Even to this day, some twenty five years after its arcade debut, many gamers hold SEGA’s Altered Beast in very high regard. It’s seen as a videogame that went places where others wouldn’t. Adult themes, horrific enemies and brutal combat all rendered in such vibrant detail unlike anything that had gone before it. Sadly, the last two-and-a-half decades have not been kind to Altered Beast, nor in fact were the three years that followed it.
Altered Beast was a videogame that capitalised on new technology in the exact same fashion that modern console launch titles do: it took what had gone before and painted over the cracks. Nothing more, nothing less. As a scrolling beat-‘em-up Altered Beast caused a stir by allowing a second player to join in the action, working through the levels of preset enemy patterns together as you try to avoid getting hit and search for the blue wolves that would drop power-ups. Each player had three stages to power-up with their attack power becoming significantly increased at each, and the final being the transformation from where the videogame takes its title. Five transformations are included in the videogame, with a different beast for each of the five levels.
Altered Beast has seen many versions of the original arcade videogame released, but here in this Mega-Drive version there’s two noteworthy points that make the port stand out from the rest. Firstly, the original arcade speech samples made it from the arcade build to the cartridge with minimal loss in quality – a feat that even the Game Boy Advance struggled to emulate despite offering an enhanced version of the videogame – and secondly, while arguably lumbered with lower quality sprites, Altered Beast on the Mega-Drive added parallax scrolling to it’s backgrounds, giving an impression of depth unlike anything seen before.
Sadly, this technical prowess would not keep Altered Beast in the limelight for long. Just two years later (a year in Japan) Golden Axe arrived to revolutionise the genre. Featuring the depth of Double Dragon and the visual quality of Final Fight along with a much deeper combat system and the same adult themes, Golden Axe simply improved on every aspect of Altered Beast exponentially. Of course, as the years passed by Golden Axe got its sequels and SEGA birthed the classic Streets of Rage franchise. The rest, as they say, is history.
Despite Altered Beast’s continued popularity it’s hard to suggest the videogame is worth anything more than a brief, light-hearted nostalgia trip. The gameplay is far too archaic to be fun for more than a few minutes, with better examples of the genre available on every format that plays host to Altered Beast. It’s a relic of a bygone era, and one which is best kept behind those rose tinted glasses of your mind’s eye.
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