Full disclosure: I’ve never been the biggest football fan. Don’t get me wrong. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed my share of football video games over the years. I just happen to prefer my gridiron conquests with a dash of arcade flavor. From skewering the opposing team in spike pits in Jerry Glanville’s criminally underappreciated gem, Pigskin Footbrawl, to the timeless perfection that is Tecmo Superbowl, I’m always down for causing some carnage on the astroturf. However, when it comes to those over-the-top takes on America’s favorite pastime, Mutant League Football has always been in a…well…league of its own. After all, what other series would let you bribe or murder the ref? Or how about stuff a bomb in the ball and blow the enemy team to bits with a Hail Mary from Hell? Yes, Mutant League Football was a rare treat indeed.
That said, I was more than a little bit excited when Mutant Football League released last year. The spiritual successor to EA’s cult classic, the game was developed by none other than Mutant League creator Michael Mendheim’s studio, Digital Dreams. Unsurprisingly, it was everything a fan could hope for. It was vulgar, violent, and full of ridiculous characters and teams inspired by actual NFL franchises. Now, exactly one year later, Digital Dreams has returned with Mutant Football League: Dynasty Edition. This updated package features everything that made the original release such a hit while adding a few new bonuses. There are new teams to play as, more trap-laden stadiums to compete in, as well as an engaging new career mode to test your mutant mettle.
Ghouls on the Gridiron
Like I said at the outset of this review, Mutant Football League has more in common with NFL Blitz than it does Madden. If you’re looking for a more methodical football sim, you’re going to want to look elsewhere. The game is unapologetically fast-paced and brutal. Instead of a traditional 11v11 lineup, the game uses a pared down 7v7 system. But that number can (and will) quickly dwindle as receivers are smashed like bugs into the end zone and defensive lineman are hacked to ribbons with whirring buzzsaws. Still, despite all of the chaos unfolding on-screen, there’s a competent football game buried beneath the guts and gristle – albeit with a few radical twists.
Perhaps the biggest thing that separates Mutant Football League apart from the real deal – aside from the eight-foot-tall mutants and living skeletons who make up each team’s roster, that is – are the dirty tricks you can employ. If you think Brady’s ball-deflating antics were the height of treachery, you haven’t seen anything yet. These dastardly deeds run the gamut from drugging the opposition with hallucinogenics to turning your defense into towering titans who can crush your rival team’s hapless quarterback underfoot. Hell, you can even send your QB on a literal shotgun rampage if that’s your thing.
No doubt about it, dirty plays can come in clutch. But their limited supply keeps them from breaking the game. You can only use each of these tricks once per half. This means you’ll want to use a bit of discretion if you want to make the most of them.
Da Nasty Dynasty
Mutant Football League: Dynasty Edition includes all of the modes you’d expect. There’s single game, versus, playoff, and online modes to choose from. However, it’s the titular Dynasty Mode that’s the star of the show here. In it, players assume the role of the new coach and general manager of a failing team as you play through three seasons with the goal of taking your team to the coveted Mayhem Bowl.
Dynasty Mode begins as an uphill battle as your team of losers is sorely underequipped to take on the titans of the MFL. The key to success is to smartly manage your individual players. The cash and experience earned in each game can be used to increase each player’s intelligence, toughness, speed, and more. If you’re not crazy about micromanagement then this might not be for you. But personally, I really enjoyed this added layer of depth. There’s a real sense of satisfaction that comes from watching your team of killer klutzes evolve into an indomitable force on the gridiron.
But before you become the next Mayhem Bowl Champions you’ll probably suffer more than your fair share of crushing defeats. I discovered this quickly when I experienced a humiliating loss to the Croakland Invaders in the second quarter after learning my entire defense had been brutally murdered. Don’t forget to resurrect your fallen players between games, kids. Showing up on game day with half of your roster six feet under isn’t a good look.
If you’re up for the challenge, then Dynasty Mode shouldn’t be missed. Its emphasis on growing your team player by player and keeping them alive, along with genre staples like player trades, free agents, and the need to keep your franchise’s books out of the red, make for an engaging new addition to Mutant Football League‘s package.
Without a doubt, Mutant Football League: Dynasty Edition is a ton of fun. But that’s not to say it’s the perfect arcade football experience. The game suffers from some of the same issues that plague other football games. The most egregious of these problems being its occasionally maddening rubberbanding difficulty. When playing against the computer, it’s not uncommon to find yourself up by 30 points in the fourth quarter, only to have your opponent catch up in a matter of minutes after miraculously recovering an obscene number of fumbles and onside kicks. Don’t get me wrong: I love a close game. However, the way it’s handled in Mutant Football League can be borderline stroke-inducing.
Another gripe I have with the game is its rather limited playbook. This is obviously an issue that plagues many arcade-style sports games. Still, the lean list of plays you can execute is pretty disappointing. A few dozen more plays would have gone a long way towards spicing up your offensive and defensive options.
Fittingly enough, Mutant Football League isn’t going to win any beauty awards. With basic and repetitive character models and blurry textures, it’s hardly bleeding edge. Despite its lackluster visuals, the game runs silky smooth, even when a dozen players are on-screen with weather effects and traps going off all over the place. At least the game’s audio direction is on point. From the bone-crushing hits to the sound of players being blown to smithereens with land mines, Mutant Football League sounds great. And the crude color commentary courtesy of Tim Kitzrow, the iconic announcer from NBA Jam, is a perfect fit.
Unsportsmanlike Conduct at its Very Best
Much like the band of hulking ghouls that carry the Grim Bay Attackers, Mutant Football League: Dynasty Edition isn’t without its lumps. It’s ugly, a bit simplistic, and occasionally unfair. Still, these issues are easy to overlook given just ridiculously how fun it is. Whether playing on the couch or online, the competitive gameplay is hugely entertaining. And the Dynasty Mode, while not for the faint of heart, is incredibly satisfying and will keep you coming back for more. If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines since last year, there’s no better time than now to see what Mutant Football League is all about.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Playstation 4 (Reviewed), XBox One, Nintendo Switch, PC; Publisher: Digital Dreams; Developer: Digital Dreams; Players: 1-6; Released: October 31st, 2018; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: A retail copy of Mutant Football League: Dynasty Edition was provided by the Publisher.