Back when the Sega Genesis first launched, Sonic the Hedgehog was still a few years off. Without the Blue Blur telling people to “Go Fast”, the system was marketed more for its arcade ports. Arcade ports like the original pack in game with the system, Altered Beast. A side scrolling beat ’em up game where you play as a shape shifting Centurion warrior resurrected from the grave by the god Zeus to rescue his daughter Athena from the Demon god Neff!
If you’ve been following me closely, you might already know that I grew up on the Genesis side of the Console wars back in the day. “Back in the day”? I’m getting old. Anyway, back then, Altered Beast blew away my tiny little mind. Making that jump the 8-Bit Nintendo to the 16-bit Genesis was like night and day. The huge sprites, the music, the action, “Sega does what Nintendon’t”! I loved this game back then, but how does it hold up now?
“Rise from your grave!” Hear the immortal words of Zeus as he resurrects your character from the grave. This was the first snippet of videogame voice acting I ever heard and it made me so excited just to play the game. Even now it fills me with an amazing nostalgia. For the time, it is actually quite impressive. The game plays out in typical Beat ‘em up style. Enemies will come at you from either side of the screen and you need to punch and kick them to death. What’s slightly unusual is that the screen will auto scroll to the right for the whole game, forcing you to keep up with it as it moves along.
There aren’t any collectables or weapons or anything like that to pick up in this game with the exception of a single power up. Every so often, a small pack of three headed wolves will run across the screen. If you manage to kill the blue one, it will release a spirit ball which will make you stronger. Grab it quickly or it will float away off the screen.
The first and second spirit balls boost your power and increase your muscle mass to monstrous size. Your punches and kicks are noticeably stronger, and there’s even a glow of energy whenever you attack. The real fun however doesn’t start until you collect your 3rd spirit ball.
After collecting the 3rd spirit ball, you will be transformed into a half man half beast of amazing, near invincible power. Each stage has a different beast transformation starting with the Werewolf. As a Werewolf you can now shoot fireballs from your hand, or even better perform a flame streak where you rush across the screen killing everything you touch. With your new found power, you’ll mow down the enemies like they aren’t even there.
Those look like heads to me, but according to the manual they’re actually “Beads”
Soon you’ll be confronted by Neff who will then transform into the boss monster Aggar. This giant monster can spawn an infinite number of heads which it will rip off and throw at you. It’s gruesome, but amazing and the sprite was huge for the time. Just keep using the flame streak attack and you’ll soon defeat him.
Just as quickly as you’ve won you feel cheated as Neff saps away your power, returning you to the weak human you once were. But the battle is won, and you continue on to the next stage. While the game doesn’t exactly contain a narrative, there are these images shown between each stage depicting…something. I’ll be honest, I never fully understood what I was looking at as a kid, and I still don’t fully understand these images now.
Death Count: 1
The action continues in the dark cave as we venture ever closer to the underworld. While I love the atmosphere of this level, it also introduces some of the most annoying enemies in the game. I absolutely hate the round leeches in this level. These purple little bastards will jump high into the air and engulf your whole head, sapping away your energy as well as paralyzing you until you knock it off. The other annoying enemy is the chicken stinger. They’re not quite as annoying as the round leeches by design, more by oversight. They attack quickly, and due to the game not giving you ANY kind of temporary invincibility after a hit, this little bastard can easily kill you while you flail in frustration against an otherwise forgettable enemy.
The game makes up for these annoyances by letting you transform into a FREAKING DRAGON! As a dragon, you can now fly around the screen shooting lightning at anything that comes near you. Not just that, but you can encase your body in an electrical field which will kill all enemies on contact. Those bastard round leeches don’t stand a chance anymore!
Death Count: 4
Now, if you through Aggar was gross throwing heads at you, just wait until you have to face Octeyes! This plant like beast has the nerve to throw dozens of giant floating eyeballs at you. They’re very slow moving, and kind of bob in the air, more like a bubble than a projectile, making them easy to avoid or attack. Protect yourself with your electrical field, and these eyes will be popped in no time.
Heading onward into the mountain cave, a new obstacle presents itself in the form of several bottomless pits. Not only does this lend an element of platforming to this level, it also means enemies are more likely to get the drop on you from the higher platforms. Be on your guard, or the blue wolf might just jump right over you in this level.
Death Count: 7
Manage to gather 3 spirit balls and this round you’ll be transformed into a Werebear. As a Werebear, you have the amazing ability of stinky bear breath so bad your enemies literally turn to stone. You are also now master of the aerial body spin attack which will destroy all who come in contact with you. Considering this predates Sonic by a few years, I almost wonder if it inspired Sonics’ attacks a little.
Inevitably, you’ll come face to face with the Moldy Snail, a giant half snail half salamander. Why the “Moldy” snail instead of literally anything else, maybe something related to his salamander half? Your guess is as good as mine. What does he do? Again, I have no idea. After jumping into his shell and scrambling up his insides with the spin attack, he’s usually dead before he even knows what happened.
Talk about a strong left hook
Death Count: 13
We’ve arrived at the gates of the underworld, but passing through will be possible the hardest of all the challenges. This stage felt short even in comparison to the other already very short stages. That just means the enemies are going to be coming faster and hitting harder than ever before.
Death Count: 18
It also means you’ll have to be on the top of your game if you want to transform into the Weretiger. It’s very similar to the werewolf from the first level. The differences are that the fireball bobs up and down as it travels. Also instead of the rush style flame streak, you instead have a “pillar of fire” vertical attack.
This is the face of true evil!!!
Death Count: 31
It may not be the final boss, but in my opinion the Crocodile Worm is the hardest of all the bosses, even harder than the final boss. That’s because it’s the only one that does touch damage when doing your special attack. You can’t just attack like crazy like with the other bosses, you actually have to time and aim your attacks to simply graze him instead. He’s not going to make that easy either. When he’s not blasting fire across the screen, he’s making small fire dragons to chase you down. Once you get a good rhythm going, he’ll go down just like the others.
Death Count: 34
Welcome to the underworld, home of new fast hitting enemies like the Gory Goat and Dark Unicorn. They both have great speed and reach, making them rather difficult to deal with. They really make this feel worthy of the final stage. What’s not quite as worthy is the fact that your final transformation is the same as your first. Was it really so much to ask for them to not repeat the same transformations? There are only 5 levels, they could have thought of SOMETHING else for the final stage.
Neff finally shows his true form this time around as he transform into a Wererhino. His attacks are very patterned. All he does is charge back and forth across the screen. Meet him head on with the golden arrow rush attack and you’ll show him what happens when you kidnap the daughter of Zeus!
With Neff defeated, Athena is safe at last. I hear the arcade version shows the characters removing their costumes, revealing the whole game to have been simply a stage performance. Sadly, there is no such wrap up in the Genesis version. You win, the end.
The only kind of fun thing left for you after your victory is the fact that you still control your character during the credits and can have some fun attacking them.
Gameplay – 7 / 10
The controls are simple enough for a beat ’em up game. Everything is really tight and responsive. The one fault is the lack of any temporary immunity after taking a hit. There were several times when a weak enemy hit me and just kept hitting me until I died. That’s really the only thing I can think of that annoyed me, but it was so annoying it brought the score down quite a bit.
Graphics – 10 / 10
The sprites are huge, especially the bosses. Add in the parallax scrolling with the background and the graphics can’t get much better for the time. The transformation sequences in particular have always been impressive for the generation, and they’re still amazing even now. Really there’s nothing I can think of graphically to fault. Everything was amazing.
Audio – 10 / 10
The audio has always been one of my favorite parts of the game. Voice acting has become so common place now that it’s hard to even remember a time when those “Rise from your grave” and “Welcome to your doom” sound bites were mind blowing. I still get chills hearing them now. Then the music is so unique. It manages to fit the action of a beat ‘em up while still maintaining a gothic pipe organ sound. Then when you transform the music picks up to an amazing new faster pace soundtrack. Again, I can’t think of anything to fault with the audio.
Story – 4 / 10
The story as described in the manual is somewhere between good and average. But I dropped the score mostly because none of the story is really shown in game. There are those pictures between stages that I guess show something story related. But even now I can’t really tell what the hell is going on in them. But it’s not really that important for there not to be a strong in a beat em up, so it doesn’t really matter.
Total Playtime – 0h 46m
It’s an arcade port, so the short game length is somewhat understandable. But even for an arcade port it’s kind of a short game, especially considering it would be even shorter if I was a better player. But it’s a fun game every time I play it, so it does have pretty good replay value.
Total Deaths – 34 Deaths
The 4th stage boss took me forever to find a good plan of attack. 24 of those deaths were from that damn Crocodile Worm. Luckily, when you die and get a game over you can hold down the A button while hitting start on the menu screen to start at the level you left off on. I so wish I knew about that back when I was younger. It’s not like it’s a secret either, it’s right there in the manual if you ever bother to read it.
Overall Score – 8 / 10
I’m probably adding a point or two simply for nostalgia, but I’ve always loved this game, and I still love it now. The graphics and music really hold this one together, but that invincible feeling you get after transforming is what keeps you playing. Sure it’s a short game and it’s clearly lacking in story, but if you’re playing a beat ‘em up for the story, you need to reevaluate your life choices. In the end it’s a fun arcade style game that you’ll be sure to come back to.
you will haunt my dreams you floating bastard!
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