Thursday, 31 October 2013

Scrolling Fighting Games #11

Altered Beast (1988)
By: Sega Genre: Fighting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 231,110 (one credit)
Also Available For: MegaDrive, Master System, PC Engine, PC Engine CD, NES, Amiga, Atari ST, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

Well, it's certainly an attention-grabbing title screen...
It may be best known as the first pack-in game Sega's MegaDrive received upon release and thus represented the first, and in many cases only experience that most gamers had with Altered Beast, but I had actually played it before. I speak, of course, of the slightly reasonable conversion the Master System received which, as one of only three games I had for the first few months of console ownership, got a fair amount of attention. I also later had the pleasure of the MD version, of course, like most early owners of Sega 16-bit monster, which did a fairly poor job of showing off the system's power. I had, however, never played the arcade original. I don't believe I even saw it anywhere, for that matter. So, if I'm going to revisit this oft-maligned game, which apparently I am, I guess that makes it the ideal version to check out. So I will.

Kick him in the knee and... his head explodes...
For the story we look back to the days of hallowed antiquity, in particular Ancient Greece, where Zeus is apparently a little miffed that his daughter, Athena, has been grabbed by the ghastly Neff, a Demon God from the Underworld. However, it seems Zeus is either incapable of rescuing her himself or just can't be arsed, and his realm also appears to be bereft of any suitably brave warriors that are currently... well, alive; so instead he raises a Roman centurion from the dead and commands him to pursue and destroy Neff and rescue the fair maiden, Athena (presumably without trying it on with her). He doesn't even get a chance for a long-overdue dinner either - he's put straight to work in the very graveyard from whence he came which forms the first of five scrolling stages.

Octeyes, the boss of the second stage...
Immediately advancing upon our centurion's position (we'll call him Dave for review purposes) are various scary enemies, most of whom are in an even greater state of decomposition than he is. They include two types of zombie, two types of demon (one bipedal head-carrying example, the other a winged dragon-like oaf), and two types of wolf - brown or silver. Dave can launch either a punch or kick in their foul direction while standing, squatting, or jumping. Most beasties initially take more than one hit but smacking a silver wolf will reveal a floaty orb or 'spirit ball' and collecting this will power Dave up. The first one removes his pink shirt and adds a white flamey thing to his attacks which make them more powerful. Collecting another bulks him up like a juiced up WWE 'wrestler', but collecting a third orb is when things get interesting.

How is the middle of those two flat rocks staying up?
This final power-up not only pumps up the power-level again but also transforms Dave into a snarling red werewolf! His new hairy form allows him to launch fireballs and even fly across the screen behind a fiery, enemy-smashing shield and it is only then that Neff, who pops up periodically, shrouded in sparkly (and impenetrable) lightning, will bubble and grow into the first of the horrifying boss forms he takes - a large red creature who throws his constantly-regrowing heads at you! Vanquish this cursed abomination and it will turn back into Neff, strip you of your balls (the spirit ones, not the... others) and disappear through a hole in the ground - a hole Dave then follows him down into. This leads to the Underworld where Dave will encounter head-sucking leeches, dragons, and chicken stingers before (hopefully) transforming into a lightning-powered weredragon so he can fight Octeyes, a weird poisonous eyeball-spewing plant.

Grrr, snarl, destroy, etc...
Then it's down again to the Cavern of Souls which features giant insects, tortoise/snail things, and lots of the yellow demons from the first stage. Last long enough here and Dave will become a werebear who can bounce around in an indestructible ball and breath foul fumes that turn enemies into stone - skills that are a must for fighting the Mouldy Snail. After this it's on to Neff's Palace where the only new enemy is the idiotic hammer dude to the right here. This stage culminates in a battle with the Crocodile Worm, a floating, fire-belching creature which the weretiger should make short work of with his wibbly fireballs and vertical shield-dash. Beat this oddity and it's down to the final stage, The City of Dis, which looks cheerier than I would've thought the depths of hell would. The enemies are by far the toughest here though, and include boxing goats, ninja unicorns, whirly blade creatures, and finally Neff's ultimate form - a charging rhino!

Neff taunts Dave with his Force Lightning...
However, I can't imagine too many players have reached this point. There are several reasons for this and, while it can certainly be a tough game at times, the main reason is simply that you won't want to. The graphics aren't too bad for their day, featuring very different backdrops for each stage, fairly detailed (and occasionally gruesome) sprites, superb bosses (well, most of them, especially the famous monstrosity on the first stage), and a nice 'transformation' sequence (something so special it gets its own cut-away screen!), although the animation isn't too good and the game is running on Sega's System 16 board which means the colours look a little washed out. The music is quite good too. There's a slow but atmospheric tune for each stage which is replaced by a louder and more upbeat example once you've transformed and this tune is splendid. These aesthetics, whilst unspectacular for a majority of the game, are not the problem though.

Not a time to lose one's head (chortle)...
There are two things I had trouble with - firstly, the number of offensive moves is woeful (punch and kick - that's it). It doesn't help that the game is viewed from directly side-on rather than from an angled overhead perspective as with most games of the type, but there are three buttons used so surely a few more moves could've been incorporated? On top of that, the punch is pretty much useless too - it does nothing that the kick doesn't but it has a shorter reach so you'll just end up walking through the stages repeatedly kicking over and over and over again. The second (and worse) problem is the sluggish controls which makes fending off groups of enemies unnecessarily troublesome. Dave has an energy meter and can take a few hits before losing a life but each time he does take damage he gets shunted backwards. If this happens with enemies on both sides it can often result in Dave getting knocked back and forth until a life is lost.

The werewolf returns on the final stage - hadoken!
The sluggishness largely disappears when you're in 'beast' form so I can only assume it was done on purpose for the rest of the time to heighten the effect of 'becoming'. The trouble with that, though, is that you'll spend most of your time in human form, and no doubt much of that shouting at the screen as you get bounced around by idiotic zombies. If you do manage to endure the poor responsiveness of the controls you'll also find that the game is pretty short too - if you grab the orbs each time they appear (and there's a substantially larger bonus for doing so), the game will last little more than 15 minutes. If you miss one the stage will continue on for a while but does eventually loop back to the start so you won't be missing too much by hastening the completion of the stage. Overall, Altered Beast was pretty much just a novelty game. The concept is a good one but so much more could've been done with it - new enemies and otherwise unreachable areas for 'beast time', for example, would've been great. As it is, it might be worth playing through once but I'd be surprised if you wanted to play it again after that.

RKS Score: 5/10


  1. Oh hell yes! Sega classic (and Amiga), loved the idea behind this and at the time it was tops although its dated badly. Gotta be honest even back then the graphics weren't all that stunning but it had that lovely arcade cabinet game feel to it, typical arcade Sega style visuals, which made you feel like you playing an arcade machine in your own home...kinda.

  2. Yeah, it's a great idea but it wasn't executed very well in my opinion. I played the game a lot on my Master System simply because I didn't have much choice, but I never thought it was the greatest game :P