In honor of Super Bowl LII, and my NFC Championship Philadelphia Eagles, I am reviewing a classic 16-bit sports title this week. Instead of picking a conventional football title, such as an entry in the Madden or Super Tecmo Bowl series, I opted for a much more chaotic and deliciously violent title: Mutant League Football for the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive.
The graphics in Mutant League Football are not anything truly spectacular. They are on par with the earlier Madden titles, considering MLF was built using the same game engine as the legendary football staple.
Where this game differentiates itself however, is with its creativity in character design, use of gore, and generally impressive sprite work. Each squad consists of team-specific mutants with a variety of physical builds within the team. Mutants range from trolls, to super humans, to robots, to skeletons, each with interesting designs and unique, emotive coaches. Some teams are clearly re-skins of each other, but the difference in color still provides enough variation to make this stand far above the generic football graphics of the day.
Between the colorful coaches berating the team after plays, the satisfying blood-splosion that occurs when tearing opponents to shreds, and the above average sprite work, Mutant League Football gives a solid visual presentation that far exceeds its Madden cousins.
During the 16-bit era, sports titles were rarely known for their music, and this game is no exception. There is one major looping track that plays at the title screen, and a small beat that can be heard in between plays. This of course, is somewhat of a disappointment, considering this is a game that is not attempting to emulate football precisely. It makes sense in other true sports games to not have music, but in this case I believe the game would have benefitted from experimenting with a few motivating and fast paced tracks in the midst of the action.
This game makes up for the disappointing score with exceptional sound effects. A major example is the “voices” of the coaches as they verbally abuse the player. These silly sound effects compliment the bulging eyes and contorted faces of the clearly enraged head coach, adding a fairly humorous element to the game.
The on-field sound effects are also fairly cartoonish and hilarious, with satisfying crunches and splats that coincide with the evisceration of the mutant meatheads. The on-field effects in tandem with the coaches reactions are truly a highlight of the game, and essentially account for the entirety of this title’s “Sound” rating.
Before sports games were completely modernized, surpassing the limitations of older consoles, I always preferred more arcade-oriented sports titles, rather than their simulation counterparts. Though in current-gen gaming I far prefer simulation sports games, my preference for arcade-y titles on retro consoles still stands and it shows in the feelings I hold for Mutant League Football.
7-on-7, that weird bulldog looking thing is the ref fleeing before the start of play… prolonging his inevitable death
Trading in the traditional 11-on-11 action for 7-man squads, MLF uses the Madden engine in its own unique way, yielding an experience that rides the line between simulation and arcade-based play calling. Though the playbook is simplified when compared to Madden, it does offer a variety of useful formations categorized into easy to find plays. Plays are selected with the directional buttons and the “A,” “B,” or “C” buttons without the presence of a cursor, preventing calls from being intercepted by nosy couch co-op partners.
Being built on the Madden engine of the early 90s, the game was released in 1993, does have its downsides, however. The dreaded pass window mechanic is present, which is often maligned for fooling the player into thinking their receiver is open. Often they will actually be double covered by defenders outside of the window’s field of view. The woes of the passing game do not end there, major adjustment is necessary when going back to this era of gaming’s passing mechanics when compared to the smooth and almost seamless systems implemented in future console generations.
Though at the time this passing mechanic was a given, and not too much of a big deal, player’s inexperienced in the ways of the 16-bit football game will need some practice to get the appropriate timing with their receivers. An easy start is to work on getting used to the screen passes and wheel routes, which usually nets large chunks of positive yards against the CPU and compliments the run game well. It even took me at least a quarter to get re-acquainted with the passing mechanics, and I played a reasonable amount of this and other 16-bit Madden games in the past.
The touchy nature of the passing game is overshadowed by an incredible run game that benefits from the Genesis’ smooth processing power and the defense’s inability to counter the HB sweep. In most situations running the ball is the best option, except when passing is absolutely necessary, like 3rd and long.
Defense is pretty easy to call, even with basic knowledge of football. There are categories like “Medium Zone,” “Deep Zone,” and “Short Zone ,” with Medium Zone’s Bump N’ Stun coverage, being particularly effective. Controlling the defense is not as smooth to control as the offense, and sometimes I was confused on how to make a proper tackle, but overall I cannot complain about the defensive side of the ball in this game.
Aside from the basic football mechanics, this game has a very unique approach to wins and losses. A player can win by outsmarting and outscoring the opposing team on the gridiron… or they can brutally murder all of the opposing teams players until they are forced to forfeit. Yes, this game allows homicide as a viable means of winning football games. Pre-play audibles in the “Nasty” category can be called that allow the player to choose to kill a ref, kill the QB, attack with farts, wire the ball for death, etc. This opens up an interesting alternative means to victory and can be turned off or scaled to the desired level of mayhem in the pre-game options menu. Hate the halftime show of the Super Bowl as much as I do? Well, Mutant League Football has an answer for that too. During halftime the opportunity to kill the cheerleaders with exploding footballs presents itself, a nice, and slightly demented, addition that shows the true care that went into crafting every aspect of this game. The gruesomeness doesn’t end there however, there are also traps that are strewn across the field that can instantly kill players including fire pits, land mines, and holes that lead into the abyss of open space.
All of these gameplay elements can be experienced in a single exhibition game, a playoff system, that can be continued via passcode, and practice mode. The addition of the playoff adds a little bit more substance and replayability to the game and occupies the solo player a bit more. The reward for winning the championship? The opposing team spontaneously explodes and the winning team’s MVP is inducted into the “Hole of Flame,” where they are immortalized by literally being lit aflame. Just don’t forget to bribe the refs on the way to the big game.
Where the game truly shines is playing with friends, and talking massive shit as you eliminate their team members one-by-one. Nothing is more satisfying then watching friends lose their star players in the first quarter; this is truly how the game was meant to be enjoyed.
Overall, Mutant League Football provides a unique experience that has only been dabbled with occasionally, and is nearly non-existent in the current gaming landscape, with the exception of its recently released sequel. It is a must play for any owner of the Genesis, especially if they are interested in football.
- One of the best resources I have found for play calling and overall strategy: https://www.gamefaqs.com/genesis/586333-mutant-league-football/faqs/22919
- Built on the Madden 93 engine
- Had a spin-off title Mutant League Hockey, and the cancelled Mutant League Basketball, which was likely canned due to the extreme protest against violent video games at the time.
- The game recieved a current-gen sequel Mutant Football League in 2017, made by the original creator of MLF, Michael Mendheim. It plays in the style of more current day Madden games with smooth mechanics and all the original mayhem from the Genesis title.
- One of the best ways to play the original is in the PSP EA Replay compilation; the game looks better and plays the same.