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X-Men Mutant Academy 2
Review By:  Siou Choy
Developer:   Activision
Publisher:   Activision
# of Players:   1-2
Genre:   Fighting
ESRB:   Teen
Date Posted:   11-28-01

All you legions of X-men and fighting game fans who found yourself disappointed (to say the least) by last year’s X-Men: Mutant Academy, listen up: I have some very good news for you. X-Men 2: Mutant Academy is here, and guess what? Activision has gotten it right at last (well, almost). While far from perfect (it’s no Marvel vs. Capcom, that’s for sure), this sucker more than makes up for the less than stellar fighter weighting down the shelves of video game retailers across the country (the sheer volume of trade-ins and never-solds tells the tale of that winner rather succinctly). X-Men 2 is a killer, in comparison – it looks better and plays better. Several new characters have been added, and there are some fun extras to be unlocked (and surprise – unlike the usual "beat the game and get…a slightly altered costume!", these are actually worth the effort).

You start off with the main group of Cyclops, Wolvernine, Gambit, Storm, Beast, Phoenix, Forge, Nightcrawler, Havok, and Rogue, as well as (sigh) X-Men movie villains Toad, Mystique, Sabretooth and Magneto (look, they could have been a lot more original here…but at least it’s the real Mystique, not the lame Rebecca Stamos version). As you beat the game and unlock characters you’ll be able to play as (of all people) Spider-Man (!), Professor X, Psylocke, and the Juggernaut. As with any fighter, there’s no real plot to speak of: it’s basically just another beat’em up button masher. But while it’s not quite on the level of, say, King of Fighters 95, it’s one hell of an improvement over the last one. And it’s got the X-men! And the real Phoenix (not the lame Marvel Girl redux of the last few decades)! Hell, you can even play Wolverine in his "casual" cowboy outfit! Face front, true believers - this is the one you’ve been waiting for! ‘Nuff said!

The character designs in the game are fairly well done this time around; despite being a 2D fighter set in a 3D environment, it’s far more impressive visually than a lot of 3D games out there. And with Capcom’s use of rotating camera angles for certain attacks (i.e., whenever a super move is performed), the game almost feels like a 3D fighter. In a Matrix style move (am I the only one tired of this? How many times can you crib from a movie that wasn’t all that great?), the character performs an attack while their opponent remains still.

There are a few familiar voices from the early 90’s X-Men cartoon, and regardless of what you thought of them then, you’ll be grateful to hear them here: the rest of them appear to be done by the same few people - poorly. There are pornos overdubbed more competently than this. Beyond the utter incompetence of said vocalizations, fans of trash will be pleased to note that the non-"professional" voices appear to have been recorded on the fly into a computer microphone – each and every unfamiliar voice comes with a corresponding overdriven crackle, the kind you get when you record at a level beyond the capabilities of your equipment. To spice up the mix a bit more, you get some pretty cheesy (if mercifully brief) victory speeches, which might amuse you the first few times you hear them.

Like most post-Street Fighter fighting games, X-Men 2: Mutant Academy utilizes "super meters", which when full, allow the characters to perform special attacks that can cause a great deal of damage. There are 3 levels of supers in the game: the standard super; the "SMI" super, wherein directional buttons appear onscreen, which if inputted correctly, inflict "super" level damage; and the "X-Treme" super, which can cause enough damage to win the match.

One of the coolest things about X-Men 2: Mutant Academy is the Pool Party level. To unlock this level, you have to play Survival Mode and place in the Top Ten ranking ten times – in other words, you can’t have a computer name ranked in the top 10. What makes this level worth the effort is that the characters will be dressed in bathing suits, snorkels, bath towels, et al – among the greats are the floating Blob, Bishop working the barbecue, and Nightcrawler battling with a giant spatula. But of course, to paraphrase an overused X-Men cliché, nothing can top the Juggernaut: in place of his usual armor, Juggie comes adorned in some very tacky swim trunks, with a plastic sand bucket on his head.

The controls are similar to most other fighting games. Most of the special attacks run by the same formula of the Street Fighter series: down to forward or back with the addition of a punch or kick button. Fighting game veterans should have no problem picking up the moves, and those new to the genre will find they can hold their own doing that button mashing thang.

As always, the cheapest wins in the game come courtesy of everyone’s favorite Canadian wild man, Wolverine. Players don’t really need to master any moves while playing as Wolverine: a few taps on the buttons will almost always guarantee a win. But this is not to say ol’ Wolvie is the cheapest character in the game: due the astounding popularity of the (admittedly, and surprisingly, very good) X-Men movie last year, one of the biggest losers in Marveldom, the irritating Toad, has been added to the game – and following the formula of said blockbuster, unlike his usual worthless self, the scummy little guy is suddenly extremely dangerous to mess with. So the end result is that we are now presented with a character even cheaper than Wolverine. With his "Drilling Drop Kick" (a very easily executed maneuver), one of Stan Lee’s lamest creations can rack up a large combo, cutting an opponent’s health in half without even trying. Some things about that damn movie are to be lamented (and I’m not just talking about Tyler Mane’s Sabretooth or the cheesy lizard-scales of Rebecca Stamos’ Mystique (a character I actually used to like before the movie destroyed her…))

HIGHS:

  • The pool party setting.  Nothing can prepare you to battle as your favorite characters...in some really tacky bathing suits, carrying nets, snorkles, and cooking utensils.
  • Level and character designs are nicely done - the old school "extra" costumes are greatly appreciated.
  • Many extras to unlock...and most of them are fun!

LOWS:

  • It still feels like a button masher at times.
  • Barring the few voices familiar to X-Men cartoon fans, the game is marred by some really hideous, poorly recorded voice acting.
  • Wolverine, not to mention, of all people, Toad, provide some really effortless wins, regardless of the strength or skills of the opposing player.

FINAL VERDICT:

Beneath the glossy veneer, X-Men 2: Mutant Academy remains, essentially, a 2D fighting game trying to pose as a 3D fighting game. Even though the environment and characters are made up of 3D meshes, the characters still fight, and act like they are operating, in a 2D plane. This can be rather disappointing for any gamer expecting a 3D fighting game. That aside, there are a lot of hidden extras to satisfy both fanboy and novice, which make it more than worthy of repeated plays. If you’re looking for a fun fighting game that looks good and plays well, then X-Men 2: Mutant Academy should fit the bill admirably.

Overall Score: 8.0

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