not exactly “athletic.” Rather, I resemble a human stickbug, nothing but thin branches all akimbo connected haphazardly to a confused torso. Sports were never my strong suit. I played a lot of basketball in junior high and high school, mostly because I hit a growth spurt at 13 that made me exponentially taller than most of the other kids. I was a decent defensive player, but I was a terrible shot. Don’t blame me, blame my lack of depth perception from my lazy eye! Needless to say, something as physically demanding as football was never something I was cut out for. Nor did I particularly care to bother with most football video games, for that matter.
However, as I’ve mentioned before, I was one of the lucky kids who had access to the rather forward-thinking SEGA Channel as a kid, which allowed my voracious appetite for video games the chance to sample some things I would otherwise ignore.
Chief among them: the two Mutant League sports games, published by Electronic Arts!
Here’s the mandated refresher course just in case anybody’s not familiar; the game is built on the Madden ’93 game engine, and is essentially the same game of football, with the same method of choosing plays, passing the ball, and calling audibles. The kicker is that the players are all disfigured monsters from any 8th-grader’s notebook doodles; aliens, robots, orcs, and skeletons. The playfields are filled with traps, like landmines, fire pits, and black holes that suck careless players into the abyss. Characters don’t get injuries, they get dead. Once per quarter, you can call a “Nasty Audible,” which imbues one of your players with superpowers, or does even nastier things, like replaces the ball with a bomb, or summons your entire defensive line to bum-rush and and straight-up kill the opposing team’s quarterback. Plus, you can bribe the ref, who will then call five-yard penalties against the other team for offenses like “sneezing” or, my childhood favorite, “farting.” The only way to stop it is to kill the ref!
It’s a tremendously fun game, and rather easy to get into if you’ve played any of the 16-bit Madden games before. It also had a very actue sense of humor that belied the game’s juvenilia: your team’s coach is constantly berating his players, and every time a player kills someone, you get a funny bit of dialog describing their thoughts on their most recent murder. I played this game every day for over two months, and it was only towards the end of my obsessiveness did the game run out of material and start repeating jokes. Shockingly, a great sense of humor goes a long way towards relieving repetitive gameplay.
The follow-up, Mutant League Hockey also has its benefits, but Mutant League Football is by far the better game in my book. For one very specific reason: the game is rather unpolished, and it constantly breaks itself in a lot of hilariously odd ways. My personal favorite: scoring a victory against the opposing team by murdering their entire squad. That was technically possible in Mutant League Hockey, but was damn near impossible to pull off with any regularity. A weird glitch in the game would allow you to control a player around the field even after a play was called, which meant you could angrily run and tackle monsters until they died in an outrageous explosion of goo and gore.
Without putting too fine a point on it, if you were 12-years old, could you have asked for a better game? It has monsters, violence, funny dialog, and a winking self-knowing quality that speaks to that middle-school sociopath in all of us. So then; what happened to this illustrious series? It had a sequel, and an animated cartoon series. Mutant League Basketball was in development, and then canned. Some of EA’s more recent football games have made a few passing references to the series. Is there, perchance, a lining of hope that the series could continue?
There might, but I’m going with somewhat of a controversial opinion for fans of the game, and say: I hope they don’t bring it back. And not because I find this game to be some sacred, sacrosanct artifact, but rather because I’m quite sure that my innate fondness for it is precisely because of the age I was and the time it was released. Compared to video game violence nowadays, what was shocking in Mutant League Football is now downright quaint. The gaming bloodlust for your average Madden-playing 13 year old is much bigger in 2013. A newer, meatier, High-Def Mutant League Football would need to up the gore ante to ridiculous levels in order to maintain any sort of impact. And call me a cynic, but I don’t necessarily have the faith that today’s EA, now a monolith of game publishing instead of the creative-minded scrappy developers they were in the 90’s, would devote as much resources to matching the humor and the writing – as opposed to the violence and gristle.
Or maybe I am just being a bitter old fart, grumbling about how stupid monster-violence was “better” when I was a child. But only because it was, damn it. Even if it did create a mediocre cartoon show.