Mutant Football League: Dynasty Edition PC Review
Mutant Football League has already had a year on PC, since the title released back in October 2017 after a stint in Steam Early Access. The game is a spiritual successor to Mutant League Football, a 1993 Sega Mega Drive title that was developed and published by Electronic Arts. The lead designer of Mutant League Football, Michael Mendheim, shared the idea of a successor with the team at Digital Dreams Entertainment and went to Kickstarter to help raise money to developer the game. The title did not get as much funding as required, so content was cut from the game to make release. Dynasty Edition is a repackaging – mainly for the console physical release on PS4, Xbox One and Switch – that combines the previously released downloadable teams and the new Dynasty add-on, which adds a whole new game mode to the title.
The rules for Mutant Football League are straightforward to grasp, thanks to the easy and simple tutorial that explains the rules of American Football faster than most people could. This is helped by the game’s simple focus on the sport – less rules, more violence – but this means it’s great for anyone who isn’t invested in real life American Football or hasn’t played Madden or any other titles based on the sport. As an arcade-based sports game, it needs to be easy to pick up and play, and Mutant Football League achieves this so anyone can grab a few buddies, crack some opposition skulls and score a few touchdowns without having to spend time learning.
Extreme violence and cracking skulls aren’t usually what you would associated with American football, but Mutant Football League isn’t trying to replicate real life. This is a fantasy take on the sport with teams that go by names like Tokyo Terminators, Microhard Mutilators and Midway Mutants, star players that spoof real life or reference popular media – Ziggy Starbuster (David Bowie), Shreddy Von Hatin (Eddie Van Halen), Nuke Dukem (Duke Nukem) – and teams that are made up of skeletons, orcs, demons, aliens, werewolves and robots. It’s the sport taken to the extreme, where even death is something that happens often on the pitch, either from devastating injuries or from one of the various field hazards situated in each team’s stadium (land mines, saws, lightning just to name a few). It’s a combination of these eccentrics that add something a little different to the sport, not just from freakish beings playing American football, but from a tactical gameplay standpoint, which the game needs as much as possible to keep it engaging, which I’ll get onto in a bit.
Digital Dreams Entertainment has portrayed a fast game of arcade football by stripping the complexity and reducing the team size from 11 to 7 and increasing the speed at which everything moves. Periods are defaulted to three minutes, yet games will often have scores higher than the average game between teams in the NFL. Controls are familiar for anyone who has played Madden, with defensive and offensive plays tied to a menu that uses face buttons on the controller – or keys on the keyboard, but the controller is the better option to play a game like this – to pick plays, while during play these become action buttons to perform tackles, shoves, obstructions or pass the ball. There is a button for a short burst of speed, which is extremely helpful in catching up to or escaping opposition players. Overall, there isn’t anything wrong with the controls for the game, which players will easily be able to pick up, no matter their previous experience with sports games.
Apart from the freaky nature of the teams, so far Mutant Football League sounds similar to another arcade American football game, NFL Blitz. While the two games have certainly been made for the same market of fans, there are some more extreme ideas in this game to uphold the violent and nasty nature of the game’s mutant league. This comes with the option to play “Dirty Tricks”, special unique abilities that each team can call upon during a game. Options such as bribing the ref to call obscene penalties against the opposing team or attack the ref if a player feels they have been bribed are all valid options of play here. Stepping further into the teams shows that each one has specific types of dirty attacks that are more extreme. One move allows the quarterback to pull out a shotgun and blast the defensive line, another enables the defensive player to become enormous, a Hulk on the pitch, to make it easier to smash through the line and sack the quarterback, while another gives the ball carrier a chainsaw to massacre players who come near him to inflict big damage.
I do have issues with this feature of the game – these dirty tricks are overpowering, to the point I feel some upset the balance and are game breaking, as there seems to be no way to stop them. This was off-putting when games were close, only to then be put behind because of a cheap tactic. I understand that these are tactical advantages that cannot be overused (once per half), but it still feels so cheap when it happens to you without any consequences. It’s something that is not rewarding or fun to experience, a gimmick that sounds a good idea on paper, but executed in the game brought on frustrations when I could never stop some of the abilities that felt like an instant success option.
Even though the matches feature 7 vs 7 teams, an actual team has more players on the bench that will be exchanged with on pitch players due to how death plays a big role. Every player has a health metre which decreases as they take damage through dangerous tackles, after play assaults, stadium traps or dirty tactics. If someone dies, he needs to be replaced by a backup, and since death happens often, these bench players play just as an important part of the team as the starters. Death is more important in Season and Dynasty modes, because deaths carry forward, so special resurrection items can be used to bring them back to life, but these are in a limited amount until you have vast amounts of money to waste on them, so should be used scarcely for star players.
Dynasty is the brand new feature for this packaged deal of Mutant Football League – this is a £3.99 download for existing owners of the game on Steam. In Dynasty mode, players pick a team, but rather coming with the default players, it replaces them with fresh novices, similar to Pro Evolution Soccer‘s Master League, with stats in the 40s, rather than the 80 plus most of the teams have on average. The concept of Dynasty mode is to take this team over the next three years and successfully get them to win the Mayhem Bowl, which will then enable an extension past the initial three year contract given to you at the beginning of Dynasty mode and hopefully produce a dominant team throughout the following years.
This new mode is one that will take most of your time, as it outshines the standard one year Season that was included last year. There are some slight issues with Dynasty, and that is due to the fact that there are no lower leagues means that each team in the game retains their rating, so as you can imagine, playing against a team that has double your ratings isn’t exactly a pleasant time. I had defeat after defeat during my first few matches of the first season – a disheartening time I can tell you, and doesn’t get better until you spend cash on some of free agents or transfers to buff the team or levelling up characters through match experience that members of the team will receive from performing moves based around their position. Once the initial plodding has gone, it turns from a slog into somewhat of a fun time, but by that point the gameplay has become repetitive and there isn’t anything that truly excites and puts the game above some of the other arcade experiences previously available.
The repetition also comes through the game’s presentation. Mutant Football League is covered in a comical atmosphere ranging from the commentary to the personality formed from star players who throw out insults if they perform a good move. If you thought football games, such as Pro Evolution Soccer, had repetitive commentary, then this game is going to be a nightmare for you, as every match features the same play-by-play quirks and jokes that it become annoying to listen to. It’s amusing at first, and the audio is fine, but it’s hurt by the limited content. The player quotes are also repeated constantly. One match had the opposition player sacking my QB a few times and him sprouting the same line for each of them. This feels like it’s appeared due to a limited budget, with time and money an issue for recording more lines or writing up more quotes for each player.
Still on the topic of presentation, the game visuals capture the nightmarish aesthetics of a diverse team of werewolves, orcs and demons, but it’s not a game that will be noted for stunning graphics. That does mean it seems to run on a variety of PCs without issues, having requirements that go as far back as the Intel Core 2 Quad processor and Nivida 4xx series graphics cards to hit 60fps.
Mutant Football League: Dynasty Edition brings with it some small improvements over the base game by including a mode that adds increased longevity over its standard Season, but fails in the beginning to be engaging due to the lack of balance between the player’s starting footballers against the rest of the league’s teams. This can be a fun game in small bursts, more so with friends or online – which the game includes a neat info box during the menus letting you know when someone is waiting for an online match – and you can disable dirty tricks if required. The problem arises during long plays, as I found my time during single player sessions not all that exciting, as it soon became repetitive across gameplay and presentation, and the overpowering nature of dirty tricks frustrated me. You can tell there is a limited budget here, and that comes through with its fairly wallet friendly £22.99, but a bit more polish and refinement could have elevated this up from being a fun, violent game of American football to something a bit more exciting and special.