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Altered Beast (Genesis) artwork

Altered Beast (Genesis) review


"There are some moments in life that are bound to be a bit special. In the early nineties, to many happy gamers the arrival of Sega's Mega Drive console was one of those moments. They bought their machine, they plugged it in to the telly, many slotted in Altered Beast into the console and switched it on. The tension was growing... would it all be a huge waste of money, or would it be the greatest thing ever? There's a title screen with impressive, thumping arcade-style music: all good so far. The..."



There are some moments in life that are bound to be a bit special. In the early nineties, to many happy gamers the arrival of Sega's Mega Drive console was one of those moments. They bought their machine, they plugged it in to the telly, many slotted in Altered Beast into the console and switched it on. The tension was growing... would it all be a huge waste of money, or would it be the greatest thing ever? There's a title screen with impressive, thumping arcade-style music: all good so far. The game starts... Zeus appears... he speaks (!)... and ... 'Wise fwom your gwave'... oh dear, he sounds like a cross between Julian Clary and Jonathan Ross. Yep, one of Sega's first chances to show off the Mega Drive and they blow it by giving the father of the ancient Greek religion a blatant speech impediment. Well, it's an original take on the matter at least....

Sadly, that moment has become that which the game is most remembered for today. This doesn't really do the game justice as, deities with Estuary accents aside, it's a solid enough beat 'em up. Plot wise it's all very standard: Zeus daughter has been abducted by an evil sorcerer, and, for some bizarre reason, the only person (or people in the two player mode) who can rescue her is long dead and buried. Undeterred by this fairly large obstacle, the big Z resurrects our budding young hero and sets him off on his quest. While this is all acceptable enough, in a standard sort of way, come on, how cool would it be if Zeus had gone off to rescue her by himself. Controlling a God would have been much more exciting. Still, plot is really not very important in this game, it's all about the gameplay....

....Which is actually pretty good fun. It's similar to games like Kung Fu or Bad Dudes on the NES in that you simply walk from the left of the screen to the right, pummeling seven shades of something out of anything and everything that gets in your way. The fact that it's best equated to NES games shows that this wasn't exactly cutting edge gaming for the launch of the Mega Drive (which is further shown by the game's presence first in the arcades, and then on the Master System), but it also shows that it's a system that works. Of course, there is a twist in there too. You see, occasionally you encounter blue boars. Kill them and an orb is released. This, when collected, transforms your character. The first two make him stronger, the third, though, triggers a metamorphosis into the altered beast of the title. These transformations include turning into werewolves, werebears and weredragons. Under these guises you are strong enough to take on the boss of the level - the evil sorcerer who kidnapped Zeus' daughter. The twist is that he too can transform, and his transformations are bigger and tougher than yours. This basic formula doesn't alter (sorry, it just slipped out...) throughout the five levels, which makes the game fairly uninspiring, but the game is really long enough to allow it to get well and truly boring. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not, to be honest with you. The length of the levels in the game is dependant on how good you are. You see, the evil sorcerer (are you noticing that I've forgotten his name? No? Good.) pops up at various intervals throughout the level. If you meet him after turning into the beast then you can fight him and move on to the next stage. If, however, you don't have enough orbs then you must go further into the level before having a chance to face him again. This is pretty odd, really - it seems to almost punish you for being good at the game, but if it bothers you then you can just not collect many orbs to make the levels last longer.

This game is graphically a mixed bag. From level two onwards the backgrounds are actually pretty good (it was obviously these that Sega hoped would show off the Mega Drive), but the characters themselves are fairly poorly drawn and animated. There are, however, some nice touches - for example, when you beat up a zombie, the first punch destroys it's head, the second kills it outright (hey, I'm easily pleased alright?) and the age of the game makes this forgivable. You can't expect an Aladdin or a Vectorman straight away, can you.... Aurally things are a little better - bizarre voices aside, this game is pleasing enough on the ear. The tunes, while not exactly begging to be played loudly, are pretty good, and suit the feel of the game admirably, the sound effects don't stand out as being particularly awful, which, although not exactly a high praise, is better than can be said about many early Mega Drive outings, and the roar that accompanies the transformations is actually very good for it's day.

Everything about this game screams 'average' at you, but it has something that keeps you coming back to it with frightening regularity. It's hard to say exactly what that is, and by all rights this game should have been forgotten long ago - it's shockingly short (about half an hour at the most), it's not exactly the hardest game on the system, it's presentation has as many bad points as good, but yet... it works. Maybe it's just because, as one of the first Mega Drive outings, it's a little piece of gaming history, maybe it's because of it's undeniable retro charm, or maybe Sega put in subliminal messages telling people to like the game, for whatever reason, Altered Beast is very enjoyable. It shouldn't be, really, but it is, so if you see a copy lying around in a second hand store somewhere (it's hardly a rare game, so that shouldn't be too tricky) pick it up. At worst it's a slice of videogame history. At best it's a hugely playable, if flawed, two player experience. Recommended.

Rating: 7/10

tomclark's avatar
Community review by tomclark (March 06, 2004)

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