Mutant Football League
After a failed crowdfunding attempt on Kickstarter, you couldn't blame Mike Mendheim for hanging up the cleats and shelving his Mutant Football League comeback. But rather than take his ball home, Mendheim strapped on his spiked shoulder pads and planted firmly at the line of scrimmage, resolved to get the ball moving forward no matter how stout the defense.
The new version of Mutant Football League is entirely self-funded to this point, which hasn't stopped Mendheim from adding new features, platforms, and even switching the gameplay perspective to bring it more in line with modern football games. Why invest so heavily in a game that didn't attract enough fans to complete its Kickstarter funding? Mendheim thinks it was more of a strategic mistake rather than disinterest in the game concept. "We had no demo, we had concept art that we were basing the pitch on for mobile. It was a disaster, but we still raised like $100,00. I had three to one backers upset with me, because it was a 2D game on mobile and they wanted the next-gen version. So I learned a lot from the Kickstarter failure, licked my wounds, and asked myself, 'What kind of game did I want?' The reason I went with mobile at first was because I just didn't believe we could raise enough money to build a PS4 and Xbox One game. I had this perception from working with big publishers that $20 million is the entry fee."
Once Mendheim started looking at the tools available, he realized that view was limiting and it was actually possible to make a console game with a reasonable budget. Using the Unity engine, a team of six transitioned the project from 2D to the 3D perspective used by Madden in a relatively short amount of time. Full rag doll physics help sell the over-the-top nature of the action, and pop-up dialogue balloons return to deliver the signature low-brow banter between players. Mendheim chose to keep this design to give the team the flexibility to update the dialogue as the NFL season goes on to keep the quips relevant. "If there's another Ray Rice situation, we could have some connection with what they say to make it timely," he says. "This game is just not politically correct on any level. It's built for guys drinking, getting high, and having a good time."
Mutant Football League preserves the juvenile humor of the original, featuring 30 spoof teams comprised of robots, demons, orcs, aliens, and mutated human beings. Many have real world analogs. For instance, the Midway Mutants and star running back Matt Gorete are clearly the parody version of the Chicago Bears.
True to the original, players can be maimed from Looney Tunes-style violence during the course of a game. If a star player loses a limb, the user has a tough decision to make. They can play through the pain, relying on one hand to haul in passes. They can sit on the bench to slowly gain back some strength. Or the user can opt to put the player in the rejuvenation machine to speed the recovery process and grow back the limb. You can only use these chambers sparingly, so you need to be smart. If you burn them too early and then one of your star players dies on the field, you have no way of bringing them back to life. Losing a star player for the remainder of the season could be a crippling blow to your title aspirations.
The injury stakes are raised even higher when playing another user whether on the couch or online. "Guys who normally don't play sports games play this game and just try to kill the other team while managing their own team. They're just playing a game of attrition as opposed to having good football tactics."
Avoiding brutal hits is one way to keep star players alive, but you also need to be on the watch for environmental hazards. Each of the stadiums includes unique hazards, like lightning striking the field, fiery sidelines, or strategically placed mines. Dirty tricks can also turn the tide of the game. One of them turns the running back into a giant for a play who can step on opponents to crush them. Another gives the back a chainsaw to make sure they can literally cut through the defensive line and into the secondary. If you want a leg up on the competition you can also bribe the ref, which means the opposing team needs to off the ref to kill your new found advantage.
To keep the game accessible for the widest possible market, Mutant League Football features two easy-to-master control schemes. One adopts the basic controls of the NES classic Tecmo Bowl, where the other more closely emulates the Madden controls.
If the relaunch proves successful, Mendheim has several plans for continuing to improve the game, including create-a-team, create-a-player, and create-a-play options. But for now his studio is focused on wooing a publishing partner to get Mutant Football League on track to release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Android, and iOS platforms in 2016. Given the severe lack of non-licensed arcade sports games on the market, this hail mary could have a shot of finding its intended receiver.