In the current generation of video games, there’s one genre of games that really suffer from the ideology of “we have to be as realistic as possible!” and that’s sports games. Madden, NBA, NHL, MLB, PGA, hell even the shitty lacrosse games and other sports that aren’t as popular in video gaming suffer from this problem. Everything’s gotta look realistic, the controls have to be slowed down to match the pace of the game, the physics have to be as realistic as possible (until they glitch and cause ragdolling) and the rules have to be upheld. But back in the 90s and early 2000s, sports games also had some arcade-y, fun versions of each sport. Take NBA Jam, NHL Hitz, NFL Blitz, games like that. They were meant to be over-the-top fun versions of sport games.
My personal favourite though is the 1994 SEGA Genesis classic, Mutant League Hockey.
In Mutant League Hockey, any sense of realism is thrown out the window. Humans do not exist, three races existing within the game, robots, skeletons and trolls. The ice surfaces have different colour schemes in various arenas, some boards have spikes on them and various other unique looks to them. Speaking of spikes, there are tons of traps and insta-death sections on the rinks. Spikes, holes in the ice, weapons littered on the ice after fans throw them in, there’s a lot of ways to cause damage to your opponents.
And that’s the key mechanic that Mutant League Hockey uses to differentiate itself from traditional sports games (as if having non-humans wasn’t enough already), death and damage is an actual thing in the game and can even cause victories/losses. You don’t have to just win the game by scoring more goals, you can win by simply killing the entire team to the point they don’t have the numbers to play. You can achieve this through power hits, weapons, death traps, there are tons of options to inflict pain and death upon your opponents and not only is it possible, it’s encouraged! The bodies also remain on the ice until the end of the period, making more obstacles for players to either avoid or just trip over.
Fighting of course is a constant thing in this game as well, once again it’s also encouraged. It takes on its own unique mini-game, something that took until the 2000s NHL Hitz games to similarly replicate. It’s a fun little mini-game that separates itself temporarily from the game. You’re also rewarded for winning, as both players are still penalized for fighting, but the loser of the fight gets an additional penalty, essentially for been a bitch and losing the fight.
There’s also other unique mechanics to the game that are completely unheard of in any sports games that I know of. You can create special plays where you can make the puck explode, you can exchange your goalie for a demon goalie where it’s just a giant demon head instead of a net and when you’re scored on, the net explodes. There’s also the ability to place land mines and holes in the ice and even the ability to bribe the referee to call more penalties on your opponent!
The game carries it’s own sense of humor too, the coaches speeches ranging from super cheesy, to super creepy and dark. It’s clearly not meant to be taken seriously at all. There is a little bit of reference to real-life hockey, some of the team names being taken from NHL teams, such as the Black Hearts (Chicago Blackhawks), Montroyale Cadavers (Montreal Canadiens) and the St. Mucus Ooze (St. Louis Blues).
It was such a fun game to play when I was younger and even today the old SEGA Genesis hockey games hold up very well. This game on the other hand, not only holds up, but remains just stupid, cheesy fun. If you’re a retro collector, this game’s a great one to pick up, otherwise play this sucker on an emulator. It’s super fun!