Believers, grab your skintight suit, polish up those adamantium claws and tune up your
mutant radar because the X-Men are ready for you. Question is, "Are you ready for
them?" I'm sure that by now, you've heard the hype about the new X-Men movie. Well,
you can't have a superhero movie without a video game to go with it. X-Men Mutant Academy
for the PlayStation is an excellent fighting game featuring costumes from the movie and a
few things that the movie DIDN'T have (namely, Gambit and Beast).
Given the amazing number of games in the "2D fighter" genre, it is hard for one game to really stand out. X-Men Mutant Academy does just this though. From our friends at Activision, and developed by Paradox, it has a plethora of game modes and a huge array of characters, movies, costumes and pictures to unlock as you play the game. There are four game modes: Arcade Mode, Versus Mode, Survival Mode and Academy Mode. The Academy Mode is the one that really caught my eye. It places your character in the "Danger Room" and walks you through each of the characters moves, from standard punches and kicks to super-special abilities like Wolverine's healing ability and Cyclops' super eye blast. Using the Academy Mode, I was able to quickly learn the moves of several characters that made it so I could really kick some mutant butt within a half-hour of turning on my PlayStation.
The Arcade mode is your run of the mill fighting setup. You fight a series of opponents in "best-of-three" matches. If you win twice, you move on to the next opponent. Your opponents always come in the same order in this mode; you begin with Cyclops and fight your way through the X-Men and end with Magneto and his band of Evil Mutants. In all of the fighting modes, you have 3 Super Meters that fill up as you score normal hits on your foe. Each of the meters allows you execute a different special move. The first meter is standard Super Meter. This meter usually fills up the quickest, and it also usually contains the "weakest" of the super moves. The middle meter is the Stringed Super Meter. This meter executes a move and puts a number of arrows up on the screen. If you press the direction pad in a sequence of up to 5 arrows, you can score up to 5 times the normal damage for the move. The last meter is your X-Treme Meter. When it fills up, you need to tap the X button on you controller until the meter displays an X, then you can pull off the most powerful of your X moves, the X-Treme move!
One tricky thing that you learn to do is the management of your Super Meters. With different button combinations, you can transfer power from one meter to another. So if you have both your X-Treme Meter and your Super Meter half-full, you can transfer your Super Meter's power to your X-Treme meter and throw an X-Treme move at your enemy. This is a little tricky to master because it changes depending on which side of the screen that you're on, but with a little work, it becomes a tool that is vital to game play.
Survival Mode pits you in one-round sessions against a random set of opponents. You maintain your life meter from round to round, but you are awarded extra life for the time remaining on the round-clock. The other modes were fun, but this mode is where I really learned how to utilize my fighting skills. It helps you develop efficient methods to quickly take out your opposition.
There are ten characters to choose from in the game. Wolverine had razor sharp claws and a super-fast healing ability. Storm controls the weather and can throw bolts of lightning. Cyclops wields a super powerful optic blast. Gambit concentrates kinetic energy into everyday objects (playing cards and his bo). Phoenix (AKA Jean Gray) has fantastic mental telekenisis. Beast's agility is unbeatable. Toad lashes out with his inhumanly long tounge and jumps circles around his foes. Sabretooth holds unmatched strength and seems to be a fan of pro-wrestling. Mystique can shape shift and is a master of weapons. And finally Magneto the master of Magnetism uses his powers to hurl rocks, blocks of iron and his opponents across the screen. When you begin the game, you can only use "the good guys". Toad, Sabretooth, Magneto and Mystique are all locked out to begin with. After finishing Arcade Mode or 10 rounds of Survival Mode with one of the other characters, you unlock one of the Evil Characters.
In addition to unlocking characters, there are numerous other things that you can unlock. When you get a perfect score (All A's) in Academy mode with a certain character, you unlock that character's movie costume. You also get a short cartoon of that character in action. After surviving 10 rounds of Survival Mode with the Comic Book Costume, you unlock a set of pictures from the comic books that you can view in Cerebro Mode. After surviving 20 rounds using the movie costume, you get a set of pictures from the movie. I really liked the extras that were included in the game. You can view the trailer to the movie, and unlocking the cartoons gives you a goal to shoot for and a reward for doing well in the game.
The play controls are appropriate. They used the standard Street Fighter-esque controls of back-forward+button or quarter circle back+button. The special moves were sensitive enough that you couldn't just pull off a bunch of them by hitting random buttons, but at the same time, the game was intelligent and able to figure out what moves you were trying to execute. Each character has a basis of similar punches, kicks and throws, but the special moves differ greatly among the characters. The sounds in the game are fair. Some of the characters voices are exactly as I would picture, but others leave something to be desired. The music is pretty much lame. I would rather just turn the music off and pop in a few CDs. Toad's sqealing and giggling during gameplay gets annoying; too bad you cant turn that off...
The graphics are excellent. Whenever a character executes a throw, the "camera" pans around the characters, showing the move in 3D. The camera movement is very nicely done. The camera zooms in and out for certain moves, but quickly returns to the normal play view. There were also some neat SFX done. Magneto's magnetic fields give the screen a distorted look around the character and Phoenix's "mind-throws" show off some similar SFX. This is definitely a good blend of 3D and side scrolling action.
Overall, X-Men Mutant Academy is a great game! It was easy to learn and was able to hold my interest for a long time. I'd find myself passing hours without even knowing it. The graphics, Modes and controls are excellent, the sound could be better, but the fun-factor was great. If you are an X-men fan or just looking for a good down-and-dirty fighting game, X-Men Mutant Academy is definitely the game for you.