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Altered Beast (Sega Master System) artwork

Altered Beast (Sega Master System) review


"The five stages of side-scrolling jump, punch and kick tedium in the bestiary that we played in the arcades, was dulled significantly for our Sega Genesis experience. It was dulled even further still for the four level Master System experience—an unfortunate copy of a copy—so that it is a shadow of its former self, which was a flimsy silhouette of a game to begin with. "



Altered, beastly

Was I this gullible? Did I have so few games? Were my balls like iron? Did I like the taste of bile? I ask myself these questions when I play Altered Beast for the Sega Master System now, because at one time I played this game in earnest. I played it for hours on end, losing lives in heaps and playing again. I accessed the extra vitality trick, the continue cheat, I put in the time, I finished the game (and with just three men, it’s much too hard).

But not this time around.

The five stages of side-scrolling jump, punch and kick tedium in the bestiary that we played in the arcades, was dulled significantly for our Sega Genesis experience. It was dulled even further still for the four level Master System experience--an unfortunate copy of a copy--so that it is a shadow of its former self, which was a flimsy silhouette of a game to begin with.

Whether or not you enjoyed the original arcade mission from Zeus, you will be disappointed with Sega's 8-bit effort (or lack thereof). Certainly, a love for the Genesis version will simply magnify those negative feelings upon playing this travesty. It’s true that the most basic shell of the game remains intact. A scholarly, bearded Zeus tells you to rise from your grave and rescue his daughter from the nefarious Neff. Neff himself is still bald and still wears a nose hooked enough to catch trout, but now he seems curiously more fragile under the shower curtain that he calls a robe--perhaps this is in keeping with the tentative condition of the gameplay (the cartridge itself isn't so fragile--it ricochets off the wall and keeps on ticking; believe me, this much I've proven). And you, the hero, are still a relatively strapping young man in gym clothes setting out on this mission to murder a myriad of malicious minions from moldy myths (that’s about as corny as actually playing; please understand my pain).

Anyway, the hero isn’t very competent at first, but by beating on the white two-headed wolf (he is almost always preceded by at least two gold two-headed wolves) you can collect small blue orbs. The first you collect in each level will turn you into a pumped up, Arnold-esque parody of physical fitness. You would almost feel cool controlling such a behemoth, but the fact that he looks like a pin could deflate him takes away from that initial excitement. Another blue ball captured morphs the big guy into... the Altered Beast! Fireworks should go off there. They don’t, but the graphic showing your human face turning into that of an animal is more than an adequate substitution. In fact, these are the best graphics you’ll see in the game by a long shot. The screen turns black, heads of human and beast alike flash intermittently, onlookers cheer. Now the real fun begins. Note that each level features a different ‘beast’ and each level requires you to start back in your gym shorts.

The first stage has you turn into a flashing, dashing brown werewolf, while the second mimics a horizontal shooter, as you become the bolt-firing weredragon. The third level features the agile, vertically-zipping weretiger, and the fourth and final area has you change into the gold werewolf.

The fundamental weakness in the arcade version was the tedium and banality you had to endure as a normal human before you could actually enjoy yourself as a beast. Similarly, trudging through the each level's goons seemed a pointless if perfunctory prelude to the actual excitement found in the boss encounters. And yes, the infamous boss who tears off his head countless times to hurl at you is here. So too is the Gradius-like plant guardian that shows you its single eye before opening up a la Venus flytrap to unleash an army of 'back up' eyeballs it keeps cleverly hidden away. The fat floating lizard is still here to arc fireballs at you, and of course Neff himself wouldn’t dream of missing his appointment with you.

The problem with the arcade version then, is known, and is honestly almost forgettable if one likes the theme well enough--and many do. But the concerns with this Master System version only make the game itself forgettable.

The two-player simultaneous option is predictably left out--hardware limitations!--boosters might claim in the game's defense. Also, the ‘werebear’ level is totally omitted. The game has slowed right down from its already plodding pace to one of absolutely lifeless languorousness. The increased slowness makes the arcade drawback even more evident; you must resign yourself to going through minutes of drudgery for just a few moments of pseudo-excitement dashing around as the beast.

Further, Altered Beast's sights are like a rough coloured sketch of the Genesis version’s already washed out environs. All we get for backdrops are crummy looking sunsets pasted atop rough ground with little to no texture. And for the foreground: a few crumbling blocks and pillars, completely lacking in detail. Only the purple-themed level three is halfway decent, and even then, the Master System's hardware muscle is sound asleep, untroubled. As bad as the scene-setting is though, the characters are even worse. Our hero in all his various states looks good enough, but the zombies are a blur of colour, and the undead foes carrying their heads--well suffice to say I didn’t even know what they were supposed to be until I revisited the Genesis version of the game. For those not acclimatized to 8-bit capabilities, don’t figure this to be a good or even a typical example; this is shoddy workmanship, pure and simple.

Finally, the worst shortcoming of all is the lack of damage control. If you get hit once from an enemy on the left, pray to your god of choice (Zeus?) that there isn’t an enemy on the right or you’ll be juggled to death. Unfortunately, Altered Beast is another game that severely limits the time that you should be invincible after taking damage. So, back and forth you’ll be bounced, the familiar scene made almost comical by the slowness of it all, with the equally sluggish and repetitive music playing as a requiem in the background. The tunes seem to pity their own existence, their own participation in this ramshackle product. Don’t you participate too; this is horrible stuff.

Rating: 3/10

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Staff review by Marc Golding (January 12, 2004)

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