*insert Canadian stereotype here*
Hockey. On the outdoor rink, on the lake, on the street, or on TV…as a young, Canadian lad, I was obsessed with the game. At 33 years old, very little has changed as I continue to enjoy the game as much (or more) than I ever did as a kid.
As a wee man, my love for hockey was matched by my love for video games and the two were a perfect marriage. With the birth of Electronic Arts’ NHL video game series, I have owned, played and enjoyed every iteration of the game from NHL Hockey in 1992 on the Sega Genesis to the latest release of NHL 16 on the Playstation 4. It’s because of these hockey titles that my gaming tastes didn’t see a whole lot of variety over the years.
But as much fun as I had simulating my own personal seasons over the past 20 years or so, I had more fun on a different hockey game when it was released in 1994.
Different, doesn’t begin to describe it.
MUTANT LEAGUE HOCKEY was another release by Electronic Arts, but it had about as much to do with hockey as left wing politics. One look at the cover of the game, and it immediately grabs your attention. Who wouldn’t want to play hockey with skeletons!?
It was intriguing as hell, and upon playing the game for the first time, it looks and feels somewhat similar to the NHL series, but as soon as the puck drops you realize this is hockey…FROM HELL!
Because of it’s hellish nature, each team is comprised of skeletons, robots and trolls/ogre-looking creatures. As far as the teams go, each team is named (sort of) after a team from the NHL. For example, the St. Mucus Ooze? Direct parody of the St. Louis Blues. The Lizard Kingz? The Los Angeles Kings. The Dead Things represent the Red Wings. And so on. All of the teams are split into two conferences: the Toxic Conference and the Maniac Conference, with ten teams in each conference.
Despite how each team is rated, it really doesn’t matter. Whether a team is ranked six skulls (the best) or zero, once you get into a game, the gloves are off.
Actually, the gloves stay on. Which is good. Because the gloves have spikes on them, and that helps when you’re beating the holy heck out of your opponents. In fact, hockey is the furthest priority in Mutant League Hockey. There’s hazards all over the ice which players can trip on, and stumble. Or, better yet, mines and other obstacles that EXPLODE! Fans will throw debris on the ice that you can trip on, or they’ll throw weapons that you can pick up and use!
Yes. Hockey becomes the most violet sport in the galaxy!
Not only is the violence the focal point of the game, it’s necessary. You can’t play this game and simply hope to play hockey. If you try to skate down the ice, pass the puck around and score, your opponents are likely to punch you in the head, whip you with chains, or do anything else to destroy you. Fighting is probably the biggest aspect of the game. If you get into a fight, your sole purpose is to knock the other guy out. The best part? If you lose the fight, you get an additional penalty for getting your ass kicked.
You don’t even need to get into an actual fight to start chuckin’ hammers. You can start punching opponents on the ice and beat them to the point where they explode. The best part is when they explode, their remains lay all over the ice and sit there as additional obstacles. The only time these carcasses get removed is when the zamboni cleans them up at intermission. It’s fantastic.
And when I say zamboni, I mean oversized, giant, mutant slug zamboni.
Truth be told, I’ve never finished a full sixty minute game, and it’s rare that I make it beyond the first period. That’s because I beat, mame, and fillet so many of my opponents that they usually run out of players and end up having to forfeit. Yes, that’s right. If you kill off too many of your opponent’s players, they won’t be able to compete any longer and the game will end.
It’s great fun.
Mutant League Hockey was a spin-off of a similar sports game dubbed Mutant League Football and were both the master mind of designer Michael Mendheim. As a matter of fact, Mendheim launched a Kickstarter in 2013 to relaunch the football series, with a campaign for ‘Mutant Football League’. The Kickstarter vid was fantastic and the development looked promising. Unfortunately, the campaign required $750,000 but only raised $141,000, which is a damn shame.
With most sports games wrapped up with one developer or another and not a lot of variety and concepts year-to-year, a Mutant League sports game would’ve been a nice addition to a game library. It seems that there wasn’t enough interest, and maybe it’s cult following just isn’t enough.
I remember reaching out to Michael for a piece on the now defunct ‘1 More Castle’, but by the time he and I set up a time to chat, the Kickstarter was over and the project was abandoned. It appears that development continued and was scheduled for release in early 2016, but nothing seems to have come of it yet.
It’s too bad, because I feel the Mutant League series could find a nice following in today’s market. At the peak of it’s popularity, it pawned a syndicated television series, a comic and a toy line. Think about how many games were able to do that in the 90’s. (Okay, a lot.) But they were all very popular: Sonic the Hedgehog, Mega Man, Captain N, etc. For such a niche game, it blew up pretty quickly.
If you’ve never played this game, it’s worth playing even if you’re not a hockey fan. Or if football is your game, track down a copy of Mutant League Football and give that a run. At worst, emulate the suckers and enjoy five minutes of glorious entertainment.
Of all the hockey games I’ve played over the years…from Ice Hockey and Blades of Steel on the NES, to Stanley Cup on the Super Nintendo and the entire NHL series…Mutant League Hockey is my absolute favourite and I never, ever tire from firing it up and hacking up some trolls and tossing skeleton bones.