Michael Mendheim

Mutant League Football is back… and no one seems to care

Mutant League Football is back… and no one seems to care

Even some great games from the Sega Genesis era have been long forgotten, but for some reason Mutant League Football just never goes away. For the last two decades, if you had a conversation about remaking the old great 16-bit titles, you were probably going to end up talking about Mutant League Football.

Now, finally, after 20 years of fans begging for this game to get a sequel or a remake or a spiritual successor or anything at all in the Mutant League vein… it's back. A new Kickstarter launched yesterday to revive the Mutant League Football concept in a spiritual successor called Mutant Football League.

It's everything the fans had always asked for… but now that it's here the fans are nowhere to be found.

The Return

Mutant League Football originally came out in 1993, and offered a comical take on the very serious football genre which was highly popular and competitive back then. It was sort of like NFL Blitz long before NFL Blitz. The players on each team were often monsters, orcs or criminals, and could literally die in the game or fall into a pit on the field. It was very popular and it spawned a toy line, a cartoon series, and a spinoff: Mutant League Hockey before utlimately vanishing.

Michael Mendheim, creative director on Mutant Football League and one of the creators of the original game, wanted to clear the air right away when we talked that this is not intended to be a sequel to Mutant League Football.

“We're doing a whole new game,” he told the Report. “EA dropped the Mutant League trademark, it's dead in the trademark office about twelve years ago. I've really wanted to make a game of that type again. Since the trademark was abandoned we didn't use the exact same one. We went ahead and put it together, and we'll see how it goes. We're going to take our own direction, and obviously I'm the guy who put the first one together so we're going to pay great homage to it. But there's things we'd like to do in this game that we couldn't do if we were with a publisher.”

Mendheim has a laundry list of things from the original game that he wants to fix with this new successor, and isn't shy about stating the things the original game was bad about. For many fans, myself included, nostalgia has clouded the memory of Mutant League Football, and turned it into a behemoth that it probably wasn't. But Mendheim sees it a bit more clearly.

“I think we veer away from where that game was,” he said. “The graphics weren't the best, it was our first time out. I really want to upgrade the visual look of the product and infuse it with personality.”

Mendheim has a fairly thick Chicago accent, and a midwesterner's self-effacing humility. When he describes his game, one of the all-time classics of the 16-bit era, he uses words like “decent” and “competent.”

But where he really gets excited is in talking about imbuing the game with personality. The football game itself? Meh, that'll be “competent,” he says.

“I can't make a Madden game,” he said. “It costs like… $100 million dollars and there's 100 people working on it, and the product is amazing. I can make a really competent football game though. And we can take a really competent football game with decent AI and give it personality. And that's what Mutant League is all about. It's all about personality and taunts, and it's about you caring for them and really feeling pain when you lose your guy.”

Star Power

Talking to Mendheim, you get the sense that Mutant Football League is as much a cartoon as it is a video game. It's an outlet for parody mixed in with a unique slant on the sports genre. It was, after all, spun into a saturday morning cartoon in the 90s. He compares the style of sports and culture parody to that of Family Guy and The Simpsons.

But as much as Mutant League Football and Mutant Football League are about comedy and parody, they're also about taking a unique slant on the sports genre that manages to draw in a big variety of people.

“Core football fans like it alot because it's a diversion from Madden, but people who hate football like it too,” said Mendheim. “Because the controls are pretty easy, and you can win the game without playing football. You can come into the game and have a strategy that is, 'how can I dwindle down the other team's star players into nothing and win the game through forfeit.”

“We exaggerate the star players in comparison to the C and D players, so they are so much better than your reserve players that they become extremely important in a game, and you have to use them very carefully in terms of how you want to put them out on the field,” he said. “Imbuing personality in these players through animations and art is kind of like the magic sparkle. Because players do connect with their on-screen characters, especially if they're winning games for you. So the more we can do with that, the better.

Left hanging

As excited as Mendheim gets when he talks about football and parody, he seems a bit frustrated with how the Kickstarter has progressed so far in the opening 24 hours.

Twice when we discussed the Kickstarter and the complaints fans have had, I began to hear light pounding in the background of the Skype call which I eventually realized was his hand hitting the desk that his microphone was placed on. A coincidence, or latent anger, I don't know.

It would be hard to blame him for being upset though. For twenty years this Kickstarter has been brewing. The pressure has been building year after year for two decades, and rather than exploding onto Kickstarter… it has fizzled.

In the incredibly crucial first day of the campaign, Mutant Football League has garnered just 1.7% of its initial goal. The first and the last day are almost invariably the biggest for Kickstarter funding drives, and now Mutant Football League has to find a way to garner more donations during the traditionally slow middle weeks than it did at the outset.

Part of the problem is that the momentum has been waylaid by backer unrest about costs and rewards. It's been twenty years in the making, and the Kickstarter's structure may spoil the whole project.

In particular, backers are upset about special reward animations unbalancing the game, which is nothing to worry about, Mendheim says. But the bigger worry is about the costs of the game and its stretch goals, and the fact that it will be launching on PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2015 long after Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have taken over the reins of the console business.

Despite his obvious frustrations, Mendheim and the team are working with backer requests to try to patch the holes in people's confidence. A PC version is being added to all backing tiers to add value, and Mendheim has worked to allay fears of the game being unbalanced by additional animations and trick plays.

With the momentum having already sputtered though the team will be fighting against the odds to make it to the $750,000 goal over the next four weeks.