“There’s a rumor that the remains of you who don’t survive this game with the Galaxy Aces will be sold for cat food. Not true. There are some things even a cat won’t eat.”
In 1993, Electronic Arts exposed the Madden game engine to TMNT mutagen. It resulted in the creation of Mutant League Football. The chaotic post-apocalyptic game was as much strategy as it was just brutally destroying the other team (literally!). Discovering a new formula for sports games, EA began pushing Mutant League into other sports. In 1994 EA launched a spin-off game Mutant League Hockey for the Sega Genesis (cause Nintendon’t!). The Mutant League boomed with a brand new cartoon based on the video games in 1994. It was short-lived, and the flash pan series came to a thud as a basketball version never saw the light of day.
How does this mutated Madden spin off work? Crosstix and I recently played it to find out.
Sports games present a completely unique aspect of analysis for review. For any familiar with sport titles, menus make a huge difference in experience. For other game genres this realm becomes an afterthought rather than a crucial component. In sport titles though, a player needs to be able to evaluate teams, venues, plays/abilities before ever choosing the setup. Essentially, strategy begins in sports titles before you ever enter a single game.
Mutant League Hockey is at a disadvantage to most other sports games at the outset. While a Madden player may be familiar with NFL teams, how many people can name two Mutant League teams off the top of your head? Yeah, me either and I recently played it.
That said MLH does a great job of acclimating a player to the game and possible strategies. Teams are rated based on stars to help choose a strong or weak team. Player’s names and pictures slide across when the team is selected. All of these touches introduce players and teams to the gamer.
Being the Mutant League, there are several other options to note. There are the usual choices of length of game and stadium. You are able to turn penalties off, which encourages fighting. You can also choose your death index, or the amount of items and explosions. Customization is simple and self-explanatory even without a manual.
Once on the ice, you will control robots, ogres, and skeletons (oh my!). Each one feels a tiny bit different; some are faster and others seem to take more abuse. This could just be my bias against slow, fat ogres speaking though. Controls allow for passing, switching players, and shooting. You can also beat the pulp out of the opposition, too. Why else would you turn off penalties!?
The game plays enough like your basic Genesis hockey game. It is not as crisp as NHL ’93, but functions well enough. The biggest change is the obstacles on the ice. If you pump up the rabid crowd (they likely have rabies), they will throw items for you to use to pulverize your enemy. Use the chainsaw and a pile of blood and guts now sits on the ice in their place. Now you have to watch out for piles of dead bodies and an occasional hole. These same obstacles will also trap the puck. How do you get the puck from a body without tripping?! Thankfully, a giant slug cleans everything up between periods. Yum!
There is one other unique gameplay mechanic to be aware of. When two players clash enough, they fight. This moves to a minigame that feels like a video game version of Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots. Luck and button mashing seems to be the key.
Strategy-wise, this game becomes easy in co-op. One player gets a weapon and beats the goalie down while the other shoots. Not difficult to rack up points and demolition. The only thing that keeps the difficulty up is the computer cheating, but it’s Mutant League so that should be expected. Once strategy is worked out, it becomes redundant.
“This game should be murder but if it’s just aggravated manslaughter, I’ll know you guys are dogging it.”
The lasting impression from Mutant League Hockey is the humor. The quotes are brash and aggressive. The trash-talk here is worthy of garbage day. Personality is dripping, just like the blood, from each and every quote. The game might not provide the best hockey, but it does supply some fun and lots of humor.
The game is a chaotic mess, and a fun one at that. It is a pleasant change of pace from the super-serious retro options like NHL. The gameplay is not crisp, but the game is half-hockey and half-war. For modern gamers, think of NBA Jam or Sega Soccer Slam as reference points. Then just add in a helping of Mortal Kombat. The game holds up well to the test of time because it was not trying to be something profound, just a quick, chaotic romp through hockey. It has deeper modes, but is best consumed like a shot of sugar. Set your death index to annihilation and enjoy!