When X-Men: Mutant Academy hit the PlayStation last year, its combination of solid gameplay and detailed graphics--not to mention the impending release of the X-Men movie--made the game a solid hit on the PS. Given the positive response, Activision and Paradox Entertainment are set to double-team the PlayStation again with X-Men: Mutant Academy 2, a sequel that's aiming to top the original by offering more mutants than you can shake a sentinel at. We got our hands on an early build of the game and ran it through its paces to check out the latest X-Men gaming mutation.
Mutant Academy 2 seems to be taking an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach, building on the core of the original rather than completely overhauling it. The game will feature the same set of modes--arcade, versus, academy, survival, and Cerebro. Arcade offers basic combat as you face off against all the characters. Versus lets you duke it out against a friend. Academy mode is essentially a training mode in the game that familiarizes you with each of the character's moves and grades you on your performance. Survival mode is a free-for-all that tests your skill by seeing how long you can last against a never-ending wave of opponents. Finally, Cerebro will let you access the various secrets that can be unlocked in the game. Much like in the first game, the Cerebro mode will also offer a behind-the-scenes look at the costume designs and the character and set sketches for the X-Men movie.
All the characters from the original--Cyclops, Wolverine, Gambit, Storm, Beast, Phoenix, Toad, Mystique, Sabretooth, and Magneto--return to kick spandex-encased behind.
This time out they are joined by Nightcrawler, Forge, Havok, Rogue, and two secret characters you will have to unlock. In addition to the arenas from the previous game, you'll find six new locales to duke it out in, including the X-Mansion, Muir Island, and Asteroid M. The game retains the large characters and detailed look of the original, making very good use of the aging PlayStation hardware. The various characters' powers are well represented and offer the little touches fans will appreciate. Nightcrawler's teleportation is accompanied by a cool purple smoke effect--although his "bamf!" sound effect seems to lack oomph--while Havok's plasma bursts let off concentric circles.
The combat engine in Mutant Academy 2 retains the solid feel of the original but adds a few tweaks to beef up the battle options. Ground and aerial combat still offer the ability to link a variety of punches and kicks into painful string combos that can be finished off with a super move. As before, each fighter can do three supers--a super, an SMI super, and an X-treme super--provided the appropriate meter is charged. The SMI super differs from the others in that after performing the controller motion that triggers it, you'll have to follow onscreen prompts with the D-pad to increase the move's damage. Also new to the mix are counters that can be used up to turn the tables on an opponent. By holding down the L1 button or the triangle and circle buttons, it's possible to avoid an opponent's attack and damage him or her in the process. To keep the move from being abused, it's only possible to use it three times during a match.
The demo we got our hands on only let us select Cyclops, Magneto, Mystique, Nightcrawler, and Havok, and it only let us battle in the sewer and X-Mansion stages. The control is responsive and the action is smooth. The supers are a bit challenging to pull off due to the need to charge the various meters, but this didn't impede gameplay much. Nightcrawler and Havok looked good, and they featured moves that fit their characters. The X-Mansion background was solid and included a nice touch in the form of the Blackbird parked in the background. While not offering any huge surprises so far, X-Men: Mutant Academy 2 looks like it's coming along fine. Those eager for mutant action can look for it this September.