Altered Beast review
Your experience with this game may alter, depending on tolerance to simplistic fighting games

The good:

Decent enough sidescrolling action gameplay; awesomely cheesy sound clips; above-average soundtrack; decent visuals.

The bad:

Pretty damn short; cheap moments; sluggish when playing as the human; bipolar difficulty; questionable hit detection; graphics aged badly.


Altered Beast for the Sega Genesis was best known not only as a decent port of the arcade classic, but also one of the first Sega Genesis/Megadrive games to be released. It was also many Genesis owners’ first games including mine. I had a blast when I played it on the then-brand new Sega Genesis my folks bought. It looked so cool! Of course, I got destroyed out there in the game, but I didn’t care, I was about 1 and a bit, and my big brother was helping anyway. Those were the times... Fast-forward to 2008, and while I still enjoy playing this from time to time, Altered Beast kind of annoys me. Now, as I got older, my patience started to thin out, and Altered Beast is full of moments that make me lose patience, like cheap moments. Suffice to say, if you’re impatient with constant defeat because of a little enemy your kicks won’t defeat, you won’t have a good time.

“RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE” bellowed Zeus as your character rose from his grave. But seriously, you’re revived from the dead to save Zeus’s daughter from some evil being. Meanwhile, you’re able to power up into some beast to tear through everything. Yep, that’s about it. The concept is original enough, and the execution is also well done and doesn’t get in the way of the action, but the whole “chick’s getting kidnapped save her Mario/Arthur/Link/Sonic/whoever” is overdone as hell.

One thing to take note of is that Altered Beast (among the 3 Ninja Gaiden games for the NES) uses still shots for cutscenes in between levels to convey a sort of story, like what the bad guy is up to after defeating him (or one of his cronies, whatever). Not many games did this sort of thing, although out of the 4 games I’ve seen do this, Altered Beast does it the worst (then again, it’s a tech demo competing with 3 sweet NES games, it doesn’t stand a chance!).

If you’ve ever played a sidescrolling beat em up like Double Dragon, then you’ll have an idea of how Altered Beast plays. It’s your basic sidescroller where you beat up enemies that come your way, either by punching them, kicking them or jump kicking them. Not a whole lot of variety; it actually sounds like it’s going to be repetitive as hell, but it keeps itself interesting by at least keeping you occupied with a slew of different enemies.

Scrolling is automatic, which would sound alright, but the scrolling is as slow as molasses, making the levels feel longer than they are, and the screen only scrolls automatically; you cannot manually scroll the screen by moving towards the edges, which makes progress feel a bit slow. That’s okay, as long as you have heaps of enemies on screen at any one time, it should just add to a challenge.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t add to a challenge; it adds to tedium and a shitstorm of “oh *bleep* off” moments will occur while you’re trying to proceed through the game’s 5 levels, as you’ll either be bombarded by enemies dropping from the ceiling or rushing from the sidelines, or just a couple of midget sized enemies you can barely kick! The game is finishable, but only just barely, and that’s if you take the time to memorize the levels.

That is to say that, unfortunately, once you have the level inserted to the back of your brain, it ends up being pretty damn easy. The unfortunate problem with Altered Beast is that the difficulty is unbalanced. It’s only really hard when you start, but once the level structures get crammed into your mind, it’s easy as hell! That is because there is no existent AI. I can understand; it was only 1989 and in fact, this was the Genesis/Megadrive tech demo, but that’s just a problem that plagues games like this that aren’t all that long. Looking at Contra which has specific sort of patterns, at least that remains a challenge throughout because it still has a sense of unpredictability, plus it takes a long time to get those levels inserted into your retina. Altered Beast, it’s a short 5-leveled game (3 minutes a pop if you’re good, undeterminable (at least 5 minutes) if you’re not all that good) that repeats and gets repetitive after some time.

One major problem is that the hit detection is slightly off. It doesn’t really feel like you’re actually connecting with the enemies about 1/11th of the time. Might be a slight programming error there, but when I play beat em ups (whether they be like this, Streets of Rage or the almighty Guardian Heroes), I expect hit detection to be right on the mark 100% of them time, though I guess since this is Sega’s first time dealing with 16-bit technology, I guess I’ll somewhat forgive them...

But hey, enough crap, let’s get to how this game got popular (outside “RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE”); the ability to morph into a beast. No, not like Sonic morphing into some werewolf thing; it’s more the ability to get this muscular guy to become, say, a bipedal wolf that shoots fireballs! To actually power up, you have to defeat some blue devil-like creatures to get some orbs. Collecting two orbs will get you substantially bigger, allowing for more range and strength in melee attacks, and getting that final orb will make you... A BEAST!

Playing as one of the four beasts will allow you to plow through any enemy that stands in your way. Unfortunately, you can’t really savor these moments, because the boss appears almost straight after you become the beast. The bosses are either quite worthy opponents or a freaking joke, depending on how well you know their patterns and where and when to attack. See, bosses also have a specific pattern they follow, so if you know what you’re doing and what they’re doing, this’ll be easy enough. It’s made easier by the fact that you have to be a beast to fight the boss – no humans, or the level will cycle, if you’re an orb short of 3.

The only possible challenge the developers attempted to get out of this should you be able to slay these levels without much trouble, is by only giving you 3 lives and 3 continues, but that easily translates into 9 lives as if you lose all 3 of your lives, you just continue from where you died. To add salt to the wound of newer players, there are no ways to increase your life count, and your health (which consists of 3 bars) cannot be increased or restored either. Losing all 9 lives means you start back from square 1, so not only do you have to bust your balls to get past all the cheapness of the further levels, but you also have to trudge through the earlier levels to get to the further levels, but that should be fair, otherwise you won’t care how many times you die.

Basically, the game is simplistic in execution, but when it becomes repetitive and easy as time goes (however hard it was to begin with), it becomes a chore to play through. So I wouldn’t exactly recommend playing for too long, as feelings of aggravation and boredom take their toll on you.

Suffice to say, the graphics aren’t too bad…at least for 1989. See, even throughout the 16-bit era, the graphics ended up feeling dull and listless, especially when games like Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle and Sword of Vermillion come out that same year (or a year later) and their graphics turn out a hell of a lot more colorful and even better. To be honest, the graphics haven’t aged all that well for this game.

But it doesn’t matter what year you’re looking into, because either way, they’re not perfect anyway! The colors are washed out and don’t exactly convey the message of being an anamorphic that’s trying to save Athena. The wash-out effect makes the game appear even drearier than it really needs to be, to be completely honest. Hell, the Master System version’s colors weren’t as washed out and that was done a number of months before this one. Oh well, as Sega were experimenting with 16-bit technology...I guess that’s excusable.

Probably the best thing about this game; the sound department! The soundtrack, for one, is decent enough. Nothing memorable, but it has a nice foreboding feeling to it, which adds to the overall atmosphere of the game (if only the color scheme didn’t overdo it, it’d be perfect). It’s also nothing to really write home about from the depths of hell, but as its one of the earliest recordings of 16-bit soundtracks, you can’t expect Beethoven or Mozart quite yet.

But seriously, we all know what really made this game famous; the voice clips! Here, we get to hear the mighty wake-up call of “RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE” from Zeus, the ever foreboding “WELCOME TO YOUR DOOM” being shouted out before a boss fight, and your character saying “POWER UP” when you power up. They’re so goddamn cheesy that they’re good and easy to remember! That’s what we all remember from this game! If monkey boys weren’t cheesy enough, this is! ...memories!

Unfortunately, one thing I’d rather not remember was how sluggish the controls felt! While the game was considerate enough to give jump its own button (and not up on the d-pad), the responses for movement overall was like controlling a tank! Seriously, the movement doesn’t usually feel right (not the graphics’ fault, but just the bloody controls), turning around to chase that devil is a pain and there are slight delays in attacking too! Basically, the control scheme is good, but in practice, actually using the controls gets to be a bit of a pain. Too sluggish for my liking...

Replay Value:
The replay value is actually surprisingly decent! Once you beat the game a first time, you play a harder version of it! And when you beat that, you get an even harder version of it! Now, I haven’t beaten the game that third time in years mostly because I haven’t got enough patience to bother doing so, but I imagine it gets harder and harder as you finish it. Regardless, adding challenge to an already challenging (or should I say frustrating) game is a nice way to keep you playing. Just hope your controller doesn’t break controlling that human-tank hybrid!

This is a decent port of the arcade classic, but I feel that it is mediocre and too slow-paced for my liking. If you don’t mind giving it a try, it’s on the Wii Virtual Console, although if you don’t have a Wii or a Genesis/Megadrive, look for the consoles and cartridge, or just emulate. It’s worth trying.

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