Mutant Football League: Dynasty Edition is a weird depiction of arcade football. In many ways, it’s nothing like an actual game of football due to (cheap) dirty tricks and on-the-field obstacles that greatly change the course of a contest. Unfortunately, these additions mar the experience, turning it into a frustrating game of gridiron that too often favours cheapness over skill. Despite a rash of game variants including a deep dynasty mode and some occasional moments of mirth, Mutant Football League runs out of tricks after just a few games and devolves into a forgettable disappointment.
In the Mutant Football League, your favourite football teams and stars are replaced with skeletons, monsters, vampires, werewolves, and other unseemly creations. A great number of the teams are plays on real teams. For example, the Green Bay Packers become the Grim Bay Attackers, with Aaron Rodgers turning into Airborne Dodgers. Mutant Football League loves puns, and most of them are terrible.
Instead of the traditional 11v11 setup, Mutant Football League strips it down to 7v7. With fewer players on the field, the potential for big plays skyrockets. Though each game goes by at a fast clip, scoring occurs by the boatload. Like the Big 12, defence is optional. Oddly, players move fairly slowly when not pressing the finite sprint button, which basically forces you to punch your way to big gains. It’s not uncommon to get chased down from behind by a defender that is 20 yards back.
From a controls perspective, Mutant Football League doesn’t play all that different from Madden – or Mutant League Football for that matter, the 1993 Madden spin-off which this title is heavily inspired by (Michael Mendheim, the lead designer of the original Mega Drive / Genesis game, is also the lead on this offering). It’s easy to jump in and get going. The difference here is that the aggression of the game of football is increased exponentially. Stiff arms turn into punches and dive tackles transition into body slams. Like NFL Blitz, you can hit opponents after the play, dealing damage to them in the process. Injuries and actual deaths happen almost every other play. By the time you finish the first half, it’s not impossible for three different QBs to take snaps.
Ironically, Mutant Football League’s most novel features end up making the experience fall apart. A ‘dirty tricks’ scheme in the playbook lets you do things like bribe the refs for cheap penalties, turn one of your defenders into a literal giant, or even erase the last play. In other words, Mutant Football League has a penchant for feeling cheap.
In one contest, we intercepted a pass and ran it back for what would’ve been a game-clinching touchdown. Our opponent simply used the time warp dirty trick to erase the play. In another instance, all we needed to do was run out the clock to win the game. Our rival used the dirty trick that turned one of his linebackers into a giant. Once he hit our running back, we fumbled, the giant picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown to win with no time left on the clock. Tackling a giant is virtually impossible and forcing a fumble or interception while playing as a giant is virtually guaranteed.
The stadiums you play in often have obstacles, some of which come out of nowhere. Racing towards the end zone for a surefire touchdown only to fall into a hole while running is a buzzkill. You could argue that just like back in the day when we played and loved EA’s monster-filled Mega Drive title, the zany and unpredictable nature of the game is part of the appeal. Being able to kill rival players is pretty entertaining, and there are many laughs to be had as promising runs turn into gore-filled bloodbaths thanks to rule-breaking tactics; the issue is that after a few hours, this approach seriously undermines your enjoyment, even when you’re playing with a friend. Skill stops being a factor, and no sports title is going to last long in that situation.
Admittedly, Mutant Football League does have a sizable amount of content. The dynasty mode is not quite as deep as Madden, but it still has an impressive degree of customization, and online play works well. Still, robust systems cannot save an experience if it feels tedious and annoying. In terms of presentation, Mutant Football League is somewhat of an eyesore, with grainy visuals and jagged polygons that are exacerbated when playing in handheld mode. After listening to the commentators make eye-rolling jokes for a few games, we started playing with the sound off.
While we’re unsure how the other versions of Mutant Football League perform (it’s also available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC), the Switch edition suffers from game-crashing bugs. The game froze during several contests – including our first two – forcing us to restart the application from the home screen.
It’s a crying shame – not to mention an almost unbelievable situation – that Mutant Football League: Dynasty Edition is currently the only American football game on Switch; Nintendo fans certainly deserve much, much better. Due to the annoying ‘dirty tricks’ system and unpredictable field changes, the experience leads to many cheap situations which, while mixing things up, don’t make the game fun to play. It has the over-the-top aggression of its spiritual forerunner – 1993’s Mutant League Football – and a sizable amount of content, but it’s simply not an enjoyable experience after a few games, even when a second person is involved. As a result, you’ll quickly give up and wish you had a proper gridiron experience to play on your Switch. If you loved the Mega Drive original and crave an American Football game more than anything else in the world then you may extract some pleasure from this release, but everyone else should avoid like an incoming linebacker.