Sega Mega Drive
Genre: Sidescrolling Beat ‘Em Up
When gaming and looking back on things you enjoyed from your childhood, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish games that are still good, challenging titles that have withstood the test of time, and games that are good due to the nostalgia they can induce. Altered Beast, while challenging, has not aged as gracefully as it could have. This side scrolling beat’em’up is remembered more often these days for the laugh inducing, bizarre vocal clips and strange scantily clad heroes than the gameplay itself. That being said, it doesn’t stop it from being a challenging and enjoyable game.
First released to arcades in 1988, it was the original pack-in game for Sega Mega Drive before being supplanted by that blue hedgehog’s side scrolling speeder. This title was also released on Famicom, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Commodore Amiga and DOS.
This title is based in Greco Roman mythology. Zeus himself brings back the redshirted protagonist (and possibly his close friend the blueshirted protagonist if you have a second player) in order to save his daughter Athena from the evil lord Neff, and gives them the ability to collect orbs in order to transform and power up using the local strain of were-creature in the area they are in. It is a mystery to myself and others who know the plot why they didn’t just go with Hades. On the other hand, if you’re just playing the game, you’d never realize that Neff wasn’t everyone’s nefarious and obvious underworld villain.
Going through each stage, you have to defeat the slew of strange monsters, which come at you rapidly. The power up orbs can be particularly annoying. Until you learn the timing, the white wolves (or blue, in the Sega port) that carry them can run right by you. Don’t fret if you miss a cerulean cerberus; despite being a daughter stealing jerk, Neff is quite the gentleman when it comes to fair play, and gives you a few chances to power up before he gets bored and beats the magic balls out of you as a human. When you show him that your wereform is superior to his boss transformations, he laughs before stealing the magic balls back, and heading on to the next stage.
While the graphics may be a bit clunky (and the enemy deaths are oddly graphic, despite a lack of blood), the scenes when you transform from steroid abusing shirtless Mr. Universe into a butt whupping werebeast are actually well done cut scenes for the time. The graphics are better on the Arcade than in the Mega Drive port, and I hear recent adaptations available via those new-fangled gaming systems are even better. On top of that, some of the music can be catchy. Which is good – until you can get the timing down, you’re going to be hearing the music from the title screen and the first level quite a bit.
The game play is difficult. Using full directional and 3 buttons (punch, kick and jump), it’s a fun game that can easily border on the frustrating, due to only a few lives, no way to heal, and no continues. Like many quarter eating games of its time, it’s a combination of memorization of where enemies pop up, when to strike, and skill. Each time you gain a power orb, your attacks improve. When you transform into your wereform, your attacks change depending on which form you take. As an example, in the first stage when you turn into a werewolf, you gain a fireball and a fire kick charging attack, both of which are more powerful than your standard kick and punch. Sometimes you are transforming just as you are about to face Lord Neff, giving you little to no time to learn the best methods of using your transformed techniques without multiple playthroughs.
While not standing the test of time in any beauty contests, it is apparent that Altered Beast is worth giving a shot. If you can find a friend with a copy, it would be perfect. Otherwise, check out the link below, fire up your inner beast mode, and see if you are worthy to rise from your grave.