Kickstarter has become the place to go for video game revivals. Veteran developers have gone on to self-publish titles aimed at nostalgia, filling in the gaps of long-lost sub-genres, hopeful than aging audiences are willing to take a trip down memory lane with a new purchase for themselves. There is a lot of opinions as to whether this push for nostalgia is a good or bad one, especially considering the mixed reception and results of Kickstarter-backed projects such as Mighty No. 9, Yooka-Laylee and Tex Murphy, where that yearning for the past is part of the pitch.
Michael Mendheim is not exactly a household name, nor is he developing a typical nostalgia product with Mutant Football League. Based on the cult classic Mutant League Football on the Sega Genesis, Mendheim, one of the original creators of the property, has tried to get MFL off the ground for years (including a previously failed Kickstarter) before reaching success last year. Now with the PlayStation 4 versions finally released, MFL is officially out on all its promised platforms, with Mendheim and his team at Digital Dreams Entertainment promising more updates to MFL in the future.
The question though is if the return of a cult classic video game can bring enough nostalgia to keep Mutant Football League afloat? Part of the charm of Mutant Football League is the throwback to that "cool" 90's shlock. It is the quintessential “gross-out” humor game, a full-blown parody of the NFL right down to the pun-intend player names, teams and logos. Combining the juvenile humor of Garbage Pail Kids with a dash of Blood Bowl for good measure, MFL often aims for the lowest bar possible when it comes to making a crass punchline. Most of the humor doesn’t really land unless your fourteen or under; and MFL has a nasty habit of beating you over the head with the same jokes over and over.
Yet that is what I remember from Mutant League Football. Despite how stupid most of the game is when it comes to the parodies and comedic sensabilities, it is somewhat endearing to see it all return; a game unafraid of embracing the lowest common denominator for once. Mendheim and his team were also painstakingly reverent to their previous work. Stadiums are filled with minefields and deadly hazards, characters run the same gamut of archetypes; from wise-cracking skeletons to big dumb orcs, even the post-play interviews of trash-talking players is a direct throwback to the gibberish-spewing talking heads from the original title. It’s a game stuck in the past, adding a fresh coat of paint to update it, ever so slightly, for the present.
The most "modern" addition would be the Madden-style makeover added to the game's overall presentation. MFL is no sports simulator, it is a 7-on-7 arcade-style football game where the main goal is easy plays and fast-paced action. Yet MFL also apes Madden’s overall presentation and tries to bake it into the parody a bit; we get slick camera angles and a default over the shoulder camera for passing and rushing plays, the use of jukes and dives to avoid tackles, you even get parody commentary with the surprising return of famous NFL Blitz and NBA Jam commentator Tim Kitzrow, with color commentary by veteran voice actor Rob Paulsen. The commentary is as sophomoric as the rest of the game, but Kitzrow’s delivery is so good that even with the jokes landing in the gutter it is the perfect audio treat that gives MFL the off-kilter characterization it needs to help it stand out.
Outside of the gameplay and presentation, there is little going for Mutant Football League, at least for now. Part of the problem with the game is, like many Kickstarter-backed projects, it is often a work in progress. We have seen games that offer too many features, or release with little gameplay, and in the case of MFL it is the latter. Outside of standard pick up and play, practice and online modes, you have a token season mode that takes you through sixteen games and a short playoff run to become the Mutant League Champions.
To say it’s devoid of any substance is an understatement. So much care was put into the production of different elements of the games artwork and visual jokes, it feels at times Mutant Football League leaned too heavily on the grotesque parody as a marketing gimmick instead of focusing on actual in-game content. Thankfully you can tweak quarter length, play speed, in-game death rates and even if the deaths are permanent; this gives some meat to the season mode, making it a much more strategic game. Outside of these tweaks though, there is just not enough in Mutant Football League in terms of lasting content.
Now there is a major caveat to all of this, and that is the promise of new content coming down the line for the game. Mendheim specifically noted a new “Dynasty Mode” is incoming first, followed by more parody teams and new player types. These features were mostly Kickstarter stretch goals that have yet to be fulfilled by the time of the game's release, and it does show a dedication by Mendheim and Digital Dreams in supporting MFL for the future. As it stands now though, their absence is not only very noticeable, but makes MFL feel very shallow in comparison to what its full potential could be.
What the Mutant Football League does give us is a ton of fun, despite the major shortcomings. This is an arcade game first and foremost, and Digital Dreams relishes in filling that missing niche by making things as fast and furious as possible, turning it into the type of title where you just shut your brain down for some mindless mayhem. It makes MFL the perfect game for parties and quick plays, the kind of blue-collar game to unwind on with some friends and a beer. If there is one thing MFL does well, it is providing an outlet for that good time.
The real hallmark of this is your typical play-by-play choices on the field. You have different playbooks for each team, containing your standard passing and rushing plays, as well as the added spice of “cheat plays” you can call upon once per half. This includes old-school favorites like bribing or killing the ref, to using chainsaws, shotguns, and electricity to slice, shoot and fry your opponents offensive or defensive line. The dirty tricks break the game on purpose- you can try to play them strategically of course - but their true value is just throwing out all pretense and simply having fun in the absurdity of the games own playstyle.
This is what makes MFL fun ultimately, the sheer unpredictability of the experience and the fact that each game will always be short, sweet, and to the point. Players can attempt to play more strategic, especially in the season mode where permanent deaths carry over from game to game during the season, but you will find it more of a chore than a challenge in the long run. Part of the issue here is the cheating extends to the games A.I, which is either incredibly stupid or incredibly cheap depending on the difficulty you choose. The rubberbanding A.I can lead to situations where it may be impossible to win, although this can be tweaked in the gameplay menus to the players liking.
Its fans will stick by it, but while the Mutant Football League captures the nostalgic magic for a few moments, it doesn’t have the same lasting impact as the Genesis classic. The parody is turned up to eleven - often to the detriment of the entire game- and the gameplay is basic but serviceable. There is nothing wrong with that of course, Mutant Football League is mindless fun, which is all an arcade football game should be, but outside of the grotesque humor, there is nothing else to really latch onto other than the bare-bones gameplay and lack of gameplay features.
Mutant Football League is mindless fun, which is all an arcade football game should be, but outside of the grotesque humor there is nothing else to really latch onto other than the bare-bones gameplay and lack of gameplay features.
- Mindless Fun...
- Captures Classic MLF Style...
- Strong Arcade-Style Gameplay...
- Tim Kitzrow is Magic....
- ...Lack of Features.
- ...Goes Overboard With the Parody.
- ...Nothing New Gameplay Wise Though.
- ...Missing Kickstarter Stretch Goals...For Now.