X-Men: Mutant Academy

I’ve played some exceptional fighting games over the years. This is especially true of those formative years growing up, where it feels like my taste was at its broadest. As a child of the PS1, franchises that would go on to be titans of the genre were still in their own stumbling infancies; games like Tekken and Soul Calibur were just stepping out into the world, accompanied by a bevy of other games eager to try out the burgeoning scene of 3D gaming. I was only young and wouldn’t discover the big fighting franchises for another few years and into the following console generation, but I was enjoying games based off the franchises I was watching on TV – stuff like Dragon Ball and, in this case, X-Men. X-Men Mutant Academy 2 is probably one of the games I played the most as a child, but before I let nostalgia entirely overtake me and review it, I thought I ought to take a look back at the original Mutant Academy to see where one of my childhood favourites grew from. 


X-Men: Mutant Academy (GBC, PS1 [reviewed])
Released Jul 2000 | Developed: Paradox | Published: Activision

Genre: Fighting | HLTB: 2 hours

The first thing that struck me when I booted up X-Men: Mutant Academy for the first time was how empty the experience felt. It quickly loads to the opening menu, but once there all you can hear is the sound of what I assume is supposed to be Cerebro humming. It’s like a low bass thrumming that gets right behind your eyes and is extremely grating so I guess we’re not off to a good start. 

Now the first thing I like to do with any fighting game is just take a quick gander at the options. I’m one of those people who likes some customization in my games; in particular, I know that many fighting games like defaulting to a 99 second round limit and a 3-round system but I’m much more impatient and can’t be having with that. I like to be able to have that bit of control over the game, but for some incomprehensible, unfathomable reason, X-Men: Mutant Academy has none of these options. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any way to change the round timer nor the number of rounds, meaning every single fight is locked into those settings; the only thing you can change is the general difficulty. While I appreciate that the push for more controllable and accessible options in games is a more modern phenomenon, I think that options are one of the most expected things to be able to change.


I tend to be a big user of training modes in fighting games. I’m no huge aficionado of fighters – I have a few games in the genre that I consider among some of my favourites, and I’ve played one or two others here and there, but I’m not super serious about them – but despite that, I do like a good training mode because learning the characters is always one of the more engaging facets of a decent fighter. I don’t think I have huge or strict expectations about what makes a training mode, but I suppose if pushed I’d say something like being able to manipulate what the training dummy is doing, being able to have unlimited supers, and having an accessible move list to refer to all sound like pretty basic or standard things. X-Men: Mutant Academy, amazingly, has literally none of these things. No move lists means trying to actually learn a character is way harder than it needs to be, and it makes it a crapshoot trying to learn that character’s special moves or combos – and good luck learning the supers with no idea of what inputs you need to do for them. 

I’m also one of those friendless losers that thinks that single player content in fighting games is super important, and I especially like fighters that care enough to put in some story content. There’s no story mode in Mutant Academy, but I wouldn’t dream of holding that against it; after all, this is still part of an era that so rarely featured campaigns in fighting games. There is at least an arcade mode in which you pick a character and then work through fights against the rest of the roster. It only works in sequence though; maybe it’s churlish but I like a bit of randomness and variety in my arcade ladders. There’s no real final boss of any kind, other than Magneto I suppose but it kind of feels like that only because he’s the last on the character select scene. After you beat a character’s arcade mode you unlock a little CGI scene to watch, but these are total failures in terms of delivering any kind of narrative content; instead, you get a barely 10 second clip that features your chosen character doing… something but nothing that suggests any kind of continuity – it’s just some random visual non-sequitur, like Cyclops shooting a Sentinel.


It might even slightly feel like it was worth the time to beat if the combat was good, but alas it isn’t terribly fun. This is by far the most frustrating aspect to Mutant Academy because there’s the skeleton of an engaging and mechanically satisfying fighting system here, but it’s buried beneath a cavalcade of mediocre decisions. You get access to light, medium, and heavy attacks across the face buttons and shoulder triggers which’ll form the majority of your fighting, but they often feel extremely sluggish and the animations don’t run together in a smooth enough way to try and build combos. Each character has access to special attacks that are themed to them, such as Cyclops firing optical blasts or Wolverine unleashing a quick combo string; of course, this depends on you being able to work them out through trial and error. Everyone has 3 supers each. A bar fills up as you take and deal damage, unlocking each separate level of super, but as I say, best of luck working these out, since the game never tells you how to use them. Another frustration is the lack of air combos or juggling. This is one of those basic pillars of fighting game combat that Mutant Academy entirely falters on delivering; you can knock some enemies into the air but characters don’t seem able to follow launches through into air combos. 

Basically it’s clear that it was made as a tie-in to the 2000 X-Men movie. Not only were they both released on the same day, but also the alternate costumes for each character is based on their movie appearance, and I’m assuming that’s also what decided the roster for the game, since they’re all from that movie. There’s nothing wrong with movie tie-ins but it’s abundantly clear that Mutant Academy was made without any kind of frills and presumably rushed to reach that deadline. It feels cruel to say but the end result feels like a demo version for a game to come. I’m not sure how much of this is coloured by my perception of the sequel but i can’t see many more ways to read this game given it’s so barebones. 

1/7 – ABYSMAL. 

Oh dear. Perhaps it’s broken, perhaps it’s savagely offensive, or perhaps it’s a barely-constructed mess. Either way, avoid it at all costs.


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