20 years ago, Altered Beast was one of the first games I played on my brand spankin’ new Sega Genesis. Playing the emulated version on my iPod Touch brings back fond memories of my 16 bit gaming days, which are probably among my favorite as far as consoles are concerned. It’s also a great reminder of how it takes something special to stand the test of time. Honestly, I’m not sure that Altered Beast has that something special. I’m quite enjoying the game as it’s a part of my gaming past, but I’m not sure how well modern gamers will take to the limited control scheme and basic game play.
Athena has been captured by the god of the Underworld, and Zeus raises you from the dead to save her. A bit odd, as you’d think the leader of the Greek gods wouldn’t have to resort to undead minions to do his bidding, but whatever. There are 5 levels to the game, each filled with a bunch of creepy crawlies and a boss at the end. For the most part beating the levels is a matter of memorizing when the bad guys come in, or at least becoming reasonably familiar with their patterns. The bosses aren’t terribly difficult either once you figure out their patterns / weaknesses, though it doesn’t help that by the time you fight each boss you’ll be fully transformed.
The transformation aspect of the game is its big selling point. You start off as a guy that looks like he should be able to knock heads and take names, but the reality is that his wimpy girl kick is actually more powerful than his punch at first. When you kill grey wolves and collect the orbs they leave behind you’ll go through three steps of transformation, the final one resulting in you being some really cool creature that you should have been able to use all along. Your transformed persona can still be hurt, but it can also do some major damage. Sadly, after you’ve beaten the boss on a given level the orbs get sucked right out of you and you go back to being just another walking dead guy.
To control your character you can use a virtual d-pad or the accelerometer to move, and buttons to kick, punch and jump. The accelerometer is configurable, yet I could never seem to find a “neutral” position that made it very usable. The d-pad is actually pretty responsive, so I chose to stick with that. I never really had an issue with the buttons either. Overall, I found this game to be much more responsive and not nearly as laggy as either Streets Of Rage or Golden Axe (two more of my favorite Genesis games, by the way). The game supports two player mode, but this feature is only available over Bluetooth, so I wasn’t able to try it out. That’s too bad, because this might be kind of fun with a friend – or at least with another human participant.
Even after all these years, the visuals aren’t all that bad. There’s some decent character design, and the transformed states are cool (you can’t really go wrong with werewolves, dragons and bears, though). The animation isn’t too shabby either, and there are some cool special effects. Altered Beast is a nice testament to what skilled game artists have always been capable of, even on less supportive hardware.
The sound effects, on the other hand, aren’t that great. They can even get a bit annoying, especially when it comes to the pitchy whines of the dragon’s powers. Thankfully the music is a different story. It’s not Final Fantasy score, but it gets the job done and even sounds pretty good despite its 16 bit origins. I wouldn’t rush out to buy the soundtrack or anything, but it’s certainly enjoyable to listen to while playing the game.
I don’t want to give you any false hopes. This is not a great game, especially if you judge it by today’s standards. It’s not a terrible game either, but it’s very basic in premise and execution. It’s mainly going to appeal to those who have already experienced the game in its true form, or to those who have an insatiable curiosity towards the history of gaming. That being said, because I did play this game when it first came out, I’m rather enjoying this walk down memory lane. I hope SEGA continues to bring us these nostalgic reminders of why the 16 bit era was the golden age of gaming.
Overall Score: 7.5/10
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