Retro Game Of The Week: Mutant League Football (Mega Drive)

Mutant League Football

Mutant League Football is best described as Madden Football with the shackles removed — and it’s all the better for it.

In Retro Game Of The Week I pull a game from my collection and write about why it’s important or interesting. Or in some cases, badly dated and rubbish.

Back in the day, American Football — the actual NFL — wasn’t that big a sport in Australia.

I’d argue that two things changed that. One was Don Lane’s show on SBS covering the sport (kids, ask your parents, older folks might remember him more as a straight up talk show host, but he was also an ardent NFL fan)… and the other was EA Sport’s Madden Football.

Mutant League Football is not Madden ’93. Except it sort of is.

Madden got seriously adoring coverage even outside the US amongst the games press, because it was a genuinely good game and a decent representation of its sport given the technical limitations of 16 bit consoles. It sold tremendously well, and, well, you probably already know about Madden because EA’s never stopped churning out one of its true money maker franchises every single year.

Madden is serious sports — in old school EA parlance, it’s “in the game” — but EA back in the day wasn’t afraid to experiment, at least a little bit. Which brings me to Mutant League Football, a fantasy/sci-fi version of Madden that if it wasn’t a real game, would appear to be somebody’s rabid fever dream, or possibly a decades-later ROM hack. But this is a real game… and it’s a real blast.

Mutant League Football
I can’t think of too many other games where winning via the other team being literally deceased is a legit play tactic.

At its core, Mutant League Football takes NFL rules, throws a bunch of wacky teams at them and allows for a quantity of slightly wilder plays.

Mutant League Football
This is classic Madden ’93 style… just a little greener.

Like giving the Quarterback TNT to throw at opposing defenders, super speed, invisible players, reversed controls and plenty more besides. Each team gets four “Nasty” play options — two offensive, two defensive — plus one opportunity to bribe the ref per game.

Mutant League Football
Bribing the ref is also part of the actual NFL, but they try to keep that quiet.
Just watch any Patriots home game and tell me I’m wrong…

As someone who spent way too many hours playing Games Workshop’s Blood Bowl at the same time (curse you Teapot Rutherford!) Mutant League Football was gaming nirvana to me, because it was about as close to that game in video game form as we were likely to see. Indeed, it was some years later that there was any PC version of Blood Bowl.

The cheating mechanics and the way you can dial up the game’s Death Index — so that players are more easily killed — can lead to Mutant League Football feeling a bit like a one-trick pony, just gore and shock and stupid text boasts on top of Madden… but I’d argue that it’s better than that.

Mutant League Football

The NFL could learn a thing or two about play styles from Gorth.

Yes, you can play with the Death Index dialled up all the way and take a five star team against the game’s weakest team, the Sixty Whiners — this is not a game with a mature sense of humour — and you’ll slaughter them both easily and literally.

Mutant League Football
A lot of players are going to suffer nasty hits in this game.
Hits they will not get up from.

Honestly, playing against the CPU is fine, but Mutant League Football is at its best when you’re playing against another human player, because it’s then you can fine tune your play style. Using up your ref bribes and nasty plays early on in a quarter might lead to a quick score, but that’s only one score, and it gives a big strategic advantage to a player who can bust out those moves later on to a bigger advantage.

Mutant League Football
Pat Summerall: “Well John, the the player appears to have fumbled the ball… and most of their internal organs…”
John Madden: “BAM!”

Having the Death Index at “Annihilation” all the time is cute when you first start playing, but having it a little lower brings it more into the direct Madden style experience of the time — except with an edge around injured players later in the game and what that does to your play choices.

Mutant League FootballBravo… isn’t doing so well. Something tells me Pimpus isn’t going to be a great substitute either.

I reckon Mutant League Football is a fair bit better than many give it credit for; it’s well worth checking out.

Which is rare for sports games, because they’re classically the games that age the worst.

How to play Mutant League Football now

Mutant League Football
So here’s my copy, which was purchased many years after the Mega Drive had become properly retro. Cost me about $10 with case but sans manual. Or the “Two collectible trading cards”, though I’m going to hazard the guess they were the same two per game, which puts some doubt on their “collectible” nature. Or were you meant to buy lots of copies of the game to get the whole set?

You’ve actually got some choices here as to how you want to play Mutant League Football.

The OG Mega Drive version sells for around $30-$50 on eBay. Naturally, there’s a stupidly expensive copy to be had if you’re so inclined.

The version found on the PSP EA Replay compilation is a little more expensive, with pricing starting around $50 or more — but you are getting other games in that compilation as well.

EA itself hasn’t done anything else with Mutant League Football…

Well, OK, there was the Ice Hockey sequel… and the cartoon… but the less said there the better, I feel.

In any case, EA’s largely ignored Mutant League Football, but that’s not quite where the story ends.

Michael Mendheim, the original designer of Mutant League Football revived the concept in a spiritual successor that started life as a kickstarter (I backed it!) and ended up as Mutant Football League.

Clever, Michael. I see what you did there.

Mutant Football League is really good, everything that an update to Mutant League Football needed to be, and then some.

Want a copy? Here’s a link (affiliate) for the PS4 version (will also play on a PS5) and here’s the Switch version if that’s your console of choice. It’s also available for Xbox One and PC… and to give you an idea of how highly I rate it, I got the PC version as part of the kickstarter, but I also own the Switch version, because it’s hellaciously fun to play on the move. Go for it.

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