Released as a forerunner to both the highly anticipated PSX version and of course the equally anticipated film, X-Men : Mutant Academy on the GameBoy Color was always going to be a cash-in. Activision must have sat there, realised the money to be had from such a venture and thrown it at the nearest development farm, which just so happened to be Crawfish. The thing is, this shouldn't have been such a big loss, since Crawfish are a fairly well respected GameBoy developer, capable of making decent beat-em-ups out of concepts like this. But sadly despite their credentials this game is tatty, unadventurous and bloody easy to finish. In fact you can get the whole way through by simply using the A button, something of a limitation I think it must be said. If you delve a little deeper, you discover that the charm and popularity of the X-Men series are totally alien to designers Crawfish, and the game is a real clanger. None of the charisma of the series' characters is carried over, and the sprites look fuzzy and blurred. What the heck happened here?
To begin the post-mortem, I would like to draw your attention to the game's "vital stats", which look perfectly within order. There are 11 mutants for you to control (plus a couple of hidden ones which need to be unlocked), Training, Story and Battle modes and multiplayer support via the link cable. Your favourite mutants are all present, with Wolverine (complete with the eponymous Adamantium Claws), Gambit and co. all out in force. The fighters all have basic punch (or claw) and kick moves, and a "Rage" move which is intended to be activated by a stab of both the A and B buttons together. Bizarrely this is not the case, in fact I was hard pressed to put this move into operation on so many occasions that I just gave up after a while and went back to laboriously slugging away with the A button alone. The classic "best of three" fighting formula is back, but I never actually got to the stage where I needed a third more than twice, such is the terrible AI of your enemies (even though there are settings for this anything less than the highest just stands there and occasionally punches the air). Trap your enemy in an inescapable corner and pound the A button again and it'll soon be over. Of course, Crawfish were responsible for the sublime Street Fighter Alpha GameBoy rendition, which is what makes Mutant Academy all the more puzzling. Why is it so terrible? Didn't they think to test this? Perhaps they did but had to ship it anyway. Bah.
Remember your training!
I certainly remember my training, but it was pointless as the special moves I learnt by trial and error (because obviously the flimsy excuse for a manual couldn't possibly list them) pale in comparison to the "punch enemy into corner, punch repeatedly until end of round" tactic which can be employed no matter what the circumstance. The variety and ingenuity of the special moves seen in Alpha is of course lacking here. The closest thing you get is the "Rage" move. The only raging thing about it is the fury with which you have to mash the buttons in order to produce one. None of Alpha's good points seem to have made it across. There's no combo system either.. Story Mode is similarly pointless. I was slightly bemused by the lack of a story for starters. Text-screens which advance the plot (supposedly) appeared twice throughout the entire game. Once during the ladder, and once at the end once I'd defeated Apocalypse and Phoenix, the game's two bosses. Both characters were then available as secret characters but of course neither made much difference to the game.
One of Mutant Academy's only redeeming features is its Link Cable support, which finally brings the a GameBoy fighting game into line with the superior brand of action seen on the Neo Geo Pocket Color in just about every fighting game released for it. Obviously SNK Vs. Capcom and its ilk vehemently fart all over Mutant Academy, but this is the first time it's been employed in a GameBoy fighter and that's worthy of some note. Sadly the gameplay is also worthy of note, but totally for the wrong reasons. Even with two very similar players the outcome is based on whoever got the first punch in. It's mindless and totally ridiculous. The game needed to be held back and play tested severely, at the moment there's no balance to the proceedings. Street Fighter Alpha and basically all of the NGPC beat-em-ups just destroy X-Men. The gameplay is atrocious, the Story Mode is falsely advertised and the multiplayer is boring. Even the sounds are sub-standard. For the most part the blows sound appropriately beefy when landed, but thanks to the tinny soundtrack and monotony of hearing the punch sound effect over and over again, I've pretty much given up on them.
Sadly, I've now pretty much given up on the whole game altogether. It's the first fighting title to have put the link cable to use and that deserves what little credit I'm prepared to give Mutant Academy, but to be brutally honest, it's the poorest excuse for a film license I've seen in a long time. Lets just hope the PSX version is a tad better.