Genre: Action Developer: Sega of Japan Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1-2 Released: 1989
From the back of the box: “Enter a time when men were warriors and Gods ruled the world. A time of good against evil, a place of danger. Summoned by Zeus to rescue Athena, you will infiltrate the Underworld with the power to transform into mythical creatures with supernatural strength.”
What could have possessed Sega to release such a strange game as a pack-in with the Genesis when it was released in 1989? It obviously had features that no NES game could perform, but was it enough?
It’s dark theme and arcade gameplay would appeal to a niche crowd, but it lacked substance. Upon first playing the game it was obvious it would be a unique experience. At the very beginning of a new game, a synthesized voice would say, “Rise from your grave!” Considering how old the game is today, it was amusing to say the least. Its large sprites, parallax scrolling, and liberal use of synthesized speech must have been amazing at the time. However, it isn’t very impressive now.
It’s been fifteen years since Altered Beast was originally released, and it has aged poorly. Its very simple gameplay consists of a screen scrolling from left to right (forcibly) and punching and kicking a small selection of monsters. Two players can play simultaneously but the large sprites make it uncomfortable at times. Watching someone else play the game makes it very tempting to give it a poor score. The game takes place on a 2D plane, and has an option in certain levels to jump to a platform on a higher level.
Other games released the same year make better use of parallax scrolling with better detailed backgrounds. The sprites are poorly drawn, and the two-headed wolf looks like a pig. Some of the animations look terrible, such as the puff of smoke at the boss part of each level. Even though the bosses and levels are creative, the monsters are reused throughout the areas, and limited to five levels, the game is too short.
The way Altered Beast works is that you move from left to right beating up monsters. Moves are limited to punching and kicking and crouching/jumping variations of both. The kicking variation while crouching lets you strike straight up so you can dispatch flying baddies. It’s easy to learn and memorize the patterns in which the monsters appear. The bosses are equally easy to dispatch, once you learn how they work. The sheer number of the monsters attacking at once is what gives this game a challenge.
The game also has a power up system. Each time you kill a blue wolf/pig hybrid, a power up ball will appear. Grab it and it will increase your attack’s range and strength. After a third power up you will transform into a monster. Every level’s monster varies from the wolf in the first level to a dragon in the second and a tiger in the fourth . Each monster form you take has it’s own special attack performed using the kick and punch buttons. The strategy of each level changes at this point with this newfound power and the monsters become much easier to destroy en mass.
To jump onto a platform, you have to jump and press up at the same time or you’ll perform only a small hop. I discovered this by accident as I couldn’t figure out why sometimes I would jump higher than others. It seems my habit of pressing up while jumping has paid off. Another hint, since this game doesn’t offer continues, is that holding down button A while pressing start to begin a new game allows you to start at the last level you played. One final hint: the trick to finishing the levels quickly and efficiently is to acquire all the power ups without fail each time they appear. This last hint gets you to the final boss at the earliest possible opportunity because if you haven’t transformed by acquiring all the power ups, the boss will not appear.
What Altered Beast lacks in gameplay and depth it has in pure simple fun. The controls are smooth and intuitive and the gameplay style makes it great for short periods of play. Even though I’m not tied to this game by nostalgia like so many other gamers, I can’t help but like it. To put it simply, this game is just fun.