Fighting games as a genre really took off in the 16-bit era due in no small part to the one, two punch of Capcom’s Street Fighter II and Midway’s Mortal Kombat. Getting games like that to work on 8-Bit devices where the input is limited to really two buttons was never really that good an idea, but it never stopped people from trying: One of the last NES games was a port of Konami’s TMNT: Tournament Fighters; The Mortal Kombat series up to chapter four arrived on the Game Boy and the developer of the game I’m looking at today, X-Men: Mutant Academy, crafted a respectable port of the original Street Fighter Alpha on the same hardware. Whatever limited resources Crawfish had available to them must’ve been used in polishing up their portable copy of Capcom’s long running fighting series, as their transition of X-Men: Mutant Academy falls into the category of just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should.
Describing Mutant Academy on the Game Boy Color is to really break down what it means to be the barest of bare bones fighting games: You’ve got an arcade mode where you fight one-on-one until you reach the end; A survival mode where you try to stay alive as long as possible; A battle mode where you select a team of three to go head-to-head; A training mode to practise your moves and if you have a friend with a link cable and a second copy, you can play versus. What I’m really trying to get across here is that even from the first menu screen, Mutant Academy is as uninspired as they come. That’s before the player is even introduced to the poor fighting mechanics.
Much like the console game, Mutant Academy burrows the mechanics of Street Fighter II. You have a punch and kick attack with varying degrees of strength depending on whether you tap or hold a button and each of the fighters has special moves that can be performed with quarter circle and back-to-forward motions on the directional pad. Pulling off those moves reliably is a pain, in fact, I don’t think I was ever able to pull one-off successfully, but that’s no reason to worry. Your ability to actually learn how to play this game is pointless when the AI is so dumb that you can walk them into a corner and hit punch repeatidly until they die. When I tried to play this game like any other fighting game, I failed spectacularly, but then when I found out that trying leads to failure, I just punched my way into success.
If this game has any redeeming qualities it’s in the fighting arenas themselves that look very bright, colourful and detailed. The same cannot be said of the fighters, however. The roster consists of a lot of the characters from the 2000 film as well as the early 90’s animated series similar to the console game like Cyclops, Wolverine, Magneto, Mystique, Storm and Gambit among others, but not all are created equal. Most characters only feature about two to three colours, so while say, a character like Magneto who is primarily purple and red looks okay, the same more or less for Wolverine and Storm, fighters like Gambit have faces that match the palette of their jacket. Look, I’ll say this now, I’m all for an African-American Gambit, but I don’t think it was the developers intention at all.
While there’s still fun to be had in the PSOne fighter of the same name, there’s not a lot that the Game Boy Color port has going for it other than some pretty backgrounds. The modes are lackluster, the special moves are impossible to pull off to and you know your fighting game is poor when slap fighting is your best course to victory. If you’re an X-Men fan and need a game to play on the go, I’d stick to games like X2: Wolverine’s Revenge on the GBA, or the more recent Days of Future Past on mobile.