Mutant Football League 2 Early Access Review: Feels familiar…

Mutant Football League 2 (Screenshot: Alex Kidman)

Mutant Football League 2 shows plenty of promise, but there’s quite a lot of polish — and features — waiting to be finished.

This review is based on the early access version of Mutant Football League 2 available now on Steam. For the record I paid my own money for it, but as it’s early access, it’s understandably not finished code… and this can’t be a full review as a result.

I’ve written before of my love of EA’s classic Mutant League Football, even making it my retro game of the week and noting that it got a spiritual sequel via original designed Michael Mendheim in the form of Mutant Football League back in 2017.

I backed the kickstarter for that one, because I had such fond memories of the original, even though it took some years to finish and all I could play early on was a very rough beta of the game.

Also read:
Retro Game of the Week: Mutant League Football (Mega Drive)

The more things change, the more they stay the same, because I’m back in the same territory with Mutant Football League 2, its sequel.

No kickstarter this time, but instead an early access version available through Steam for $37.72 AUD at the time of writing.

Because it’s early code, I’m not going into a full review just yet, but instead will use my usual format for product hands-on, highlighting where I think it’s pretty good, and where it needs work.

Mutant Football League 2: Early upsides

  • It plays like the original: The first Mutant Football League was unashamedly an arcade style, silly take on the NFL, far more NFL Blitz than Madden if you follow me.Mutant Football League 2 (Screenshot: Alex Kidman)
    This is football, right? And if it’s not, why isn’t football like this? It would be improved.
    Mutant Football League 2 is no different, and most of the game controls, speed and flow are very similar to the first game. The reality if you’re into the NFL these days is that there’s Madden, and then there’s… basically nothing in competing games, which I do feel is a pity, even though I’m noted as not being much of a sports fan. Competition in any game genre breeds innovation and new ideas, but sometimes in making a sequel there’s a temptation to make some major gameplay changes. So far, that’s not the case.
  • Some gameplay tweaks are just plain fun: Classic Mutant League Football and OG Mutant Football League both allowed you to bribe the ref once per half, but that’s been cut down to just the once per game per team, giving it a deeper strategic importance. Do you bribe them early on to stop just one big play from the opposing offense, or save your bribe to the second half to perhaps give you that needed distance to make a tricky field goal? Speaking of field goals, the mechanism there is faster and more precise, and while that does involve a learning curve — I missed a lot of kicks early on, be they punts, kickoffs or field goals — it also gives it a better risk/reward balance.

    Mutant Football League 2 (Screenshot: Alex Kidman)
    Bribing the refs is now a one-time only deal, so bribe wisely…

  • Wider team rosters: Mutant Football League 2 offers up 16 teams that are all broad strokes parodies of regular NFL teams, which means I can finally play as the Miami Dolphins Diami Krakens whenever I feel like it.

    Mutant Football League 2 (Screenshot: Alex Kidman)
    Any resemblance to real teams is probably coincidental, right?

    It’s not just team names, however, with rosters that bounce just the right side of the parody line for individual current roster team members, too. So for the Dolphins/Krakens, I can do pretty well hurling the ball in the general direction of Tyfreak Thrill, because it turns out Tyreek Hill is a pretty good player. Who knew?

  • Improved presentation: Mutant Football League 2 is a silly game, and it knows it. While the early access code is still a little rough around the edges, as you might expect, there’s more of a focus on displaying the way players are taken down or out, with slow motion replays after big plays on either side of the game, plus player commentary in speech bubbles to give it more of a “TV” feel. Mutant Football League 2 (Screenshot: Alex Kidman)
    DANCE BREAK TIME
    The promise here is that for later versions of the game, you’ll be able to upgrade players and see those upgrades as changes in their outfits and build over time, which is quite neat — though not really implemented as yet.

Mutant Football League 2: Early downsides

  • It plays like the original: Hang on, didn’t I list that as an upside?Yep, I sure did, but it’s also a little bit of a problem depending on what the final game plays like. Mutant Football League 2 (Screenshot: Alex Kidman)
    Familiarity has its downsides, too
    I’m pretty sure that while the game models are new (and nicely more detailed), the underlying engine is the old one, which means it all feels rather familiar… and in some ways not that challenging if you’re an established player of the game. There’s a very delicate balancing act to play here, because it’s not like a “real” sport where the draw of updated rosters can tip fans into needing the new version if the older (and by now, quite affordable) old version plays the same way.
  • I don’t love the trading cards/currency aspect: As you play, and especially if you win, you get team funds, a variety of currencies and packs of trading cards that perform different unlock functions — or will do in the finished game. I’m wary here, because there’s the slight stench of micro transactions, or the possibility of them baked into some of this design. Sure, I’m aware that EA makes ALL THE MONEY from this kind of thing with ultimate team modes, but I don’t like it there (or for that matter, in WWE 2K24).
  • It’s not finished yet (and it shows): Yes, yes, I do know what “Early Access” means. It’s not finished software yet, and features are not present. Mutant Football League 2 (Screenshot: Alex Kidman)
    There’s still lots of work to be done… so maybe wait.
    Specifically from a playability viewpoint, right now all you can do is exhibition matches or season mode, and nothing else. There’s no online play as yet, and while you can collect player cards and currency during the season mode, right now it only seems useful for simple trades and not much else.
  • Commentary gets repetitive (and gives me deja vu): This is a peril for every sports game ever, but for Mutant Football League 2 it’s also more marked because it opts for a comedy-centric (and quite juvenile, but that’s part of the charm) comedic style. Mutant Football League 2 (Screenshot: Alex Kidman)
    Commentary is funny the first time, much less so the hundredth time.
    Right now there’s maybe 70% new lines and 30% commentary from the original in the mix, with a few samples that really do feel like they’re temporary, at least based on audio quality. Nevertheless, I feel like I’ve heard all of them through the pace of just one season already. I’m hoping that there’s a lot more script to be laid down ready for the final game.
  • Replays can get a bit much: So, you lay down a huge play, hurling a ball at a receiver who runs the length of the field avoiding tackles, land mines, sand worms and dirty tricks, leading to a touchdown. Firstly you’ve got to hit a button to decide what celebration they’ll perform.Mutant Football League 2 (Screenshot: Alex Kidman)
    Yes, you’re pretty. Can I get back to the game now, please?
    Then you’ll get a replay of the play, starting in slow motion, another button press if you want to skip it. Then the player will say something through speech bubbles — typically at least two of them — more button presses — before you can get back into the game proper. I might be missing a slider somewhere, but I hope there’s an option for fast game returns if you don’t want that level of TV presentation in your game in the finished code.
  • No Switch version, it seems: It’s only available in Early Access for Steam (PC) right now, but according to developer Michael Mendheim’s statements, the final game will launch on PS5, Xbox Series X and PC platforms. I do get that the Switch isn’t quite up to the same graphical level as those current-gen consoles and PCs, but it’s got a workable enough version of Mutant Football League on it (if you can bear the load times)… and it’s wonderful for on-the-go play. A more cynical man than me might suggest that it’s all a plot to sell more Steam Decks…

Mutant Football League 2: Early verdict

Mutant Football League 2 (Screenshot: Alex Kidman)

Honestly, while it’s not gone down the kickstarter route this time around, I do feel like I’m back in that space I was at with the original game, because the currently available code really is just a bit of a taste of what’s possible. Most of it is rather good if you’re after a more arcade-style gridiron experience, or if you ever played classic Blood Bowl and thought the official games were less exciting than you wanted.

However, this is really early code, and while it will hopefully improve over time, you’ve got to be fairly dedicated to the idea of Mutant Football League 2 and not currently sated by the existing and cheaper Mutant Football League for it to be a must-buy prospect. That’s always the gamble with early access games, of course.

Mutant Football League 2 is available to purchase now as an early access title through Steam.

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