Hey, that X-Men movie is just around the corner, and Activision's X-Men fighting game is on store shelves just in time. Coincidence? Not by a long shot. Developed by Paradox - the company behind Activision's Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style and the never-published Thrill Kill - Mutant Academy takes a few pages out of Capcom's fighting game book, but not enough to make it exciting for any real length of time.
With the exception of its super-move system, Mutant Academy is your basic fighting game, using six buttons, three punches, and three kicks. The roster is populated by the likes of Cyclops, Wolverine, Gambit, Magneto, and Toad. Most of the characters have been done up in true Street Fighter fashion, complete with fireballs, dragon punches, and flash kicks. In fact, Cyclops plays a whole lot like the Cyclops in Capcom's series of Marvel-licensed games, all the way down to the character's gigantic optic-blast super move. Where the game attempts to innovate is in its super-move system. Each character has three different supers, which are charged up by three different meters. There's also some super-meter management going on, as you can move charged-up super energy from one meter to another.
Modewise, the game contains the bare essentials required in a fighting game. There are arcade, survival, and versus modes, as well as a training mode, which, like Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style, walks you through all your basic and special attacks at a snail's pace. The training mode is useful, but having to listen to Professor X drone on about the simplest of attacks makes it a chore. To help the game tie in with the movie as much as possible, some stills from the movie are unlockable, and the costumes are hidden. And, the movie's trailer is included on the game's disc. Also, there are a lot of little FMV clips for when you complete training or beat the arcade mode, which, thanks to the game's sketchy AI (it tends to stand on the other side of the screen, gladly accepting projectile after projectile), isn't exactly a difficult feat.
The character models in Mutant Academy have a nice, solid look to them, though the animation looks a little too stiff at times, particularly on the jumping attacks. The backgrounds consist mostly of typical postapocalyptic fare, with some high-tech rooms (such as the ever-popular Danger Room) showing up now and then. The sound is average at best. The game is filled with generic smack, slap, and explosion noises, and the voice work, used for post-match win quotes, is a little on the lame side.
X-Men sticks close to the standard fighting game formula, and as a result, it manages to be fun for a short period of time. However, with the exception of its unique super-move system, it doesn't really have any strong points for or against it. Even fans of the X-Men will be able to get by with a rental.