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3D Altered Beast (3DS) artwork

3D Altered Beast (3DS) review


While originally an arcade game, Altered Beast made a lasting impression with the Sega Genesis port. It was the first pack-in title for the console, meaning a lot of early adopters were exposed to the game. In turn, they were exposed to its oddball premise, digital, crackly voice samples, and "interesting" game mechanics and flow, with some considering these mindblowing for the then-released 16-bit console, showcasing the possibilities that could be had beyond 8-bits. So for some, it comes as no surprise that this Genesis title was inducted into Sega's 3D Classics lineup under care of the M2 development team. But for others, this choice was baffling.

From a distance, the product looks like an innocent action auto-scroller with a unique concept: you're a man, summoned back from the dead by the Greek god Zeus, who can turn into a different humanoid animal in their respective stages. From a werewolf with a dashing flash knee attack to a bear that can turn enemies into rocks, each one has to pummel a slew of giant wasps, zombies, and big-headed creatures in the shape of a chicken leg who... are actually named Chicken Leg. Transforming into these beings isn't a snap decision, however. As you punch, kick, and jump through hordes, you have to keep an eye out for grey, three-headed dogs, each one containing an orb; the first two make you into a bulkier human and the third alters you into a beast, complete with a dramatic, close-up transformation sequence.

Sounds like decent fun. So what's the problem? Some will immediately point at the campy nature of Altered Beast, such as its "corny" voice samples, with bits like the monotone "Power Up" or the main villain's dramatic cackle. Goofy character designs don't help, either, which range from the aforementioned chicken legs, to purple unicorn boxers and gross bosses that look like they came from low budget monster movies.

However, stuff like that can be overlooked easily if the game's design is solid and fun. But it isn't. The tempo and flow can be best described as awkward, as the auto-scrolling moves at a literal snails pace. Worse, most enemies move on screen just as slowly, and more times than not, only two appear regularly at any given time. As is typical for video games, each foe has an attack, forcing you to counter each one differently, yet here they are so basic in approach that they're downright questionable. Airborne creatures leisurely fly onto the battlefield? You... you just jump and punch them in the face. Undead beings stumble forward and counter your punch with longer punches? Well, you... you just kick them. That's it. They don't even have varying attacks when they reappear in later stages.

Though, in spite of its generic approach to game design and lax enemy encounters, Altered Beast can be an irritating experience at times. The main reason for this is that you're only given two lives to work with... for the entire playthrough. And damage carries over into subsequent stages. And you don't get health refill items. And there's no continues. While the majority of opponents are easily disposable, you're still likely to get damaged from time to time, knocking a bit of vitality from your three-bar health meter. Doesn't help that the three-headed grey dogs purposely appear during awkward moments, usually when other enemies are in the way.

But the hardest encounters would have to be the boss fights... for all the wrong reasons. Frankly, bosses take up a chunk of screen real estate, and it doesn't help that their attacks borrow a good section, as well. The first boss, for example, a hideous brown demon with a bottom half comprised of skeleton pieces, engulfs the right side of the screen. His attack consists of throwing four giant heads downward in the small segment you're allowed to move in. While dodging is more than doable, the bulky nature of your character sprite almost guarantees a hit. Unfortunately, the second boss one-ups the ridiculousness. Basically a giant Venus fly trap that spits out eyeball spreadshots, it's one of the more infuriating fights in the game. Your huge, horizontal flying dragon can barely squeeze through tiny spaces between these projectiles...

Now, you think M2 would have added some interesting bonus features to make this dreary experience a somewhat worthwhile purchase. Sadly, the only "exclusive" thing they added was Random Form mode, where... you get a random animal transformation for each stage. It's basically a slight variation of a cheat code that exists in the original Sega Genesis version... which is still accessible in this port. So why? Why did M2 even bother doing a port of a mediocre title if they weren't going to put much effort outside the usual 3D stereoscopic treatment? Well, as stated in an interview, they handled this game because they needed a quick release between titles they spent a ton of effort working on. Filler, essentially.

But why Altered Beast specifically?

Because, as stated in the interview, they took a peek at what was popular on the Wii's Virtual Console...

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (February 24, 2019)

Pick any sci-fi game from the 1980s and you're likely to spot an Alien reference.

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Welcome to the Monotonous Zone


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hastypixels posted February 24, 2019:

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CptRetroBlue posted February 25, 2019:

I never knew there was a 3DS version. I need to research this further.
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Masters posted February 25, 2019:

Yeah, Altered Beast was never good. Haha, things moving along at a snail's pace is definitely true. I seem to recall one of the more irritating issues with the Master System version being that if you got hit, you had like, ZERO invincibility window, and you'd be juggled to death in short order. Does that exist in this version? I don't remember.

Also, one of your screenshots shows two-player action going on. Surely that's a new feature? I don't remember being able to play with a friend.

Anyway, good bash review.
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pickhut posted February 25, 2019:

I dunno about being juggled in the Genesis version. That's the sad part: the game is so slow, boring, and mostly easy, that I wasn't able to see if something like that could happen. Though, I think the zombie punchers might be able to juggle if you're in an unfortunate recovery spot. And yeah, the Genesis game has 2-player support.

Thanks for reading, all! Been a long time since I tackled Altered Beast in review form (2004, specifically), so I wanted to see if my opinion changed while also taking a more "serious" in-depth approach compared to my SMS review.
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hastypixels posted February 26, 2019:

Okay, to elaborate somewhat: Altered Beast is one of those games that plays better in concept than execution, precisely by design. It was an arcade port that had no consideration given to the expectations of home console players - but then little understanding was had in those days. "Iron Man Mode" games were more the norm than they are now, to be sure.

There was a reboot of this ill-begotten title for the GBA featuring pseudo 3D artwork (or real GBA 3D, I'm not sure) that utterly failed to reinvigorate the franchise. Sega banks on nostalgia and the first ten minutes of gameplay most people invest before picking up any of the Sonic the Hedgehog, Phantasy Star or Mortal Kombat titles that are certainly better games.

I wonder what a true genre reboot could do for an IP like this, but only a little.
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Masters posted February 26, 2019:

Shameless plug: The Master System version
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pickhut posted February 26, 2019:

It was an arcade port that had no consideration given to the expectations of home console players - but then little understanding was had in those days.

Sega was one of the biggest offenders of this practice. It was neat at first: Sega offering console releases of their arcade titles, but it got really old well into the late 1990s. Other companies wised up and offered tons of in-depth bonus content to go with their arcade ports. Meanwhile, Sega thought they still could get away with abysmal ports on the Dreamcast. Their home release of 18 Wheeler is appalling. To be fair, certain Sega devs gave some effort to their Dreamcast releases; Sega Rally 2 and the Virtua Tennis games as such examples.

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