Mutant Football League Review

By Mark Delaney, 1 year ago
Anyone who loves American football but wishes for an alternative for the hyper-realistic Madden sims each year probably thinks back fondly to the days of NFL Blitz or NFL Street. They delivered all the players, stadiums, and teams fans know and love, but all wrapped inside an arcade, over-the-top style that was intended to feel wilder and less intimidating than their true-to-life counterparts. As we haven't seen any such game in several years, Digital Dreams' Mutant Football League is primed to win over the hearts of those nostalgia-needy players. If what you loved about those games of decades past was their gameplay, MFL may be exactly what you've wanted. However, if your enjoyment is predicated on the involvement of NFL licensing, Mutant Football League offers only a groan-inducing imitation of the real thing.

No steroids needed.No steroids needed.

In simplest terms, Mutant Football League is NFL Blitz with monsters. For some, that may be enough of a review in itself, but let's dive into what separates MFL from its blatant inspirator. The most obvious difference is the lack of proper NFL team names, player likenesses, and stadiums. You won't find Tom Brady leading the New England Patriots into Oakland to take on the Raiders. In the MFL, you get Bomb Shady and his Nuked London Hatriots playing the Croakland Invaders.

Mutant Football League takes cover behind parody law as it upends every recognizable aspect of the real National Football League. It does this for humor and to build some bridge, however unsteady, between the real deal and its bizarro world version. In MFL, the puns and wordplay range from passable to awful. Julian Edelman is Ghoulian Metalman? Okay not bad. Stephon Gillmore is Demon Killgore? That's pushing it a bit. The state of California is now Crazedzonia? No. You've gone too far. Digital Dreams forces square pegged puns into round holes all over the game with infrequent success, but it seems their fans and/or they themselves considered these lame attempts to be worthwhile in lieu of signing an expensive deal with the NFL.

If you can look past the terrible puns, the core gameplay actually holds up quite well, provided you wanted only a return of NFL Blitz and not an evolution of it. The play-by-play action feels nearly identical to those games of old. It's still a bit button-mashy and imperfect, but in a way it's charming in its absurdity. Highlight catches and big gains on the ground are aided by a maneuvering system not unlike Madden's — diving, hurdling, juking, stiff arming, et al — only in MFL these moves are exaggerated to a cartoonish extent. Tackles are no longer just bone-breaking, either. Now that it's not real players (or even humans) on the field, MFL has no qualms about spilling blood all over the field. Post-whistle tackling, power bombs, elbow drops and the like now often end in you literally dismantling your opponents into several bloody chunks on the gridiron.

Injury update: he's questionable to return.Injury update: he's questionable to return.

Playbooks could use some expanding, but like so much else with the title, it is loyal to the games that inspired it, perhaps to a fault. A highlight of playcalling is the option to use power-ups that often lead to instant scores. Because they're almost foolproof, there exists a slight strategy game element in deciding when to use them, because not only are they quite limited but they can be negated by a bribed referee calling back your plays on phantom penalties. Luckily, you can always bribe the ref back to your benefit, or even kill him to bring in an impartial observer.

Stadiums are a surprising highlight too. Each team's home turf is littered with different hazards and traps meant to pump up the game's ridiculousness and gore factors. Aliens can spring out of the grass to eat you, you can step on mines, or fail to outrun buzzsaws. Its lack of licensing did have at least one clear benefit in letting Digital Dreams go wild with this gleeful violence it displays. It may not be moving the category of arcade football forward but it's certainly pushing it down a path many genre fans will enjoy.

Like it is with the bad wordplay, any time these characters go to speak, the groans are hard to suppress. Voice acting isn't used for players, but after a big play or touchdown, you're often taken to a brief segment where the star player gets to make some sort of joke that's typed out on the screen, each of which could most charitably be called silly and most honestly be called god awful. Play-by-play and color commentary is handled by, who else, Tim Kitzrow. There's nothing advanced about the commentary, but his presence alone is plenty to induce flashbacks for fans of nineties arcade sports games. He plays the color analyst too, but falls victim to the same puerile, inane joke writing that befalls all other areas in which the game attempts to make you laugh.

Leave it all on the field --<br/> even your abdomen.Leave it all on the field --
even your abdomen.

The feature set is quite robust, offering seasons, playoffs-only, exhibition, and multiplayer online and local. A new dynasty mode is intended to arrive in a few weeks too, according to the game's Kickstarter page. On easier difficulties, the game is essentially broken. You can run the same play over and over again with a nearly 100% success rate in such instances, but if you're playing online or on higher difficulties, MFL finds its balance. There are also many difficulty and gore levels, among a host of other gameplay options, so it's easy to customize the games and seasons to your likeness.

The achievement list is a pretty simple 950 Gamerscore with a final grind for the completion. Planned well, you can get all but one achievement in a single season, which should only take 2-4 hours. After that, you'll need to grind for 1000 kills. In a season you'll net somewhere around 100-150 kills if you're diligently ripping opponents apart after every play. If you're just in it for the achievements, follow our guides that are already cropping up on site and you'll quickly boost your profile by nearly a full completion in just a few hours.

Check out our Best Xbox One Sports Games Available in 2019 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Mutant Football League faithfully recreates the arcade football games of decades past in almost every way. The lack of NFL licensing hurts the appeal, as household names and faces are replaced with hideous creatures and terrible puns. Still, the core mechanics of MFL feel so much like the games that inspired it that it's hard not to recommend to fans looking to mess with that nostalgia. Some truly terrible comedy writing gets in the way, but it's in keeping with the game's antiquated idea of what it means to be edgy, like it takes not just its game design but even its writing cues from 1995. Mutant Football League is unabashedly a nineties game resurrected in 2018.
3.5 / 5
Mutant Football League
Positives
  • Faithfully revives nineties arcade football
  • Fun stadiums with unique traps and obstacles
  • Ridiculous power-ups
  • Tim Kitzrow doing commentary
Negatives
  • Groan-inducing puns
  • Balancing issues on lower difficulties
  • Immature, simply awful jokes
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 10 hours spilling blood on the gridiron of Nuked London and elsewhere. The puns were as painful as the buzzsaws. He collected 11 of 14 achievements for 650 gamerscore. An Xbox One copy was provided by ID@Xbox for the purposes of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for GameSkinny, Gamesradar and the Official Xbox Magazine. He runs the family-oriented gaming site Game Together.