Altered Beast (Genesis) review
"Altered Beast has become an internet nerd's whipping boy. "
Altered Beast has become an internet nerd's whipping boy.
What was once an unprecedented and unparalleled arcade brawler now stands trial among a generation of gamers not old enough to remember its debut more than a decade ago. This ignorance cripples proper judgment and has left Altered Beast to become another bandwagon hatebreeder (sitting somewhere near the top of the pile, close to Heroes of the Lance and Bokosuka Wars). It's now ''cool'' (as much as that can be on the internet) to hate this game, and therefore ignore its actual playing worth and historical significance.
Forget all that. Altered Beast is, was, and will forever be, the ****.
Altered Beast saw its arcade release somewhere around the first half of 1989, and its subsequent Genesis launch later that year. In a time where games were STILL struggling to be more than simple diversions (notable exceptions such as Castlevania notwithstanding), nothing like Altered Beast had ever been seen before. The graphics were stunning, the play mechanics were like none before, and the quarters required to play it were never in enough quantity. Put simply, Altered Beast was totally unheralded.
But time is a harsh mistress, no? In a day where games must have cut-scenes, professional voice acting, and orchestrated scores, gamers just don't seem impressed by Beast's solid (and still never duplicated) play mechanics, original (for a game, anyway) story, or business-only execution.
See, Altered Beast sets you up with its plot just fine- you're a dead mortal risen from the ashes by Zeus. It seems the goddess Athena has been kidnapped (yeah, even goddesses make easy targets) and only your un-decayed form can rescue her. The story then takes a back-burner role, as it is only progressed through some text/pictures between levels, and they aren't that impressive or interesting at all. What drives you forward is what drives all classics forward: sweet, buttery gameplay.
Now, do you think Zeus would command you to un-die and equip you properly for your mission? I would too, but this is videogame logic here... You start off an absolute wuss, but can collect blue orbs to make yourself a little more impactful. As you absorb their power, you begin to swell up and become more physically intimidating; collect three on any level, and you become....
...wait for it...
THE ALTERED BEAST!!! YES!!!
And this is where the fun takes off. When in human form, the game is a frill-less sidescrolling brawler. Punch enemies, kick enemies, throw in a jump or two, repeat. In the form of the Beast, however, you become a moving slaughter-house, and people start listening to what you say. Each Beast has a different set of powers and different patterns to exploit. There is one Beast per level, so the sad truth is, you can't pick your mutant Geranimal and carry him throughout the game.
All is not lost though! The designs for the game are generally excellent; the beasts are nothing unseen, but definitely fun to play. The bear, with stasis-causing breath, is just as fun as everyone's favorite mythological malcontent, the dragon. The enemies scattered among the levels are (mostly) unique to each area and among gaming itself. Not often you see rotting skeleton-corpses wearing orange capri pants, huh? Probably because you don't play enough Altered Beast! Boss confrontations are laden with the attention-grabbing originality that was required of a great brawler. A giant stone/flesh monster that throws replicas of heads, a plant-like beast whose fruit is eyeballs, and a floating, pulsating crocodile- these are still (perhaps reminiscently so) great designs and fun bosses to fight.
Beast's weaknesses do lie in its age, though. In its day, the amount of blatant revelation contained in the cart was about all it needed; thusly, the level count is really short. 5, to be exact, and if played correctly, they'll last you about five minutes apiece. While much attention was given to the strength of the namesake Beast mode, the humanoid form really, really suffers as far as fun is concerned. This is, however, an integral part of the game; you aren't supposed to want to be some puny-ass mortal, and gaining the were-animal status is not a difficult goal to achieve.
Yeah, Altered Beast is showing its age.
It was one of the first games of its kind, in an age where 16 Bit graphics were so new the horizon couldn't even be seen; if you're expecting Sonic 3 or Dracula X degree of quality, prepare for disappointment. Beast skirts by in the visuals- parallax is present (and almost unheralded at the time), but is limited to about three plains of motion. The sprites are fairly drawn, but the animation is about Master System quality. Levels are somewhat sparse and boring in design- point delivered? Beast is not a visual powerhouse; far from it. It is most aptly described as ''not irritating-looking.''
The sound is a turnaround, though. The music is a little simple but very memorable. It is moody and dark; it delivers on the slow, deliberate pace of the game and enhances the evil overtones of the enemy design. Altered Beast features voice sampling, a true rarity of its day, and this is captured laughably bad. The scratchiness is overwhelming, and the talent of the actors behind them is, at best, poor. One of gaming's most infamous quotes is sourced from Altered Beast; Zeus instructs you herein to ''WISE FWUM YO GAWAVE!!!,'' which summons you to the earthly plain, thus ''wisen'' from your ''gwave.''
Hilariously heinous voicework aside, Altered Beast is an absolute milestone. Today's saturation and well-masked shallowness has become so standard that truly important games are losing their proper place in gaming's history. Beast has, and most certainly had, all the earmarks of a classic, so much so that it puzzles me how it could go from its pedistal to gaming's sneer pile. But perhaps it's a matter of expectations.
If you expect CG, skip this game. If you expect great voice acting, or a great story, look elsewhere. If you want mini-games or 10-hit combos, Tekken is your game. If you expect anything but a 16-Bit brawler, you will be let down. But if you want the first (and first great) beat-'em-up for a 16 Bit console, look for the cart sitting very much out of place next to countless other bottom-feeders. Altered Beast is a dime a dozen and lacks the modern demand that the classic Mario and Sonic games still enjoy; ignore the baseless trash-talk and play a true classic.
Community review by ethereal (March 14, 2004)
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