Many moons ago, Activision made a seemingly strange deal with Paradox Development, the cool developers of the dark and violent black market fighter, Thrill Kill. At the time, it didn't seem like such a good idea to work with Paradox, but most people's perceptions of Paradox Development were completely off. Ever since, Activision and Paradox have developed a couple of good fighting games, Wu-Tang; Shaolin Style and X-Men Mutant Academy. Of the two, X-Men, which featured a 2D fighting style and dozens of secrets, struck a chord with gamers, becoming extremely popular as the movie also gathered hype. The game was, arguably, a ton of fun, and demonstrated that Activision made the right move in pulling its first team off the project and bringing in Paradox Development.
Now Activision, having grown confident with its exquisite handling of the Marvel license, including the most excellent action game Spider-Man, is in development with another fighting game, X-Men: Mutant Academy 2. The follow-up PlayStation fighter plays much like the first game, but offers more of everything, from new characters, to new and additional fighting moves, new fighting abilities, aerial combat, and tons of extras.
With all of the rage behind the polygon counts and realtime lighting on the next-generation systems, X-Men: Mutant Academy 2 delivers a retreat into traditional, old-fashioned 2D fighting. And to be honest, I'm quite relieved. There was nothing ever wrong with 2D fighting, in fact, and many of the best 3D fighters such as Tekken and Street Fighter, still rely very much on the 2D line to create incredible head-to-head battles.
In X-Men 2, players get the chance to play as all 10 of the same characters from the first, plus six new X-Men, from the good and the "bad" side of the mutant tracks. The list includes 10 selectable characters from the first title, including Wolverine, Cyclops, Gambit, Storm, Beast, Phoenix, Mystique, Toad, Sabretooth, and the Master of Magnetism himself, Magneto. The additional characters for X-Men 2 spotlight Rogue, Forge, the dark, devil-like Nightcrawler and Havok, Cyclops' crazy brother. The two other characters are secret, and must be unlocked.
For those not familiar with the first X-Men game, it's a quick-moving 2D fighter generated from a modified, upgraded, Wu-Tang Engine (i.e. Thrill Kill engine) that features full 3D backgrounds and environments. It looks 3D, but plays in 2D. The move set is essentially swiped straight from Street Fighter, so the move list includes quarter and half turns, plus any of several buttons for easy, medium or hard hits, including kicks, throws, super moves and special moves.
Progressing from the first, players can get into the game with a variety of new abilities, including aerial moves. Players can now jump up into the air and punch and kick, moves that weren't incorporated in the first one, adding a new combat element that, while seemingly obvious in other games, just wasn't in the first X-Men fighter. For those who like getting off the ground with a start, the new Get-Up-Quick feature enables gamers just that, an instant jump and an added attack combined with it.
The game makes use of a super meter that grows as you deliver damage, but enables players to use different moves to build the three branches of the meter, so you can build up whatever super you want by using certain special moves. Players can actually manage their power from meter to meter, which provides a great deal of unusual optimization that's not normally found in all fighting games (yes, Street Fighter 3 did have options like this, but not quite the same kind). One of the problems that we had with the original was that it had a bit of a balance problem, as some characters seemed so much more powerful than others. While the limited demo version of the game that we have in our hands only features five selectable characters -- Cyclops, Magneto, Mystique, Havok and Nightcrawler -- we can say that the balance is a lot better, at least with these five.
Another area where you'll see a big improvement is with the new levels. In this luxurious sequel, several new environments create an even deeper, richer X-Men atmosphere. In the first game, the locales were quite accurate to the X-Men universe, as well as to the movie. In this second one, players see six new environments, including the X-Mansion, a spooky church, Muir Island, the X-Men base site, Asteroid M (Magneto's Stage), and two new secret areas that are unlocked during gameplay.
As far as gameplay modes go, X-Men 2 delivers the classic Academy Training (which has been much improved, featuring Professor X actually teaching players how to pull off all sorts of moves in a much quicker fashion); Arcade (which is player versus AI, or player versus player); Survival (last as long as you can with one life meter); and Versus (classic one on one, player-versus player gameplay).
Also, players can enjoy all of the secret movie assets in Cerebro mode. Players have the chance to see genuine behind-the-scenes movie set sketches, costume designs, and conceptual character sketches, all from the first movie. Lastly, the game features all new CG, totally new music that is tailored to the environment, and brand new voice-overs for all of the characters.
Only the arcade and versus modes where available to us in the demo, so we can't really go into just how deep or involving each of the other facets of the game are, but they definitely sound great on paper and we were given a solid base in the original, so there's definitely a lot of reason to have hope.
Last but not least, X-Men: Mutant Academy 2 is not going to break your budget, retailing at the modest MSRP of $39.99. Due in the third quarter of this year, players of the first game are nearly guaranteed that they'll like this well-crafted sequel. Paradox strikes again.
--Douglass C. Perry, with a little of Dave Zdyrko
Source : http://www.ign.com/articles/2001/07/27/x-men-mutant-academy-2-21036