Genre: Beat-‘Em-Up Developer: Sega Ent. Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: 1 Released: 1988
The Sega Master System was always playing catch up during its life cycle; always trailing behind the NES and later its successor, the Genesis. Those two systems always got the cutting edge games released for them, and they thrived on great libraries. Nintendo and Sega took two different approaches with their 8-bit consoles. Nintendo and its third party companies took to releasing ports as close to arcade perfect as they could when the NES was still young. Later, they mostly pushed for new games not based off of arcades at all, and when they did try and release something like an original game or advanced arcade port, they usually were built from the ground up in order to fit comfortably on the inferior hardware (Double Dragon II, for instance). This usually worked out really well. Sega, on the other hand, had a different approach since the Master System had a bit more horse power than the NES did. Sega had a lot less original content for its fledgling console than Nintendo did, so its took to making as close to 16-bit or arcade perfect ports as its could, usually sacrificing gameplay and control for graphics. Most of the games in this category really aren’t very playable because of it.
Altered Beast is just such a game. It’s one that should never have been ported to the Sega Master System. Sega had to strip the game down from its arcade original in order for it to work on the Genesis so the company naturally had to sacrifice an awful lot more to get it onto the Master System. Because of that, Altered Beast is one of the worst games released on the console. There are so many things wrong with this port that it’s hard to figure out where to even begin.
To start, there’s no sound during the title screen at all. Nothing! Even the console’s FM sound, which this game takes advantage of if you have the FM installed, still leaves the audio sounding wimpy, for lack of a better way to describe it. The original stage themes are here, but it’s as if they didn’t even try with them. They are all about as flat and monotone as it can get, and the sound effects aren’t much better. The only sound effect that is competent is the voice clip that says “power up” when you collect the blue orbs.
The graphics are just too much for the system to run smoothly here. They aren’t actually that bad if you were to look at a set of screen shots. The beasts and their transformations, as well as the bosses, actually look pretty nice, but the enemies are all minimal on detail and very small and the backgrounds are all washed out. All of this together makes the frame rate so choppy and full of lag that this game is hard to even look at it action.
The gameplay also takes a serious hit from the frame rate, and the scrolling is full of lag and is beyond choppy. In order to compensate from this they removed stage three (the cave) from the game and only four stages are present now. They also removed one of the power-ups before your transformation. All of the missing content and frame rate issues could be forgiven if the game played well, but it doesn’t in the least. Your movement is so sluggish and the controls are so choppy that you’ll often get hung upon enemies and juggled until you die. The game is also full of flicker, causing collision detection to work when it wants to. This port of Altered Beast has its fair share of glitches and bugs, all adding to what make it nearly impossible to play.
Altered Beast may not quite be a classic nowadays, but it’s fondly remembered, at least on the Genesis. There are some other ports for consoles like the TurboGrafx-16 and even the NES, which are far more playable than this and at least worth checking out. Unfortunately, Sega did a terrible job when it brought this to the Sega Master System, and in doing so created one of the console’s worst games, so you’ve been warned when I say leave this game alone!