Jaromir Jagr

PHT remembers video games: Bones-ing up on ‘Mutant League Hockey’

Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game (or games). Since we don’t have every console or cartridge, some posts will be recollections, not reviews. This week, we look back at “Mutant League Hockey.”

There probably won’t be another hockey video game quite like “Mutant League Hockey.” In all honesty, it’s kind of hard to believe it ever got released.

Now, in some ways, “Mutant League Hockey” was very much a video game of the times. No, its cartoonish violence didn’t inspire groups to think of the children with the same energy that “Mortal Kombat” did. But it was still a hockey video game where you could eliminate your opponents (with weapons like chainsaws) until you won by forfeit. The crude humor and over-the-top vibe carried shades of “Beavis & Butthead,” “Ren & Stimpy,” and maybe even “Heavy Metal.” It was the unofficial hockey video game of GWAR.

Forfeit in Mutant League Hockey
via Electronic Arts/Hey Poor Player

It’s kind of staggering that “Mutant League Hockey” was published by Electronic Arts in 1994. After all, this was at the same time the company that was churning out beloved, licensed sports titles. Gory parodies didn’t really fit with “NHL ’94” and “NHL ’95,” let alone the increasingly popular “Madden” games.

There’s an alternate reality where maybe, just maybe, EA Sports would be churning out sim series on one side and silly ones on the other. After all, “Mutant League Hockey” wasn’t the first title in the series, as the hit “Mutant League Football” first brought us “Bones Jackson” in 1993.

It’s not like the series lacked any legs. There was even a “Mutant League” cartoon, which it ran for two seasons in the form of 40 episodes:

There were even action figures, possibly pushing the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” connection too far:

Mutant League Bonesykle toy Football Hockey
via Amazon/Galoob

Ultimately, “Mutant League Hockey” ended up being the last video game in the series, rather than a continuation of a sensation. Even so, it’s worth remembering the game, and its place in the landscape of arcade-style sports titles.

Not everyone has the fondest memories of “Mutant League Hockey”

Even series creator Michael Mendheim understands why EA eventually shelved “Mutant League” titles to focus on more grounded sports games. In a 2007 interview with Gamasutra, Mendheim referred to the series as “the crazy uncle who was told to stay in the basement when the important guests arrived.”

“EA made a smart decision to put all their focus and talent on making the best realistic sports games in the industry, in lieu of splitting resources to make a violent sci-fi themed sports game,” Mendheim said. “From a business standpoint, it was the only practical decision to make.”

In deciding to divest from all things “Mutant League,” it meant that there wouldn’t be a basketball game, and this change in gears forced “Mutant League Hockey” to be rushed. Mendheim explained that what should have been about a 14-month development cycle was instead squashed down to about six months.

” … I know what Mutant League Hockey was supposed to be and could have been, so I was always sad and disappointed with that project,” Mendheim told Brett Weiss.

What “Mutant League Hockey” ended up being

Of course, plenty of us hold fond memories of what “Mutant League Hockey” ended up being, as we had no clue what it could have been.

In retrospect, some of the flaws helped make it so memorable. There was sort of a buffet-style, “kitchen sink” feel to the game, and it probably made things too chaotic at times. Yet maybe that excess also helped it stand out?

If you wanted balance, you went with the NHL titles. “Mutant League Hockey” allowed you to bribe refs, included a net that could turn into a puck-blocking beast, and punished losing teams in fights with longer penalties. A slug-like Zamboni didn’t just clean up pixelated ice, but also the bones/whatever of the fallen beasts following each period. The animated fight sequence felt like an evolution/devolution of the memorable bouts in “Blades of Steel.” It was all a lot, and that was the point.

via Electronic Arts/Hey Poor Player

As with most corny humor and puns, some jokes landed better than others. Your mileage will vary on “Smelios” (stifles a giggle), but “Jamina Dagr” isn’t exactly the greatest take on Jaromir Jagr.

Based on Mendheim’s comments about the game being rushed, one wonders if “Mutant League Hockey” could have been as polished as it was off-the-wall if given more time in the oven. Then again, it’s better that it got rushed out than to not exist at all.

Future mutations

If you glance at Mendheim’s career, you can see that there are traces of “Mutant League” in future work.

It’s unclear how involved he was in the 1996 PC title “HyperBlade,” but … I mean, just look at it. This carries some serious “if only it had more time in the oven” spirit:

EA occasionally returned to arcade-style sports games, just not really with the absurd gore. The “EA Sports BIG” line of games captured much of the spirit with “NBA Street” and “SSX.” Mendheim even served as a producer on “Def Jam: Icon.” 

EA eventually dropped “BIG” games, which still stings for me. It makes it that much more tempting to picture how a modern “Mutant League Hockey” might turn out.

Actually, should I picture it as “Mutant Hockey League?”

Back in 2017, Mendheim managed to put out a spiritual pigskin successor in the form of “Mutant Football League.” While it didn’t set the video game sales world on fire, it received reasonably positive reviews. It merely existing is impressive enough.

(The game’s title not prompting litigation is interesting enough in its own right.)

Picturing an unlikely reboot

Considering hockey’s more limited scope, and Mendheim holding sad memories, I’m not holding my breath for anything along the lines of “Mutant Hockey League,” or any similar arrangement of words.

Even so, it’s tempting to picture an unlikely reboot. First, take the adrenaline and sports-adjacent qualities of “Rocket League.” Then, mix in the obstacles and items of, say, “Mario Kart.” Add violence for taste, and you could have a glorious hockey video game.

Honestly, if you need a boredom fix, drum up some dopey replacement NHL player names. Just consider “Mutant Football League” warping Odell Beckham Jr. and apply it to hockey:

via Digital Dreams LLC/Sporting News

Until then, we’ll merely have to dream, and maybe wipe dust off of that Genesis and the nostalgia-tinged cartridges.

via Electronic Arts/eBay

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT remembers video games: Hockey on the Nintendo 64

Nintendo 64 hockey video games
Getty Images

Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game (or games). Since we don’t have every console or cartridge, some posts will be recollections, not reviews. This week, we look back at hockey video games on the Nintendo 64.

When people think back to the Nintendo 64, plenty of images come up. Maybe Mario 64 or “The Ocarina of Time” come to mind. Perhaps it conjures memories of Goldeneye, or really good pro wrestling titles, or “Mario Party” wounds.

I’d wager that there aren’t many people who immediately think of hockey video games for that console. Heck, I’d assume that most hockey fans who also play games probably think of SNES/Genesis titles, go back to “Ice Hockey” and “Blades of Steel,” or merely lean toward EA’s modern NHL series.

Even so, there were quite a few Nintendo 64 hockey video games, including ones so obscure they might not make it in this post. (If so, share away.) Let’s look back at the 64-bit console’s most noteworthy hockey video games, then.

Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey (and ’98)

Arcade-style sports games tend to age the best because they’re less ambitious about looking like the real thing, and also about simulating it. So, it’s no surprise that “Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey” seems like it would be pretty fun to play, even today.

Midway churned this one out, which helps to explain the “NBA Jam”-y ness of it all. Goalies could turn into brick walls. Nets caught on fire. You know, the good stuff.

You could see a lot of the DNA of “NHL Hitz” here, which is a series we’ll delve into down the line.

Here are some fun tidbits about the series (which included a sequel):

  • The title’s Wikipedia page alleges that it was the first-ever four-player Nintendo 64 game. As you may recall, the console shipped with four ports for controllers, making it the sleepover machine for nerds cool kids.
  • The series of three Gretzky-helmed titles began on the SNES.
  • Could there have been “Mortal Kombat”-style fatalies during fights? Allegedly.
  • Critics weren’t exactly enthused about the ’98 version getting repackaged as “Olympic Hockey ’98.” IGN even gave it a “zero.” Honestly, I do admire the lazy brashness of just changing trades to “defections,” though.
  • “Olympic Hockey ’98” represented the debut of video game developer Treyarch.

In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, Treyarch currently develops some of the titles for the “Call of Duty” franchise, and also churned out the well-regarded PS2 “Spider-man 2” game, ports for the “Tony Hawk” series, and more. Humble beginnings, indeed.

EA sports eventually brings a hockey title to Nintendo 64 with NHL ’99

As far as I can tell, the Nintendo 64 began a stretch where EA Sports titles were by no means guaranteed to appear on Nintendo consoles. (Or, in some cases, Nintendo fans would get warmed-over rehashes, or only one or two titles in a given series. The Nintendo Switch hasn’t received a modern title in the NHL series, for instance.)

While the Nintendo 64 ranked as a success by some measures, it also didn’t receive the same waves of titles as Sony’s Playstation. While Sony went with CDs, Nintendo stuck with cartridges. Such a decision made it tougher to pirate games for the Nintendo 64, yet it also made it far more expensive to manufacture games.

“Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey” released in 1996, while EA Sports’ first foray into hockey games for the Nintendo 64 didn’t happen until “NHL ’99” dropped in 1998.

“NHL ’99” featured Eric Lindros on the cover, and was generally well-received. That said, IGN’s Craig Harris noted that the game was farmed out to MBL Research, and was mostly based off of “NHL ’98” for the Playstation and PC.

So it seems like it was better than nothing, but Nintendo fans still got the short end of the (hockey) stick.

Other hockey video games on Nintendo 64

When it comes to two other series on the N64, I’d argue their greatest impacts came in entertaining covers.

Frankly, there’s a charm in Keith Tkachuk being on the cover of “NHL Breakaway ’98,” which I assume will be a precursor to Matthew Tkachuk and Brady Tkachuk teaming up on the latest “Bratz.”

NHL Breakaway '98 Keith Tkachuk hockey video games Nintendo 64
via Youtube/Acclaim Sports

The “Breakaway” series seemed … fine. Really, any hockey game that included icon passing gets bumped up a half-letter grade. But it’s not shocking that the series eventually fizzled out.

While plenty of people at least vaguely recall one of the “Breakaway” titles (the second one featured Steve Yzerman), I’d guess few knew that “Blades of Steel” made a comeback. Jaromir Jagr served as the cover star for both the ’99 and 2000 versions:

 

via CD Universe/Konami

There seems to be some charm to the “Blades of Steel” reboot, but the slow framerate and weird angle likely limit it to being a mere curiosity.

Overall, it’s pretty easy to see why the Nintendo 64 isn’t remembered for hockey video games. Even so, I can’t deny an urge to refresh my memories about “Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey,” — defections optional.

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Our favorite classic Costacos Brothers hockey posters

Costacos Brothers

If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember Costacos Brothers posters. Heck, you may have had some up on the walls of your childhood bedroom. The images married sports and pop culture, often dressing up athletes in various costumes to go along with the theme.

Do you remember Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, also known as the Oakland A’s “Bash Brothers,” dressed as the “Blues Brothers,” giant bats and all? Or Lawrence Taylor, with bodies piled around him, dubbed “The Terminator” with lasers shooting out of his fingers? Perhaps you had the one with Karl Malone dressed appropriately to deliver mail?

The posters took off in the mid-1980s and were a big deal for any athlete who was fortunate enough to be a part of one. As Charles Barkley told Amy K. Nelson of SB Nation in 2013, “The poster made you cool. You didn’t make the poster cool.”

We took a dip into the hockey side of the Costacos Brothers poster world and picked out our favorites for this week’s Power Rankings.

1. Ray Bourque

A five-time Norris Trophy winner and stalwart on the Bruins blue line for 20 years, Bourque was clearly suited for the government role of Secretary of Defense. Though, we’re confident that the hockey stick would be a poor weapon in defense compared to that machine gun on the jeep.

2. Luc Robitaille

A play off the Paul Newman movie, here’s Robitaille cozying up next to a Kings-themed motorcycle standing in front of what appears to be an apocalyptic sky behind him. 

3. Jaromir Jagr

“OK, Jaromir, here’s our idea: You’re going to awkwardly stand, full uniform, and look at the camera, letting those bangs out, and you’ll act as a pawn. Czechmate. Get it?”

4. Brett Hull

Hull would definitely fill the “Ice Man” role in a “Top Gun” movie. And you just know he told Adam Oates, “you can be my wingman anytime.”

5. Magic Johnson and Wayne Gretzky

This “LA Story” didn’t end up being as successful as hoped. In the time that “The Great One” and Magic were in Los Angeles together, only the Lakers made the finals, losing both of them. Johnson returned after a four-year retirement in 1995-96, which would turn out to be the final seasons for both in LA.

6. Wayne Gretzky

Wouldn’t you have preferred Gretzky dressed as Wayne Campbell standing in front of a Marcel Dionne’s Donuts instead?

7. Chris Chelios and Jeremy Roenick

The two Blackhawks stars are hanging out in the middle of a lightning storm without a care in the world. They’re basically just here solely to show off their jeans and turtlenecks.

8. Ed Belfour

“The Eagle” put up his best seasons in Dallas, capping it off with the 1999 Stanley Cup. Surely this movie would be more watchable than “The Love Guru,” no?

MORE POWER RANKINGS:
Teams with the best long-term outlook
Looking at the top 2020 free agents
Best 2019-20 free agent signings
The most underrated players
Top MVP candidates

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Alex Ovechkin scores 700th goal with a blast

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He did it. Alex Ovechkin scored his 700th career goal on Saturday as the Capitals faced the Devils.

Ovechkin scored his historic goal from the opposite faceoff circle from his typical “office.” It was a significant goal, tying Washington 2-2 with New Jersey a few minutes into the third period. Ovechkin reaching his 700th goal with such gusto really adds to the experience.

(Watch video of Ovechkin scoring his 700th goal in the video above.)

Ovechkin makes history with 700th goal

It marks his second goal in as many games after sitting at 698 goals for five agonizing contests. Well, they were agonizing for those anxiously awaiting number 700. Ovechkin’s response was basically “Whatever.” Ovechkin scored 30 of his 700 career goals against the Devils.

Ovechkin joins an illustrious group including Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801), Jaromir Jagr (766), Brett Hull (741), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717) and Mike Gartner (708). Ovechkin became the second player to score 700+ goals with a single team, as Howe scored 786 with the Red Wings before continuing a hockey journey that eventually included playing alongside his sons.

Jagr was the most recent player to reach 700 on March 1, 2014.

Ovechkin scored goal No. 699 in an OT loss to the Canadiens after five straight games without a point. No. 8 controlled a rolling puck after Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff cleanly in the offensive zone, then fired a wrist shot past Carey Price.

Ovechkin, 34, became the second youngest and fastest player (1144 games) to score 700 goals, trailing Gretzky who was 29 years old (886 games) when he scored his 700th in January 1991 as a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

Earlier this month, Ovi also became only the second player to score 40 goals in 11 seasons, trailing Gretzky’s record of 12. Ovechkin now has 42 goals in 60 games this season, giving himself a shot at another Maurice Richard Trophy.

The Devils ended up beating the Capitals 3-2. Maybe Washington can get back on track now that Ovechkin got this 700th goal out of the way? Their struggles aren’t on Ovechkin, but the Caps are struggling as a team nonetheless. (They have to be pleased with Pittsburgh losing to the Sabres on Saturday, though.)

Ovechkin’s quest for 700th goal:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Protecting Pettersson; more on Zucker trade

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Ken Campbell nails it in discussing the abuse thrown Elias Pettersson‘s way. Really, it applies not only to protecting Pettersson, but all star players. (The Hockey News)

• The Sedin Twins understand what Pettersson is going through. Unfortunately, their advice boils down to “you just gotta deal with it.” (Vancouver is Awesome)

• Believe it or not, the Sedin twins are still close friends. Who would have thought? (Although twins could get tired of each other, theoretically, so maybe it is impressive …) (Sportsnet)

• Need a connection between the NHL and the inescapable Coronavirus? Apparently the crisis is affecting the supply of sticks. Imagine a scenario where crusty hockey people live their random dream of wooden sticks making a brief comeback … (Boston Globe)

• Oilers fans winced at Connor McDavid hurting his knee. If they (and fans of the sport in general) want a slight silver lining, consider that McDavid claims it’s not related to his off-season injury. (Sportsnet)

• Mathieu Schneider came away from meetings regarding an Olympic return feeling “happy” from the NHLPA perspective. That might be a moot point if the league remains cool to the premise of participating in 2022, but it’s better than nothing. (TSN)

[NHL ON NBCSN: Ovechkin continues chase for 700 Thursday vs. Avalanche]

• During much of the season, the Penguins persisted with strong puck possession stats despite injuries. Adam Gretz details some discouraging recent trends, though. Then again, maybe generally defensively sound winger Jason Zucker could help a bit in that regard? (Pensburgh)

• Calen Addison ranks as one of the Wild’s most important returns in the Zucker trade. Corey Pronman breaks down what Minnesota is getting in the defensive prospect. (The Athletic, sub required)

• It’s tough to wrap your head around the idea of the Rangers actually buying out Henrik Lundqvist. Granted, that might be a pretty practical way to keep two younger goalie options. Blue Seat Blogs explains the potential pros and cons of such a buyout. (Blue Seat Blogs)

• Why the Maple Leafs should trade Tyson Barrie. (The Leafs Nation)

• Scroll through this interesting thread about how the 2012 NHL Draft ranks among the worst. Maybe the Blue Jackets were reasonable in rejecting the Islanders’ entire 2012 stock when Garth Snow came calling for Ryan Murray? (Benjamin Wendorf)

• Jaromir Jagr and Gordie Howe: two peas in a pod. (Featurd)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.