Unlike the previous attempt, X-Men Mutant Academy 2 is an excellent one-on-one fighting game rendered in glorious 3D. The game features 18 of the baddest Marvel Comics characters, including such favorites as Cyclops, Wolverine, Havok, and Sabretooth, as well as a few hidden combatants--the most notable of which are Spider-Man and Juggernaut. It's certainly no Tekken 3 or Street Fighter Alpha 3, but for X-Men fans and comic-book lovers, Mutant Academy 2 is a sight for sore eyes.
As in Capcom's Street Fighter EX series, the action in X-Men Mutant Academy 2 takes place on a 2D plane. The 3D polygons and spiffy camera angles do a super job of conveying a lifelike setting, but in terms of punches, kicks, combos, and supers, the perspective is strictly left-to-right and up-and-down. This isn't to say that the game is light on strategy, however, as it is indeed chock-full of combo chains, counter moves, and character-specific mutant powers. In addition to including the six new arenas and characters introduced since the first installment, Mutant Academy 2 also greatly expands upon the franchise's aerial game. Each character now has three or four unique airborne combos, as well as special techniques that let you lead into vicious super moves during the opponent's descent.
One of the coolest strategic improvements comes in the form of the game's mutant super system, where there are three individual power meters that can be used to activate each character's trio of mutant super moves. Not only do light, medium, and weak attacks increase these meters, but you can transfer power from one to the next with a simple D-pad/button combination. One of the level 2 supers is available by performing the correct button combination during a character's super-mutant attack (the middle indicator). Computer AI and overall balance is also much improved, in that characters like Magneto and Phoenix are actually vulnerable to the same standard combos and stuns that also vanquish weaker selections. Despite the overwrought damage from supers, the general rebalancing now makes it possible to have fair matches in both the arcade and versus modes.
For those who require top-notch visuals with their gameplay, X-Men Mutant Academy 2 does not disappoint. Other than the static 2D bitmaps in the distance, each of the game's 17 arenas is colorful, large, and faithfully reminiscent of locations from the X-Men comic book or television series. Each setting is inlaid with a decent array of splashing puddles, lumbering sentinels, swaying high-tension cables, and other such realistic glosses. Character models, with the exception of Wolverine and Juggernaut, are fluid, highly detailed, and gorgeously powerful. For some reason, though, Wolverine seems overly chubby, while the gigantic Juggernaut is a tribute to muddy ugliness thanks to the inferior PSOne hardware. The character cameo by Spider-Man is also a wonderful touch, as is the preview for Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro you'll earn when beating the game as him.
Audio is really the only Achilles' heel in this otherwise solid presentation, and even then only because the feeling of familiarity is exceedingly high. Background music and sound effects have been lifted from previous games or mixed with bland impact, such that there is loudness, but it's devoid of aggression or purpose. Character grunts and speech samples are exquisite, however, as most are drawn from the cartoon show or performed by the actual TV and movie actors.
Players weary of weekend rental syndrome will be glad to know that there is much more to the game than just its arcade mode. Survival and academy training modes let you hone your skills, while there are a ton of goodies to unlock in the game's cerebro omake section, including sketches, X-Men motion-picture video clips, cinematic intros, adjustable costumes, and hidden characters.
As far as PSOne software goes, X-Men Mutant Academy 2 is fairly impressive. It may be rough around the edges, but it's currently the best Marvel Comics-inspired fighting game available on a Sony video game console.