Back to school, muties!
The X-Men are soon to take over your Playstation… again? That's right; confusingly, Capcom have already produced Marvel Vs. Capcom on several formats, and are now working on Marvel Vs. Capcom 2. Capcom's Marvel stuff is being published by Virgin Interactive. Paradox, a completely different company, coupled with publishers Activision, are working on X-Men: Mutant Academy, a game which visually resembles Marvel Vs. Capcom, but is wholly different. Despite the fact that both use the same cartoony style, and both are using the popular license to create a fighting game, the two are unrelated as far as I can see. But if both games look the same, and use the same characters, what is there to attract the public to X-Men: Mutant Academy's stable of fighting as opposed to Marvel Vs. Capcom's? And how the heck did this twisted state of affairs come about? No idea about the latter, but the former I can help you with.
Mutant Academy, as the name suggests, lets players take on the guise of one of their favourite mutants (excuse me?) and work to become a fully-fledged member of the X-Men. The game allows you battle it out in single and multi-player fighting bouts to climb to the top of the Academy's rankings. When the game is released mid-August, there will be 10 different X-Men in place, each of whom must be conquered for the rookie X-er to be accepted into the team. Each character will be properly polygon-ed out in a 3D style, although the cartoon roots will not be too hard to decipher from the glitzy visuals. This is a Playstation, after all. Each of the 10 fighters (including Wolverine, Cyclops, Gambit, Storm, Beast, Phoenix, Magneto and Sabretooth) will have unique signature mutant powers and moves, meaning that whichever you opt to play as; you'll have a decently varied arsenal of attacks. These abilities will be enhanced by special effects like aerial combat and hard-hitting recoils. Featuring several modes of play, Mutant Academy ought to provide enough variety to keep the single player occupied. The modes will include Academy Training, Arcade and Versus (the two-player option). In the Academy Training mode, Professor X will demonstrate how you may hone your mutant powers in order to become a member of the X-Men. Once trained sufficiently, you will be required to take on the challenges of the Arcade and Versus modes. As with so many fighting games, playing on your own will mainly act as a warm-up for the multi-player escapades. The Versus mode invites two-player duelling, but it doesn't look like there will be a tag-team option or tournament mode available, meaning that any such organised multi-player battle will need to be undertaken outside of the game. This is a rather clumsy state of affairs. A tournament mode has been fairly common fare in Capcom titles for quite a while now, so I don't fully understand why other companies see fit to ignore it.
X-Men: Mutant Academy will feature the real character costumes and mutant powers seen in the X-Men comics and cartoons. Fighting arenas will be set in genuine comic locales, and true-to-the-comic, Professor X will school you briefly before each enemy encounter with tips on which moves are most effective against your opponent. These pre-match screens and even voiceovers aren't just window-dressing either, the advice should be taken in and put to good use. Once the character under your control reaches the terminal point of his training, you will be treated to a rendered sequence where Professor X and the other X-Men will welcome you to the family. Whether this will just be an entirely academic exercise or whether hidden options and play modes will be presented thereafter is as-yet unknown. I'm hoping we'll get to control some of the big nasties the X-Men are forced to fend off in the comics. Secret characters are notoriously popular in beat-em-ups, so I wouldn't be too surprised.
From looking at press movies of the game in action, I can conclude that Mutant Academy will adopt the "almost-3D" element of games like Soul Calibur. The action will basically take place in 2D, but it will be possible to move in, out and around the screen, dodging your opponents' offensive manoeuvres and such. Graphically Mutant Academy doesn't look at prehistoric as Capcom's Marvel titles - it does take a polygon-ed approach, which is instantly preferable to a simple cartoon beat-em-up, but due to its inherent 2D nature, it will appear very similar anyway. Just in general, the graphics look very nice. The video I saw demonstrated no real slowdown, even when the character's where catastrophically propelled, high above the earth, and the camera panned out far enough to display both characters and pretty much the whole arena on-screen at once. The special moves look fairly spectacular also; although living up to the shear over-the-top-ness of Marvel Vs. Capcom may be one bridge too far. However, a modest approach to the same task may be equally acceptable. A lot of people will probably ask how I judge 3D-ness in a beat-em-up. Powerstone on the Dreamcast is 3D, Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast is not. Fair enough?
X-Men: Mutant Academy looks as though it could be a mixed bag. It has a lot of plus points; the popular license, the multiple fighting modes, the authentic plots etc, but it seems to lack a killer element to tie it all together and justify its existence. I mean, while I like the concept, and I'm an absolute sucker for anything featuring Marvel Comics characters, going back to school with the X-Men might be just a little too much. It really does sound like one to watch though - it could go either way at this rate. Release Date - 11/08/2000