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In this game review we will attempt to compare man and beast. Separately they are completely different and alien entities, but together they are an inseparable ring, feeding on each other through complex emotional bonds. Put them together in a cage, and soon you will find no behavioral differences between them.
The protagonist of the 1988 Sega game “Altered Beast” somehow managed to tame his inner beast and decided to use it for good, in order to save the daughter of a Greek deity (probably, they weren’t scared of a bald man named Kratos back then). An ordinary man can’t oppose an evil sorcerer with an army of monsters, but a man in the guise of a werewolf is quite capable of putting the villain in his place and, meanwhile, saving the world from annihilation.
I actually really love that kind of theme in video games, and especially the ability to transform and change to achieve a goal. And it’s much cooler when it all takes place against the backdrop of Ancient Greece and hordes of zombies and demons, like in some thrash movie from the 80’s. But is it right to consider this game a classic given its obscenely complex gameplay? Is it true that the game has cool design of everything and everything? That’s what I’ll find out as I face off against the werewolf of the arcade era.
Altered Beast Review
I love this cover on the Sega Genesis. It’s a hellish wasteland, a weird orange background, and monsters of every taste and color. And without Chelmedveda (not the pig) in the middle, it would be hard to pinpoint who the main character is here.
The Greek God Zeus brought fallen warriors to life and ordered them to go through the Underworld to rescue his beloved daughter Athena from the clutches of the evil wizard Lord Neff (It would probably make more sense to take Hades, the patron of the Underworld, as the basis, rather than a certain wizard).
And we, along with a friend who can join the rescue of Zeus’ daughter in co-op, have been given the difficult task of going through Hades and showing what we really can do (and prove that we haven’t been brought back to life for nothing).
Do we have the strength and time? That’s another question.
The creator of Golden Axe and Alien Storm Makoto Uchida had a hand in this game, so logically everything about the gameplay should be done just fine, because the person who had a hand in making such samples of the beat-em-up genre couldn’t have just screwed up on the beginning of his journey. And yet you can’t close your eyes to the obvious problems in the mechanics.
What we have here is a fairly standard one-dimensional beat-em-up. The player is given the ability to move mostly left and right and, for extra points and bonuses, sometimes up and down. You can kick and punch, as well as jump. And, of course, there is an opportunity to turn into the beast. To do this, you must kill a white wolf and get his soul for the transition to one of the three stages of conversion.
Collecting all the souls you can meet the last enemy on the level, represented in the form of a super strong boss and at the same time the main villain of the game kidnapped Athena.
There are five forms of the beast for each of the five levels and they differ not only in appearance but also in gameplay. I also found it interesting that you can pass the level at the beginning by collecting all the souls before they evaporate or the white wolves run away.
Given that the main villain almost every ten meters reappears in front of the protagonist and stands for a while waiting for him to take the form of a beast. But he will leave if you are still in human form.
What an honest villain, don’t you think?
Still, he won’t wait forever, and eventually you might be lucky enough to fight him without your beastly powers, which is tantamount to death. In fact, the beast form is a mandatory upgrade and you can’t get to the next level without it. But the player doesn’t mind, because by the second level it becomes clear how much the man loses to him in comparison.
Enemies crawl out of every crevice. Someone from the air, from behind, and sometimes they just jump out of nowhere on your neck and start sucking lives like vampires, and you flounder helplessly on the ground like a fish.
There are a lot of enemies and each one requires a different tactic. And considering the fact that they appear on the screen every five seconds not giving you a quiet breather, you will die often. And if on the arcade machine all this stuff does not sound so scary, given that you have in stock a lot of coins to continue, but the other versions of the game imitate the not unknown Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (which came out in the same year).
The era of hardcore games has begun and here you either turn into a beast or the game. The console ports are limited on life so when you play it, it’s really like you’ll be boiling in a cauldron in Hades.
The best part of the game is its visuals. Everything about the graphics is superb. The monsters are nicely drawn, move smoothly and intimidatingly, and the effects sparkle and beckon the player like a moth to a light bulb (which is just as satisfying). I love the look of the first boss in the game. Such a scary thing appears in front of the player and the player starts freaking out and killing himself in panic, not knowing what to do.
The game’s artist and designer was the notorious Rieko Kodama, who will work on such great projects as Phantasy Star, Sonic the Hedgehog and Skies of Arcadia in the future.
Music and Sounds
Like the graphics, too, are done well. When Zeus yells: “Rise from Your Grave!” you feel his power and strength. The sound of bones crumbling to pieces, bodies falling to the ground, and the main character’s scream of pain sound pretty damn realistic. And the music isn’t inferior to the sounds.
Versions of Altered Beast on different game consoles
The Sega Genesis version is the closest to the original. Graphics slightly, deteriorated, the music is also somewhere lost quality, in addition was cut out a strange ending, which, in my opinion, a great omission, but in general it is an exact copy of the original. The game is even easier to play in some places, which is undoubtedly a plus, given the cheat difficulty of the arcade version. And the bonus is a cheat code that allows you to play as any animal form at any level.
Sega Master System
And this is the Sega Master System version of the game. It looks okay for the console itself, but it’s impossible to play. It’s slow and clunky, and it’s also friggin’ uncomfortable. I’m not talking about the whole level being missing and the jump button being moved to the up key.
The Commodore 64 version, like all PC versions of the game, looks terrible, although at first it does not inspire fear. A cool menu with a completely new design and the main theme sounds good, but everything else just doesn’t stand up to criticism. Although from the music point of view it’s not bad at all. But it’s not a music band album, you should play it, not listen to it.
Just look at these tiny little sprites. Do I have to play with a magnifying glass to see who I’m hitting? The color palette isn’t any better either. This version plays slightly better and smoother than the Master System, but still compared to Genesis and the original on arcade machines it’s terrible. But this version has its own positive aspects and features that put it above the others. For example, there are new forms of animals (three: shark, phoenix and lion), bosses and the ending. For the sake of these features you can endure the gameplay.
ZX Spectrum is playable, but a damn ugly version of the original. I don’t recommend it.
The Atari ST version of the game looks pretty good, but it’s a little dark. Also, the character performs many punches with a delay or ignores keystrokes altogether. And the scale with lives and points takes up almost half of the screen. The music, however, was transferred quite well. It’s definitely not the worst port of the game.
On the PC Engine the game’s backdrops were redrawn and are now multi-dimensional and almost all the time in motion. I’ll be honest, it looks a lot worse than the original, but it’s not entirely bad. The controls are even worse than on the Atari ST, especially the jump.
It’s an outrageously difficult game. The gameplay itself is not particularly interesting. Nor does the variety of animal forms and ways of killing the enemy save the game. This is primarily a work of art, where the picture and music dominate the gameplay. Undoubtedly, Altered Beast deserves to be considered a cult, but not because of the gameplay.
Still, I recommend it to all fans of unusual beat-em-ups.