Altered Beast (Genesis) review
"Pop Quiz hotshot: What was the first pack-in game with the Sega Genesis? "
Pop Quiz hotshot: What was the first pack-in game with the Sega Genesis?
Did you say Sonic the Hedgehog? WRONG, stupid! It was Altered Beast, a port of an apparently rather successful arcade game that saw release with the Genesis in 1989. In this game, you play as an unnamed Centurion. You've been commanded by the God Zeus to RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE (Or as many who've played the game will tell you, WISE FROM YOUR GWAVE, because Zeus is directly related to Elmer Fudd) and rescue Zeus's daughter Athena from the evil Neff.
You're really not given much choice as far as going on your mission goes. If you were hoping to simply remain comfortably dead in your casket and let Zeus rescue his own stupid daughter, forget it. You're wising from your gwave whether you like it or not, and no amount of bargaining with the Almighty Father is going to change that.
So with that in mind, it's your job to set off on 5 levels of side-scrolling action. Truthfully, you'll notice the game plays like a simpler version of Final Fight--for one, you're restricted to one plane, as are your enemies. For another, the game scrolls very sloooowly. For a third, you have a mere three attacks in your human form--punch, kick, and crouch-and-kick-straight-up-in-the-air. Compounding the limitations is fact that this third attack is rather useless, as you're just about never placed into a situation where this attack is better than either of the other two.
What sets this game apart from others of this type are the power-ups you collect. You see, once you kill a blue enemy, a power orb of some type will float up from the formerly-living being. Collect it to ''POWER...UP!'' (The game tells you that you have, in fact, powered up, in case you couldn't tell from the altered appearance of your characters). The first two powerups do little other than make you grow and rip off some of your clothes. Grab a third, and here's where things get interesting...
At this point you're treated to watching your head transform into that of some mythical beast (Exactly what depends on the level), and you return to gameplay with greatly enhanced powers (Again, these vary by level). As one example, the Werewolf, level 1's Beast, has the ability to shoot fireballs out of his...um, hands (The fact that the Werewolf, like most of the beasts in the game, is a sort of pseudo-wolf--yeah, he looks like a wolf, but he's still amazingly able to punch and kick with what should be his front legs with no loss of mobility, as well as being able to stand on his hind legs--points at a furry subtext that I would really rather not get into here), and is able to transform his body into a mass of fire and streak across the screen and back.
It all sounds fun, but the glory is over far too quickly. Soon, you'll come across Neff (Possibly more than once, as will be detailed later), who will proceed to welcome you to your doom. Then, he'll transform into a huge monster of some type, and you and he will battle it out to the death. Or at least to the Monster's death, at which point you'll have accomplished nothing other than having Neff return to human form and rob you of your power, forcing you to jump down deeper into the earth in order to chase after him again.
Between levels, you're treated to some short still screens meant to advance the plot, except that everything is so purple that it's impossible to tell what's going on. You can spy Athena and Neff, and apparently Neff is using some magic or something on Athena, but it frankly doesn't matter in a game like this.
The game's main uniqueness point--the aforementioned transforming into a furry...er, beast, wears off quickly. A large factor in this is that fact that you HAVE to transform into a Beast before you can finish the level. See, there are various places in the level which I suppose could be called ''checkpoints''. At these, you'll find Neff repelling you with a small lightning shield, and he'll run off on you unless you're in Beastly form, in which case he fights you. It's strange--he won't fight you unless you're powered up. It sounds stupid, but then again, Neff did decide to piss off Zeus in kidnapping Athena, so I suppose this lack of intelligence is to be expected.
In any event, Another issue with this transformation is that after level 2, the various enhancements of your characters either become redundant, or simply not very useful. As a direct result, the novelty factor tanks after your first few playthroughs, which is really somewhat sad. It was a great concept, and in the arcade it works very well. On the Genesis, though, when you can play the game as often as you want, the design is less successful.
In spite of the game's short length--five levels, each lasting maybe 3 minutes (Cue Large Samoans here), Altered Beast is quite a challenge. Part of this strangely, is the fact that the game plods along at a sea slug's pace--particularly if you're used to Final Fight or Streets of Rage, the slow auto-scroll and the fact that no more than one enemy typically attacks at any one time combine for an experience that tries to be tense but ends up being rather leisurely instead.
Yet this doesn't make Altered Beast any easier. Unlike most games of its type, the slow pace carries over to the controls. This isn't a particularly good thing, especially since your attacks, as you’d expect, don't have a lot of range. If your timing isn't dead-on, you're going to get hit, sometimes for as much as a third of your life. This extremely limited life force in conjunction with the clunky control creates a game that is more challenging than the sum of its parts.
Gameplay-wise, Altered Beast isn't much beyond an average game one way or the other. The superficials do little to change this. You'll traverse a variety of environments, ranging from graveyards (In a unique twist, in the middle of the day) to caves to palaces. Yet none of these locales by themselves have anything to blow your eyes away, even by 1989 standards. There are, likewise, different enemies in each level, except for the common Blue Beasts that you beat to get your power-ups.
The sound and music are also nothing to write to your significant other about. Actually hearing Zeus command you to WISE FROM YOUR GWAVE or Neff welcoming you to your doom was pretty cool in 1989, but even then the novelty wore off fairly quickly. Besides that, the sound effects are strange; instead of crisp ''THWACK!''s like you would get in most beat-em-ups, you're treated to weird ''SQUICK!''y sounds like if you were to perform martial arts on Jell-o. The music is what passes for Ancient Greek fare given the Genesis sound chip; organs and timpani are prevalent throughout the limited score.
Overall, Altered Beast is a game that has simply not aged well. Sega thought it good enough to release as the Genesis pack-in game all those years ago, but nowadays that's really all it is--a quaint reminder of days gone by, before the genre evolved with games like Final Fight and Streets of Rage.
Community review by emptyeye (July 30, 2006)
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