Interview: Football! Mutants! Michael Mendheim Returns With ‘Mutant Football League!’

Today marked the launch of the “Mutant Football League” Kickstarter, a spiritual successor to EA’s 16-bit classic “Mutant League Football” from series creator Michael Mendheim. The Kickstarter campaign, which is seeking $750,000 to complete the game for iOS and Android devices–with stretch goals potentially bringing it to other platforms–resurrects a property that’s been out of the public eye for some time now, albeit with a very vocal following.

But why go it alone without EA? And isn’t Mendheim courting conflict with the publisher by using a concept (and name) so similar to the original?

First, a little background: EA’s “Mutant League Football” was released 20 years ago this month on the Genesis, during the “Mortal Kombat”-era of development. This is when studios, capitalizing on the success of Midway’s bloody fighter, began building games around carnage and gore–usually with a sense of humor to soften the impact. Enter “Mutant League Football,” which took the American football concept and added, well, mutants. And mines, and toxic waste, and on-field obstacles that you’d expect on a post-apocalyptic football field.

Image source: Cover Galaxy

“Mutant League Football” spawned a sequel, “Mutant League Hockey,” which was released the following year, along with a line of toys and two seasons of an animated series on Fox. But after announcing a basketball game based on the IP, EA seemed done with mutants playing sports.

“There were a number of reasons why Electronic Arts killed it,” Mendheim says, adding that at the time, it was the right decision for the publisher.

But Mendheim says that over the years, he continued to notice a dedicated fanbase for the original game. “Fans kept asking, ’Will there be another Mutant League Football?'” He says as far back as a decade ago, he approached EA with proposals to bring “MLF” back, and that although he and EA were in negotiations for the project “for whatever reason, [EA] wasn’t interested in pursuing the brand anymore.” When the trademark on “MLF” lapsed, Mendheim, instead of snatching it up, trademarked his own “Mutant Football League” (“MFL” works better as a direct parody of the NFL, he explains).

Mendheim wants to be clear that this isn’t a sequel to the 1993 game, and that “MFL” is paying homage to its predecessor. When I ask if he’s concerned about EA coming after him (and the project) for copyright infringement, Mendheim allows that although he’s consulted with his lawyers and he intends no disrespect to his former employers, there’s always the chance that EA might decide to sue. “It’s not like EA holds the license on mutants and it’s not like EA holds the license on football.” He says he “has concerns,” but he’s more concerned with addressing fan excitement about making a new “Mutant” football game.

With that in mind, the in-game view and visuals will be different from those of the original (“MFL” will not be top-down vertical like its Genesis counterpart). The game will include a single-player story campaign, taking the player through a full season, playoffs, and a world championship game. As with the original, “MFL” will include the kind of in-game combat and obstacles on the field that fans expect from the concept.

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