Blood on the ice
When asked by Francis DiPersio to write a retro game review for HeyPoorPlayer, a few things went through my head:
- This is going to be really fun.
- This is going to be really hard considering I haven’t written anything since college.
- Out of the thousands of retro games in my collection, which one should I review?
While glancing over my collection to find a game that wasn’t too obvious, but also a lot of fun, Mutant League Hockey seemed to stand out the most.
1993 is probably considered the best year for video game hockey. NHL 94 (which many gamers to this day consider to be the best hockey video game ever) was released by EA Sports. It was fast, it was fluid, and most of all it was fun. Fast-forward a year later and EA released NHL 95, which was pretty much one of EA’s typical roster updates along with a few minor tweaks we’ve all come to know and love. There wasn’t much there to consider the upgrade, but EA sports also released another hockey game that year: Mutant League Hockey. This was different enough from NHL 94 to warrant a purchase. It had big hits, big goals, and big chainsaws. Yes, chainsaws! Chainsaws weren’t the only weapons, either! Fans throw maces, whips, and molotov cocktails onto the ice during gameplay. This added a major element to the game as getting hit with a mace or chainsaw meant you were rolling around on the ice in agony as your opponent skated by with the puck.
Mutant League Hockey is based off the same engine as NHL 94, but that doesn’t mean it’s just a rehash with monster, troll, and robot sprites. The ice is littered with obstacles to avoid. Parts of the ice are very brittle and when skated over you can fall through. This will cause your hapless player to be seen floating under the skaters who managed to avoid the holes. Depending on what arena you’re playing in determines what obstacles you will be avoiding. Boards in some arenas will have spikes protruding out and if you skate into them your impaled skater will gush blood (or oil) all over the ice. Other arenas have mine fields littered throughout the rink and if you skate into them you can kiss that player goodbye for the rest of the game.
A huge difference between NHL 94 and Mutant League Hockey is team strategies. During stoppages in play you can pick your teams “special play” to perform on the ice. When in possession of the puck hold the “A” button down and you will hear a quick burst of an air horn. At this time your play has been initiated. You can arm your team with weapons, kill the other team’s goalie, or even bribe the ref to call bad penalties on the opposition. If you suspect the other team bribed the ref you could just kill the ref and bribe his replacement. As you can see a whole lot of different strategies present themselves during stoppages in play.
Randomly during the game you will have to fight. It seems to always happen at the worst time. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been on a breakaway and one of my teammates thought it was a wise time to fight. This frustration quickly vanishes though when the fighting mini game starts. Both combatants fill up the screen and each has his own energy bar above their head. At this point you can either try to block your opponent’s punches or throw a punch of your own. Once the fight is over you will be shown a fight card that will let you know how many punches were thrown and landed. The last stat on the fight card lets you know how many eyes were blackened or egos were bruised. It’s the little touches like this that make the game really charming.
Now let’s get onto the bad. The AI in this game is horrible. Often players skate away from the puck or in circles. You won’t notice it much if you pass the puck a lot, but if the puck is in the corner and you’re hoping your defenseman is going to get it, think again. The skating is also very sluggish. I guess the programmers were thinking that if trolls and skeletons were skating on the ice they’d have a really hard time. Kinda makes sense but it’s distracting when the game slows down because of it. The game also suffers from a very long password system. In today’s world this isn’t much of a problem since we can just snap a pic of the screen with our phones, but as a kid with bad handwriting, I’ve had to replay plenty of games due to my penmanship.
Speaking of passwords, the game has a Championship Mode to play for the Monster Cup. It’s your typical tourney mode you can find in most sports games. Since the game doesn’t not have a built in battery a password system is used to continue your journey to win the championship. Besides the championship mode you can play in an exhibition game or 2-player vs game. For a real challenge, turn the Death index up to “Annihilation” and see if you and a friend can withstand having all your players die by the end of the game. If every player on a team dies, the team must forfeit. Mutant League Hockey earns its MA-13 rating.
If I’m in for a nice big dose of nostalgia I always fire up Mutant League Hockey. Not just for the fun of playing a game of my youth, but also just to see the game’s take on real NHL player’s names of my childhood. Skingros, Smelios, & Bonelick. Man, the 90’s were so rad!
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: Sega Genesis ; Publisher: Electronic Arts ; Developer: Electronic Arts ; Players: 1-2 ; Released: 1994 ; Genre: Sports