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Altered Beast (Genesis) artwork

Altered Beast (Genesis) review


"Timing is everything in the business of video games. A simple difference of a year can radically change everything. Just ask Sega; they’ve been on both ends of the stick with all of their system releases. The Genesis capitalized on a public that was fed up with constant delays to the Super Nintendo. However, the Saturn and Dreamcast both showed signs of being ill-conceived consoles that were not powerful enough to satisfy developers. "



Timing is everything in the business of video games. A simple difference of a year can radically change everything. Just ask Sega; they’ve been on both ends of the stick with all of their system releases. The Genesis capitalized on a public that was fed up with constant delays to the Super Nintendo. However, the Saturn and Dreamcast both showed signs of being ill-conceived consoles that were not powerful enough to satisfy developers.

Altered Beast, one of the original releases for the Genesis, is another example of fortuitous timing. If it had been released after a game which proceeded it, Golden Axe, nobody would have cared about a sloppy side scrolling beat ‘em up with inferior gameplay. However, this was not the case, and Altered Beast is recognized as a “pioneer”, despite the fact that it is a shoddily constructed game.

Altered Beast starts out stupidly enough. It takes place in ancient Greece. Athena, the daughter of Zeus, king of all gods, has been kidnapped by one of Hades’ henchmen, Neff. Because Zeus has somehow committed every single soldier to fighting wars, he can’t spare a living solider to save her. Therefore, he resurrects you, a fallen solider from a past war, to do the deed for him.

It doesn’t take a masters in English Literature to drive holes through this story. If Zeus is so powerful, why doesn’t he just save Athena himself? Every single soldier is otherwise occupied with wars? If you were such a great soldier, why did you die in battle in the first place? Sure, it’s only a back story, and no emphasis is placed on it except in cut scenes between stages. Still, I’d prefer no story to one that is really stupid.

Of course, this was the late eighties and the first wave of games for a brand new generation of consoles. Altered Beast can be excused if it doesn’t have the greatest plot in the world. Hell, Final Fight and Golden Axe were still fun without stories, weren’t they? However, the lack of any fun gameplay dooms Altered Beast.

Your character, a sculpted hunk (decomposition isn’t a problem in ancient Greece apparently), ventures from left to right in each stage, kicking and punching anything that gets in his way. Getting in your way are zombies, red wolves, blue wolves (variety is nice isn’t it?), birds of prey, and impressive looking boss characters which are nearly impossible to beat.

Actually, everything is nearly impossible to beat. Altered Beast is a tough game because your character feels like he’s in quicksand. Lethargic kicking does little to alleviate the zombie chomping on you, since the hit detection isn’t especially strong either. If they do hit you, you fly about forty feet backwards, and you lose some of your life meter. Very disorientating. There’s no chance to restore any health and no continues. You have three lives and that’s all.

The main selling point of Altered Beast, and where the game derives its name from, is the ability to morph into nasty, snarling beasts. This is undeserved hype. You can only transform after you collect two swirling power-ups from the blue wolves. After going through two comical transformations (more on that in the graphics section) you are turned into a snarling beast, one for each stage you visit.

There are a few problems with this though. You can’t fight the end of the stage boss until you manage to collect these power-ups, and once you do, you can’t bypass the boss if you want to experiment with your new powers. Therefore, you’re forced to wander across the stage for several minutes to gather the power-ups, but only get to screw around with the “cool” beast forms for around thirty to sixty seconds. “Cool” is in quotations, because the beast forms usually only provide you with a projectile or a rolling attack, nothing truly eye-popping.

If there is a redeeming point of Altered Beast, it is the comically bad graphics and sound. The graphics are rampant in muscle. Yes, *muscle*. Your character has bulging biceps, and getting a power-up causes him to *gasp* RIP HIS SHIRT! He further steals Hulk Hogan’s act; when he gets a second power-up, his shirt rips completely off and his chest swells. BUT HIS HEAD REMAINS THE SAME SIZE!!! Even the “lovely” Athena isn’t exempt from the muscle syndrome that afflicts Altered Beast, as her arms make her a prime candidate to be an extra on Xena: Warrior Princess.

The first time you hear the “digital voice” in Altered Beast, you will collapse in laughter. Seriously. It closely resembles the pained moans of Golden Axe, yet it’s somehow even more pathetic and constrained. The simple background music of Altered Beast isn’t quite so comically bad, but it’s not a saving grace either.

Altered Beast sucks in any time period. People often try to make excuses for older games, such as Beyond the Beyond, Dragon Warrior, and Baseball, stating that even though they’re old they’re good and pioneers because they started the genre on the system. This is hogwash. Great games like Super Mario Brothers and Tetris stand the test of time because of the superb gameplay that they offer. Games like Altered Beast are interchangeable, because they just fill the void until something better comes along. Altered Beast is not a great game, nor should it ever be considered a great game, in any time period or gaming context.

Rating: 3/10

sgreenwell's avatar
Community review by sgreenwell (June 04, 2003)

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