Welcome to Charles Xavier's School of Gifted Youngsters, where I'm pretty sure "Anger Management" isn't on the curriculum. Here, mutants learn to master their powers, eventually joining the outlaw mutant activist group, the X-Men. "Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them." Well, no wonder! All these guys do is fight one another and destroy valuable property. Hated and feared indeed!
While X-Men: Mutant Academy 2 isn't an object of fear or hatred, it nonetheless should be approached cautiously. With the exception of new characters, this is almost exactly the same game as its predecessor, X-Men Mutant Academy. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when you stick a big "2" on the box next to the logo, you expect a little more from the game than new mutants who have no business in a fighting game. OOH! A Native American gimp with a pistol! That's my guy! Yes, your favorite mutant Shaman "Forge" has made an inappropriate appearance this time around.
That being said, the game's not half bad as far as PSX fighters go. Once again, sans any story whatsoever, our merry mutants battle one another in three-dimensional polygonal glory. Yet with all of their great power, the X-Men can't seem to take advantage of that darned Z-axis. I was expecting sidestepping ability this time around - it is the sequel after all - but I am disappointed. The special attacks are decent fun to watch and seem rather well thought out, with specific characters in mind as opposed to generic moves shared by all characters.
The problem lies in the execution of these exuberant displays of pyrotechnic fury. Some combos are more difficult to pull off than that previous sentence. The control scheme is an odd mesh of Capcom-like "quarter circle" moves and Namco-style button taps, and often results in a style of gameplay we at GR like to call "button mashing" or "buttomash."
Training in Academy mode should theoretically reduce the amount of button mashing required to be successful at this game, but instead is maddening when you see the convoluted combinations needed to perform a decent attack. You want me to push what!? At once!? At best you'll remember a couple of combos, overuse them, then mash some more.
The graphics are pretty average, but the game really shines (literally) when characters use their special abilities. Sparkling lightning, motion blurs, crackling flames, and blinding explosions make this game a treat to watch. Then again, maybe the special effects look so good because they're viewed against a pretty drab backdrop. There are more arenas in this game than the previous, but they all have the same blandness about them. There's just enough detail in the background to tell you're fighting in a chapel as opposed to fighting on a space station (HINT: the space station has stars in the background).
Surprisingly, this game does have some replayability. There are plenty of mutants to choose from and a few new additions, like the aforementioned Forge, the teleporting Nightcrawler and Cyclops' younger brother Havok. There are also a couple of surprising characters to unlock. In fact, you will find yourself playing for the sole purpose of unlocking FMV for all the characters, concept sketches from the movie and extra costumes for everyone. Kinda lame, but I'm sure mutant-philes will milk that feature dry.
Die hard X-Men fans should enjoy the game, if only because the characters remain faithful to their comic book origins. The catchphrases, body language and power displays seem dead-on. As a fighting game, though, X-Men: Mutant Academy 2 is nothing special, as all the features have been done before and in fact better in other games. "Homo sapien-superior?" BAH! At this point it seems that Capcom and their 2D animated VS series is still the gamer's best shot at a real superhero slugfest.