WAY more than just a football game on the Genesis. . .
The very first time I saw the advertisement for Mutant League Football, I was hooked.
It was a three page spread in Electronic Gaming Monthly, and to this day, it remains one of the most memorable game ads I ever stumbled across. The first page featured a football played making a catch out of bounds, and as soon as you turned the page, BAM! The dude was pretty much exploded all over the field. Limbs here, limbs there...it was pretty graphic stuff for the time frame. Of course, seeing the spot got me super pumped for Mutant League Football, and in many ways, the hype behind the game was even better than the title itself.
I picked up a copy of Game Players Magazine once, and one of the bonuses was a cut out sheet featuring a couple of football cards featuring characters from the game. Right then and there, I knew I was going to end up loving whatever Mutant League turned out to be like: I mean, who in their right mind cannot look at a skeleton running back named Bones Jackson and not crack a smile?
In honor of the Halloween season, I would like to pay homage to three of my lifelong fascinations - horror, sports and the Sega Genesis - by examining a multimedia series that encompasses all three of them. Not a lot of people ever got a chance to play Mutant League Football, but what is REALLY surprising is just HOW massive the Mutant League franchise really got. To most folks, it s just a long forgotten Sega Genesis game, but in reality, it was basically a mini-super franchise consisting of three sports titles, a line of action figures and EVEN a syndicated cartoon series!
Ultimately, franchises really don t get much weirder than Mutant League. . .but by that same token, you can also say that not too many of them get as awesome, either. So without further adieu, let s step out of the Rejuvenator, lace up our cleats and get ready to knock a few heads (completely off our adversaries) as we revisit. . .
The Mutant League Franchise!
Mutant League Football
1993. . .the year Electronic Arts decided to take its proprietary Madden engine and turn it into the most violent, blood soaked sports game this side of Jerry Glanville s Pigskin Footbrawl. Although hyper violent sports games really were not anything new at the time (lest we forget, this was the same era that gave us titles like Bill Laimbeer s Combat Basketball, Super High Impact Football and the little played Three Count Bout, a Japanese wrestling game that allowed players to literally make each others heads explode with barbed wire-wrapped bats), Mutant League was the first sports game of the 16 bit era to TOTALLY take it to the next level.
The thing that made Mutant League Football stand out to me was that, in addition to being a really, really awesome (albeit gimmicky idea) for a video game, it was still a very playable football sim. Well, maybe sim is too liberal a word here, but since it did incorporate the Madden engine, you could - if you wanted - play a pretty standard, by-the-numbers game of football with the CPU or a human foe. But hey, where is the fun in that?
Obviously, Mutant League Football took the horror aspects about as far as you could possibly take them with a 16 bit game. All of the teams were puns on then-current NFL teams (I always picked the Deathskin Razors, for what should be obvious reasons) and assorted monsters - skeletons, trolls, robots, etcetera - comprised the rosters of each football squad. The real fun of the game, of course, came in the form of all of the hilariously violent things you could do on the field - you know, the sort of stuff you would NEVER see the NFL or NCAA allow in one of their endorsed games.
If you hit a ball carrier hard enough, not only did you injure the player, you KILL them. In the world of Mutant League, the idea isn t to put the opposing QB on the sideline - it is to put him in the graveyard.
There were all sorts of neat trick plays in the game. There was one that turned the ball into a time bomb, so if you did not get to the end zone in a certain amount of time. . .well, you take a guess. One afternoon I discovered that if you run offsides and keep killing the quarterback (which often takes a couple of attempts), the opposing team would eventually run out of QBS and they'd just have to run the ball on every play until the game was over. Even the playing field itself was a death trap - landmines scattered the field, and a lot of times, if you got knocked out of bounds, you got knocked off the planet. There was even an option in the playbook to bribe the referee to incur beneficial penalties. . .which means that this game probably has Roger Goddell's approval already!
Mutant League Football was the kind of game that you would play every now and then - even though I really liked it, I cannot say that I felt it was a superior title over the more realistic, technical sim sports games released by EA. . .even if you DID have the ability to kill all of the dancers during the halftime celebration ceremony. However, Mutant League Football was so successful that it lead to an immediate sequel. . .and one that I consider to be one of the absolute BEST hidden gems to be found on the Sega Genesis.
Mutant League Hockey
It really is not anything new when I tell you that NHL 94 is one of my all time favorite video games. Since Mutant League Hockey incorporates that exact same game engine of that title, it should really come as no surprise that I like this game as much as I do. Alike Mutant League Football, Mutant League Hockey is a pun-filled homage to both the world of pro hockey and B-grade horror - but if you could not figure that out by the time you saw the terms Mighty Weenies and Dead Wings on the team selection list, you might as well find yourself a new pastime, amigo.
The thing that made Mutant League Hockey such an awesome experience is that, the same way Mutant League Football was a really well-made football game, this game was a damned fine tuned hockey game before it was a really violent, novelty driven arcade game. The game was cool because you could decapitate the goalie, but it was enjoyable because you could have an honest-to-goodness, legitimate game of hockey going on to compliment all of that mayhem and carnage.
It is really the small attention to detail that makes the game standout. If you pay real close attention, you can see the silhouettes of bodies floating underneath the ice. . .and you best not stand in one corner for too long, because that ice has a real tendency to break at the most inopportune of times. And hey, let us not forget about that sea monster that periodically pops up to remind you that this ain t exactly Blades of Steel you are playing, either.
I would feel really comfortable in calling this one of the fifty most entertaining games to be found on the Genesis. Seeing as how a lot of readers owned Super Nintendos, I would HIGHLY advise checking out the library of the console you missed out on a kid - with under-the-radar, underrated gems like this one en masse, it s something you ought to do before you even think about calling yourself a real gamer.
Mutant League Basketball
Never heard of this game before? Well, that is for a good reason. . .it was never released, that s why.
Following the success of the first two Mutant League games, EA quickly began work on a third title in the series, this time focused on the sport of basketball. The game most likely would have used the company s NBA Live engine, and if the series tradition was up kept, odds are, you would have been playing as the Chicago GHOULS and Detroit PIST-OFFS around 1995.
As to why the game was never released, there are several competing theories. The most probable one, as far as I am concerned, is that EA was beginning to look towards development for the third wave consoles - the Nintendo 64, the PSX, the Saturn, etc. - and slowly began creeping away from 16-bit development. Ever since the project was quietly cancelled all those years ago, Mutant League enthusiasts have tried effortlessly to uncover any information about the would have been release, and to this day, not even a single screenshot has been unearthed. Sadly, it looks like the fate of Mutant League Basketball will just have to remain one of those eternal video game mysteries, like whatever happened to Thrillkillers and why they took Luigi out of Super Mario 64, I guess. . .
Mutant League: The Action Figures
If you had an astute eye around 1996, you may have noticed a series of action figures, released under the Mutant League flagship, on store shelves. The toys were never all that popular, probably due to the fact that the things just were not marketed. . .by then, the first Mutant League game was already three years old, and as there were no plans for a fresh Mutant League game on the horizon, these things largely accumulated dust while we eagerly snatched up toys based on Independence Day and Mars Attacks, instead.
The things do look pretty cool, though, no?
Alas, you may be thinking to yourself, how did a Sega Genesis license end up getting a toyline to begin with? Well, as it turns out, these Mutant League action figures really were not based on the video game franchise as much as they were based on a contemporary, syndicated cartoon series. That is right, kiddos: At one point in time, there was indeed a Mutant League animated series on TV.
Mutant League: The Animated Series
There were a ton of short lived animated series on TV in the early 90s, and as such, this program got lost in the shuffle. Here in Atlanta, the show came on weekday mornings at about 6 a.m., and although I missed out on the first season, I do believe I ended up seeing every episode of the second (and final) one.
You really would not think that a childrens program about monsters dismembering one another would fly in the wake of the Night Trap Capitol Hill hearings, so maybe that is why the show was never given a Saturday morning or weekday afternoon run in the major markets of America. As for the show itself, I thought it was really good for the timeframe, and a show that was a lot smarter and more well written than it really had any right to be.
The gist of the show was this: a toxic leak causes all of the attendees at a football game to turn into monsters with regenerative capabilities. A couple of years later, they decide to form a multi-sports league, because. . .well, if you had your skin melted off by toxic waste and grew a dinosaur tail, what else would you do?
And so, we met the motley crew of characters: the good guys consist of Bones Justice (whom I guess was supposed to be the equivalent of the Bones Jackson video game character), Razor Kidd (Deion Sanders, if Deion Sanders was half-lizard), and two silent mongoloids who served as the muscle for whenever the heroes were in a jam. One of the things that I just COULD not shake about the character design here was just how much the primary character resembled WWF star Bret Hart. . .I mean, there is no way that guy WASN'T modeled after him, was there?
The program told your basic Manichean tale of good versus evil: Bones team represented hard work, and determination, and good sportsmanship whereas everybody else represented corruption, greed, and cheating. The primary villain of the show was the owner of the league, who I guess is sort of like a bug-chewing David Stern - I can only THINK of the mayhem that would ensue if the Mutant Leaguers ever decided to go on strike.
The episodes typically revolved around Bones team doing battle against the forces of evil in a litany of sporting events. I guess the Mutant League in the show was sort of like the Olympics, only with WAY more ogres and people getting their arms hacked off. As hard as it may be to believe, the average episode of this show was more body part strewn about than an all nighter of playing the Splatterhouse trilogy. The guys that made Batman: The Animated Series were not allowed to show biting, but for some reason, the guys behind Mutant League were allowed to roll out more severed arms, legs, heads and torsos than the set director of a zombie movie. Go figure.
As far as the show content, a lot of the storyline in Mutant League paralleled contemporary sports headlines. For example, there was an episode where one of the players developed an addiction to steroids, and another where the heroes tried to court a high school mutant to join their team (thus forgoing college in the process). Not every attempt at commenting on the sports world worked, but by and large, it was a very entertaining series, with a nice array of characters and writing that was far better than your typical Saturday morning offering. That, and is not like you could watch all that many cartoons where the main characters were disemboweled each episode, so I suppose you can count that as another positive, too.
Mutant League: The Resurrection?
Since the Mutant League cartoon went off the air in the late 1990s, the franchise has been dormant for almost a decade and a half. Although one would have expected the series to make the leap to 3D along with Electronic Arts more revered sports title, the company quietly placed the franchise aside, as the organization began focusing on more licensed titles as opposed to intellectual properties.
The absolute closest - and believe me, this is a real stretch - we have gotten to a Mutant League update is this super-duper-early-model conception designed by a couple of EA testers in 2005. Although extremely unpolished, the video gives you a pretty good idea of what we could have been playing five years ago if history had been just a smidge different:
And so, we find ourselves in the year 2012, almost twenty years removed from the release of the first Mutant League video game. Although the series never gained the appeal and fan base of mega-franchises like Mortal Kombat or Final Fantasy, it still managed to accumulate a fairly dedicated flock of followers, who have clamored for an updated Mutant League game for years and years.
I think it pretty much goes without saying that we ALL want to see another Mutant League game before we die, and with all of the crap currently glutting the market, there really is not an excuse for an AWESOME, next-gen installment in the hyper-violent series to NOT exist. Imagine, if you will, a PS4 or Xbox720 or a WiiU version of Mutant League, consisting of MULTIPLE sporting events - football, hockey, basketball, soccer, racing, boxing, so on and so forth - with online play, user-controlled leagues, and a super-in-depth player (or is it creature?) creator option - that's right, I'm talking Wii Sports, but with the ability to knock off your opponents limbs.)
I will settle for an Xbox Live or PSN arcade download. I will settle for a re-release on the virtual console. Whatever manifestation the hypothetical next-gen title would take, this much, we ALL agree on. . .
EA NEEDS TO MAKE A NEW MUTANT LEAGUE GAME!
James Swift is the author of How I Survived Three Years: At a Two-Year Community College: A Junior Memoir of Epic Proportions and Mascara Contra Mascara: A Tale of Two Masks. He is currently a freelance writer living in the metro Atlanta area.
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