Title  : X-Men Mutant Academy
Platforms  : Sony PlayStation & Game Boy Color
Publisher  : Activision
ESRB Rating  : Teen
Game Rating  : 8.3
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Comic book characters are a hot property lately. Batman, Blade, Men in Black, and others have all successfully made the leap to the silver screen. One of comics' oldest and most popular superheroes, the X-Men, is finally getting the attention it deserves: first with a summer blockbuster film, and now in X-Men Mutant Academy, a Sony PlayStation and Game Boy Color video game from Activision. This review is based on the PSX version. 

Mutant Academy is a 2D fighting game in the style of Street Fighter. Players can choose any of the four heroes or four villains from the movie, with X-Men Gambit and Beast added for a total of ten characters. By today's standards, this is a small cast, further hindered by the villains not being immediately playable. 

Other features to be earned include behind-the-scenes looks at the movie, comic and movie pictures of the characters, and costumes to wear (including the comic and movie ones). 

Despite the movie tie-ins, the game is definitely based more on the comic. The settings, the moves, and the characterizations are straight out of Marvel's pages. If you're a moviegoer but not a comics fan, you may wonder why Jean Grey is called Phoenix, or why Toad looks more like a clown than like Darth Maul. 

Adding to the comic book feel are the great voices for the characters. Most are done by the same actors who worked on the X-Men cartoon on Fox a few years ago. Some of the acting and lines are a bit cheesy, but these are comic, but, after all, this is hardly Shakespeare. 

The music is underwhelming, making little attempt at any real volume. The ringing sounds of battle are more the focus. 

The graphics walk a fine line between comic and realistic. If the comic book characters were real people, but without the restraints of costumes and make-up, they'd probably appear as they do in this game. Effective use of camera angles make special moves amazing to watch, but the rapid switching without panning between angles can occasionally be hazardous to a mutant's health. 

For some reason, Activision decided to make Mutant Academy difficult to pick up and play. The manual lists none of the special moves for each character, and the training mode refers to a preset button configuration, instead of the one the player has defined. Your best bet is to buy a strategy guide, or download a moves list like those found at GameFAQs.com. The moves are pretty cool; some people, like Wolverine and Beast, got gypped, but others, such as Gambit and Magneto, have an impressive arsenal at their disposal. 

The battle system employs three super attack meters, which fill whenever certain attacks land. These attacks inflict massive amounts of damage, and look fantastic, but often result in no damage if the first attack is missed or blocked. Energy can be moved among the three meters without any transaction fee, which makes having three separate ones seem a bit superfluous; it is also possible to accidentally transfer energy while trying to perform certain moves. 

Once the game is engaged, it can be pretty fun, especially against a live opponent. The moves are appropriately outrageous, with some throws and special moves either jaw-dropping in their cinematic feel or "ouch" factor. The combinations to pull off these moves will be familiar to most Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat players. 

Mutant Academy is a good fighting game, but a bit dated. Capcom has been doing Marvel fighting games for years, and though Activision's certainly has a different feel, Capcom's wins in quantity of moves, characters, and stages. Maybe as movie sequels appear, we'll see further progress in the Mutant Academy line of games; for now, this title, if a bit uninspired, is fun, especially for comic lovers. 


This article is copyright (c) 2000, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 07-Aug-00