When I heard this little phrase, I couldn't believe my ears. But it's true.
My background is thus: I've been playing superhero RPGs for around 10 years, including MEGS (DC Heroes and Blood of Heroes), Champions 3rd-5th (AKA HERO), Truth & Justice, Marvel FASERIP, Marvel Universe RPG, and Marvel SAGA. Maybe a couple others, but these are the ones that spring to mind first. Oh, I also played Mutants & Masterminds 1st Edition.
Save a few minor nitpicks, Mutants and Masterminds leaves them all in the dust.
Mutants and Masterminds 2nd Edition (from now on called M&M2E) is an OGL game based on the most popular game system on the market, d20. Those not familiar with d20 may have some trouble navigating this review, but any Dungeons & Dragons knowledge will (hopefully) suffice.
M&M uses the same Ability Scores and much of the same systems as core d20 - Stats, Skills, Feats, Saves, Base Attack, and Defense. The method with which the characters acquire them is different though, as all have a price tag. All the elements of a character are bought with Power Points (PP)
M&M2E is remarkable on it's ability to balance out superheroes, as it uses a Power Level (PL) system which indicates how high a character's bonuses can go. A PL 10 character can't have an Attack, Defense, Damage, Toughness, or have those effects raised by Powers higher than +10. This doesn't limit the characters to be statistically identical, it's possible to trade off (having a maximum Toughness of +8 and Defense of +12, for example).
All sorts of Superheroes can be built, including Batman or Punisher, all still balanced with the Hulk or Superman clone.
While based on d20, it looks much different from core d20. How different? Well, let's just say I don't like core d20 and I like M&M2E. Not enough? Well:
Point buy character creation: Instead of rolling dice to determine ability scores, characters are built with a pool of PP (usually 150).
No Classes: Fighter, Mage, Thief, Cleric. None of these or superheroic variations of these are in M&M2E. All sorts of characters can be built with the ruleset, but there is no "classes" scheme.
One Die: the d20. It's friends (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d100) never make an appearance. The whole game is built around using a d20.
No Attacks of Opportunity: That's right, none at all. For those of you who don't know what AoO are, consider yourself lucky.
No Minis: meaning that there aren't any rules for playing with miniatures. There are plenty of combat tactics and maneuvers, just no support for minis.
No Hit Points: Characters in M&M have a Toughness Save mechanic that works much like the other Saving Throws. There are no hit points.
Hero Points: Are a resource mechanic that allows characters to perform "heroic" deeds and tip the balance in their favor.
Here is a quick summation of what was updated from 1st to 2nd, to help out those who might be considering upgrading:
*Ability Scores: now scale from 1 to infinity, without any mechanical split between abilities and superabilities.
*Attack/Defense: Now are bought independent of ability scores (Str and Dex don't modify attack or defense)
*Skill cost: Skill cost has went from 1PP/1 skill point to 1PP/4 skill points.
*Feat cost: Feats now cost 1PP/feat rather than 2PPs/feat
*Powers: Powers have been simplified, and now are less buildy and more pick and play.
*Weaknesses: Weaknesses are replaced with Drawbacks and Complications. Drawbacks give extra PPs at character creation, Complications give a way for characters to gain more Hero Points through playing to negative aspects of their character.
*Hero Points: Heroes acquire Hero Points dependant on adventure rather than level as in 1E
Now that I've gotten through the meat of the review, I'll go on to state my slight issues with the system (and the reason I gave the game 4 stars instead of 5).
The d20: Without the d20, the game would be much less OGL, but I feel the system suffers for having a large linear resolution system. I'm happier if my character's outcomes are more predictable. I'd have been much happier with some sort of bell curve (3d6 would be awesome). If you don't see this as a problem, by all means disregard it. I hear the Mastermind's Manual has support for changing the die type to 3d6, so I'll most likely get that and implement it's suggestions.
My second issue is pretty selfish: The deluxe edition I bought has foil lettering on the cover which is falling apart. I handled the book very well for the time I've had it, so I believe it was some sort of printing error. Still, I don't like spending an extra $20 for a cover that ended up falling apart. I emailed Green Ronin to no avail (they didn't even respond). For this reason, I think people should buy the original edition rather than the deluxe, so others don't have to share in my anguish.
That being said, if deciding which game to play Superheroes, you can pick many worse places to start than M&M2E. I heartily recommend it to all my comic-book-fan friends looking into RPGs for the first time.