Google+   Facebook button  Twitter button 
3DS | DS | PS3 | PS4 | PSP | VITA | WII | WIIU | X360 | XB1 | All

Altered Beast (Arcade) artwork

Altered Beast (Arcade) review


"Not only that, it succeeded: whereas the “technically brilliant” titles of yesteryear now wallow in their “good for their time” dubiety, Altered Beast remains the same guilty pleasure it always has. Undoubtedly, I think it was its vision all along to become the cheesy cult-classic of the video game world, to be so exuberantly, intriguingly ridiculous it would never be forgotten. Keep laughing at the thought, the absurd notion its lambasted legacy has only helped it become what it is. It’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. It won."



Part of me knows Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane is a magnificent classic of the silver screen, technically brilliant and ultimately groundbreaking in every way, perhaps the most influential piece of American cinema ever made. Part of me would rather watch Santa Claus Conquers the Martians a tenth time instead.

Years ago, nerds on the Internet started taking gaming too seriously, and no title suffered more because of it than the Sega arcade cabinet Altered Beast. An acne-faced minority that, for lack of a better phrase, just didn’t “get it” sealed its fate; growing technology stabbed what was once its poster child in the back and dug the gwave for its garbled voice acting. It was panned by petty, self-important critics for its technical faults, laughed at for its overly boisterous approach, and callously tossed amongst a ranking of ambitiousless, flat-out careless titles that never even tried.

Too bad Altered Beast did try.

Not only that, it succeeded: whereas the “technically brilliant” titles of yesteryear now wallow in their “good for their time” dubiety, Altered Beast remains the same guilty pleasure it always has. Undoubtedly, I think it was its vision all along to become the cheesy cult-classic of the video game world, to be so exuberantly, intriguingly ridiculous it would never be forgotten. Keep laughing at the thought, the absurd notion its lambasted legacy has only helped it become what it is. It’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. It won.

It’s the chintzy flame effects enveloping a portrait of the main character as he makes his cinematic man-beast transformation that make it a tour de force of compelling campiness. It’s the ridiculously simple premise literally spelled out before the adventure commences: “I COMMAND YOU TO RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE AND RESCUE MY DAUGHTER.” It’s the “facial expression to-muscle mass ratio” the game implements for its hero, who starts each level with a determined grimace and thin frame, but becomes a bulging gap-toothed goon after two power-ups. Everything, in combination, is so forcefully, deliberately tacky that to judge it with an overly critical eye seems utterly preposterous, because it is utterly preposterous. You don’t judge a Will Ferrell comedy on an Oscar scale; it’s a matter of whether you got bang for your buck.

Clunky, unresponsive controls and spotty collision detection be damned, Altered Beast provides that. Try walking away from this machine without at least a smirk. The faults against AB in these two areas are valid though; it will take patience and playing time before you’re able to react timely to pouncing bull men and pitchfork plunging goblins, and though the kicking animation looks like it should be making contact, it’s not always the case. It would be more technically sound without these issues. That can’t be argued.

But these issues contribute to its kitschy appeal, and I argue it wouldn’t be a better game if they were resolved – it’d simply fall from lovably campy to mediocre action title. It’d be The Astyanax, which was a ‘good for its time’ action platformer, but when’s the last time you heard that game mentioned? Altered Beast is an experience, and fixing any aspect of it would ultimately detract from the overall appeal. I can get used to the fact I need to be a step closer to tail-swinging rodents to kick them in the jaw provided the context is right. This quasi-serious, tongue-in-cheek romp is as brazenly endearing as Monty Python and The Holy Grail – it’s the very definition of that context.

Purple blobs with razor sharp teeth that will chomp down over your entire head! Buff zombies with exposed rib cages you can punch right out of their ravaged hides! Walking wasps and a bizarre manifestation that appears to be a crossbreed of a chicken and a lizard! Forgive me if the point was to take these foes seriously (and I doubt it), but I can’t, and I love that about Altered Beast.

It gets better. After three power-ups you’ll attain your true beast form (which varies from level to level), in turn making you near invincible to this goofy bunch and giving you ridiculous super powers, ridiculous super powers that have nothing to do with your new form! Become a werewolf and throw fireballs at opponents! Morph into the ferocious grizzly bear… and not only can you attack by tucking into a spiky ball a la Sonic, but you’re also Medusa, able to turn challengers to stone! None of it makes any sense. None of it matters! Finding fault here is like finding fault with an Abbott & Costello routine because of the impracticality of a whipped cream pie being on the windowsill. You’re really just missing the point.

These stretches give way to equally absurd boss battles. In the first, the top half of the monstrosity is a horned, hunchbacked ogre with one wildly muscular arm. His bottom half? An unidentifiable mush of sagging flesh and protruding bone! A later summation turns out to be another bizarrely unique hybrid: part dragon, part snail. Critics somehow stare at this beast straight-faced, never once wondering if Altered Beast meant to be this goofy on purpose. You would think merging a devastating dragon with something as unenviable and handicapping as a snail would hit with the impact of a brick to the face.

In one of the ending still frames, both heroes and villains alike raise frothy mugs of beer in salute of your efforts:


Come on, people!


But critics want Altered Beast to change. They want it to be something it never intended to be: a stone-faced action title that had its place in history, where the few who played it at the time can look back and reminisce on fond memories long since past. Altered Beast defies expectation. It’s still the same incredibly cheesy, overly campy, utterly ridiculous adventure it was when it was released, and its detractors can’t dare stand that people would ever have a laugh at what they devoted their life to. Video games – this is serious business!

But as for me? Well, I wouldn’t alter a damn thing.

Rating: 8/10

Leroux's avatar
Staff review by Winston Wolf (September 27, 2010)

A bio for this contributor is currently unavailable, but check back soon to see if that changes. If you are the author of this review, you can update your bio from the Settings page.

More Reviews by Winston Wolf
New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U) artwork
New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)

New Super Mario Bros. U isn't just a bad title for a game but a misnomer as well.
WWF No Mercy (Nintendo 64) artwork
WWF No Mercy (Nintendo 64)

It is a timeless wrestling game -- one with a still faithful following, one with a generation of devotees steadfast that it has not yet been eclipsed -- that reminds us how mortal we are.
Donkey Kong Junior (Arcade) artwork
Donkey Kong Junior (Arcade)

With all respects to Ms. Pac-Man, you've heard of Donkey Kong Junior because it is perhaps the first great sequel to advance the original concept, cleverly reworking the formula while at the same time feeling immediately familiar to dedicated Donkey Kong players.

Feedback

If you enjoyed this Altered Beast review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

board icon
JoeTheDestroyer posted September 27, 2010:

Indeed! Great review for a game that couldn't be more awesome if it had a power metal soundtrack. Loved how this game is compared to Santa Claus Versus the Martians, or B-movies in general really. Nice one, Leroux.

This does raise a question: Are there any other good B-games that anyone can think of?
board icon
CoarseDragon posted September 27, 2010:

the back and dug the gwave for its garbled voice acting

Is that a word?
board icon
Leroux posted September 27, 2010:

There's a lot of awesome B-movie style games on the arcade side -- Ed Randy immediately comes to mind as another that's probably not technically great but I love. Night Creatures on the Turbo has a committed following of at least two -- check out Masters' review.

"Gwave" is the common onomatopoeia for AB's garbled voice introduction.

S-Cynic -- provide constructive feedback or get lost. Better yet, review it yourself!
board icon
True posted September 27, 2010:

...

What he say?!
board icon
Leroux posted September 27, 2010:

Just "awful, awful, awful," but stuff like that has no purpose other than to deride an author and discourage contributions.
board icon
True posted September 27, 2010:

Well that's immature.

Don't worry, Leroux. I'll look through it and give you a decent critique.
board icon
Leroux posted September 27, 2010:

Thanks. I wasn't asking for one (it's an old review) but it's much appreciated if you choose to! There's not much to the review other than I loved Altered Beast for the same reasons people tend to hate it (goofiness) -- I went into AB just wanting to be entertained and thought it was damn entertaining.

I think Zig made a good point a while back about how campiness was not AB's aim, but I dunno, I played it without any real reservations, and by the end when everyone was holding up beers, I was sold. It was promoted a lot differently I know, but I wasn't around for that. I just heard a lot of bad things about it (there was an old contest at GameFAQs where a bunch of guys reviewed it, most rating it poorly) and was surprised how amused I was by it after all those low scores.

board icon
True posted September 27, 2010:

Awful, awful, awful.

Kidding.

In truth, I think you've done the impossible here...or at least damn close to it.

It's hard to pull off a review that is both informative about a game, yet a rebuttal to everything critics have said prior. From what I can tell, you have. My opinion my be somewhat distorted because I know that game backwards and forwards so it's hard to say I came away with something new. I don't think that's possible for me. If I've never played it, I would definitely feel more informed.

Your review was a fresh take on a game that has received almost as much exposure--both positive and negative--as Metal Slug. Well done, all around.

Plus your eloquent phrasing and incredible style is always impressive to read.
board icon
Leroux posted September 27, 2010:

Too kind. I think "awful, awful awful" was closer to the truth :P

I'm not trying to gang up on S-Cynic though -- I really wish he/she would write some reviews because the game ratings submitted certainly spark curiosity (plus Robotron 2084 rocks and is somewhere on the long-term Sunday Cabaret agenda, so there's common ground despite the brawler hate).
board icon
zigfried posted September 27, 2010:

Yeah, I don't think the game meant to be campy -- I think the game strived to be awesome cool, and it was awesome cool, and it still is awesome cool -- though clearly dated. But I don't need to call on the power of nostalgia to appreciate a bear that looks like it masturbates if you tap the attack button, or a demonic beast who hurls regenerating heads at you. Those things would be just as cool in a brand new game. I also love how the game starts with a booming RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE. I wish more games started with such simple power.

Bayonetta is this game's sequel.

I agree with your review's statement that people decided to take it too seriously. What was once considered awesome cool is now considered silly, and people seem to think that's a bad thing.

Max Headroom is still cool, too.

//Zig
board icon
S-Cynic posted September 27, 2010:

S-Cynic -- provide constructive feedback

I guess I could try.

There's not much to the review other than I loved Altered Beast for the same reasons people tend to hate it (goofiness) -- I went into AB just wanting to be entertained and thought it was damn entertaining.

People do not hate Altered Beast because it's goofy. They hate it because the human segments are monotonous, because of the clunky controls, and because the entire game is as slow as Tom Hanks pouring molasses in a godforsaken igloo.

It's hard to pull off a review that is both informative about a game, yet a rebuttal to everything critics have said prior. From what I can tell, you have.

How can it be a rebuttal when it doesn't actually address any of the criticisms? He's claiming that Altered Beast is bad because it's supposed to be bad and that everybody who doesn't like the game just doesn't get it.
board icon
overdrive posted September 27, 2010:

At some time, I have to play/review Altered Beast (not for MOTO, though...). I actually have never played any version ever. But I remember seeing screenshots when I was younger and it really seems to possess that bizarre "WTF IS GOING ON HERE" goofed-out charisma that I remember getting from games like Karnov back in the day.
board icon
Leroux posted September 27, 2010:

I'm not claiming it's supposed to be bad.

I'm claiming it's supposed to be campy and entertaining, like Army of Darkness or however many other flicks I need to keep citing to arrive at the point, and while it doesn't arrive at the gags in the most elegant or innovative fashion -- and some just may be unintentional -- they're nonetheless great (I reference numerous goofy things I love) and those defined the game for me, the hilarious or memorable moments I couldn't get with technically sound titles that might be quicker and less monotonous and easier to control, none of which, I felt, impeded me from enjoying this one compared to the entertainment I got out of it. And that, the potshots taken at the voice acting and the main character and the transformations (because no negative AB review rips on those...), may just have inspired part of the counterculture feeling that makes me like it even more, because I think those are funny (Santa Claus Versus the Martians style), but I see a lot else to like here too as far as enemy design and presentation. So I think (hope) there's more nuance to the review, some of which is probably a little garbled because it's a tough point I'm reaching for and even I don't think I get there quite, but certainly more than what you're summarizing my case as.

I also didn't find it monotonous -- you can learn where the orbs are (or fiddle with dip switches I'd bet) -- and because it was scrolling and there was usually something on screen to occupy, not really slow relative to peers. To say I didn't address the control issues is a flat lie and I don't deny them.

Hell, I don't even argue the game is good or great, just that people that think Altered Beast is a tragedy or a disgrace may need to take a second look, because they may have taken the cabinet too seriously. And created a cult-classic well worth playing as a result while other older titles grow less and less relevant.
board icon
True posted September 27, 2010:

Come on. He gets a little more detailed than that.
board icon
zigfried posted September 27, 2010:

People do not hate Altered Beast because it's goofy. They hate it because the human segments are monotonous, because of the clunky controls, and because the entire game is as slow

On monotony, the human moments are intentionally designed to handicap the player so that the beast moments feel more special. Even modern shooters focus on reaching hyper mode or building an impressive chain. Without dips, lulls, or divergences, then playing a game becomes a mechanical chore. Obviously, such moments shouldn't be boring, but Altered Beast's human scenes are brief enough that I still look forward to the high points (although the slow scrolling does make the game seem to drag at times). That's Sega's devious plan: they never let the player feel fulfilled, so even winners keep paying money to get their fix.

I wouldn't say the controls are clunky, although they do feel restricted -- especially in human form. So I'm not really arguing with you, although I don't agree. Altered Beast was never about appreciating the mechanics. It's actually pretty easy to master with just a bit of memorization. The game is more about witnessing cool moments and spending money to see those moments again and again. I'm sure you already know that.

But there are haters out there who are fine with a shallow game, people who happen to think this particular shallow game is too "goofy" and should have been more "serious", people who use WISE FWOM YOUR GWAVE as proof of being "bad" but overlook lame mechanics in games that have hour-long cutscenes. I think it's fair to say those people don't get it. Because they don't.

//Zig

You must be signed into an HonestGamers user account to leave feedback on this review.

Info | Help | Privacy Policy | Contact | Advertise | Links

eXTReMe Tracker
© 1998-2014 HonestGamers
None of the material contained within this site may be reproduced in any conceivable fashion without permission from the author(s) of said material. This site is not sponsored or endorsed by Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Microsoft, or any other such party. Altered Beast is a registered trademark of its copyright holder. This site makes no claim to Altered Beast, its characters, screenshots, artwork, music, or any intellectual property contained within. Opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily represent the opinion of site staff or sponsors.