After the pathetic waste of plastic that was X-Men: Mutant Academy, you'd think Activision would have learned its lesson. Apparently not, as its latest release, X-Men: Mutant Wars, is just as derivative and uninspired as the first game. Instead of a one-on-one fighting game, X-Men: Mutant Wars is a side-scrolling beat-'em-up. It seems Apocalypse's cyborgs are running rampant throughout the world, which means it's up to you and the X-Men to stop them. Through eight levels of mutant-filled excitement, you'll marvel at such wonderful and innovative gameplay devices as the floating heart, the unavoidable hit, the cookie-cutter robot bad guy, and the ever-popular floating chandelier. X-Men: Mutant Wars won't make julienne fries, but it does come with a password save.
As mentioned previously, X-Men: Mutant Wars is a side-scrolling fighting game, in the same vein as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Final Fight. Of course, those games had a few things Mutant Wars lacks - gameplay and replay value, to name just two. You begin the game as Wolverine, but you can swap-in Gambit, Storm, Cyclops, or Iceman with a tap of the select button. Since each character has his or her own life meter and X-power indicator, flat-out dying really isn't an option. Unless, of course, you're too feeble to tap the B button to attack once in a while. You don't need to tap it much, though. In all of the game's eight levels, your goal is to simply walk to the right and battle a boss. Enemies cross your path from time to time, either on the ground or in midair, but a couple of punches or X attacks is enough to vanquish most of them. In fact, you could just run and jump past all of them if you wish. You needn't worry about level design tripping you up, either. You don't even get to climb on rocks or navigate spiked pits until stage three. Should you incur damage, taking out a few of these robotic bad guys will hand over a heart, reclaiming approximately ten percent of your life bar. If all of your X-Men perish, the game ends. Run, jump, punch, and special attack - that's the brunt of X-Men: Mutant Wars.
About the only hint of originality working in Mutant Wars' favor is the game's exploration element. Hidden within each stage is a key, which you're required to find if you wish to exit the level. They're not hidden too well, however, as tapping up or down next to doorways and clearings will lead you to them in no time. For those rare levels where keys aren't hidden in a side route, attacking a flying sentry usually gives up the goods. Sadly, if you're a fan of any non-Wolverine X-Person, you're not going to find Mutant Wars altogether satisfying. Since he has twice the moves and double the life energy of everyone else, the game's quite obviously Wolverine's star vehicle. The rest of the X-Men are mostly present as tagalongs, offering up some projectiles as necessary. All in all, the real difficulty in the game comes from its eight bosses: Sabretooth, Waraxe, Specter, Shadow, Sentinel, Mystique, System A, and Apocalypse. With the notable exception of Apocalypse and his flame bursts, however, all of the bosses are pretty weak. Have an hour to spare? That's about how long it takes to beat X-Men: Mutant Wars.
It may not play well, but X-Men: Mutant Wars does boast a shiny veneer and catchy auditory elements. Each of the game's levels is colorful and vibrant, with well-rendered foliage and buildings making ample use of the Game Boy Color's 52 onscreen colors. The character diversity may not be superfluous, but the five X-Men and roughly 20 enemies possess enough animation frames to defeat any notion of choppiness. Particularly good are Wolverine's running animation and the wind-induced flapping of Storm's cape. Watching enemies split in half after Wolverine's charging slash is also fairly amusing. The sprites are large and the explosions are meaty, just the way they should be in a side-scroller. Backing things up, the game's music is upbeat and melodic, a far cry from the deadly strains of X-Men: Mutant Academy. The sound effects aren't particularly interesting, but the stock assortment of slashes and smashes serves the game well enough, especially in light of the 60 minutes you'll spend with it.
X-Men: Mutant Wars is an archetypical example of a good idea executed badly. The hallmarks of a decent side-scrolling fighting game are diverse opponents, deep gameplay, plentiful power-ups, a balanced difficulty level, and excellent visuals. Since all of the game's enemies react the same, diversity rests squarely with bosses. Wolverine is the only member of the team with more than three moves, so there's no reason to learn the other characters. There are only two real power-ups in the game, a life heart and an X boost, so hunting down trinkets isn't ultimately exciting either. Furthermore, the game is easier than sin. Thus, X-Men: Mutant Wars fails on four of these five counts. It looks nice, but that's about it.