You may recall Altered Beast with a sense of teary-eyed nostalgia or eye-rolling rage, depending on your experience with the game. Chances are, if you had a Sega Mega Drive, you probably had or played Altered Beast at least once (it did ship with the original console after all). However, herein lies the difficulty in writing an accurate review for the game. First, I look at Altered Beast with that teary-eyed nostalgia, as it is another one of those games that shaped my early childhood. However, secondly, looking at it from a modern viewpoint, it is pretty damn awful. Thirdly, I've never actually been able to finish this game, even now. I think I'm well versed enough with it though to be able to make a critique on it so here goes nothing.
For those who aren't fully aware of the origins of Altered Beast, it was originally an arcade game that got ported over to the Mega Drive and shipped with the console itself in the beginning. This is why it lingers in the memory of most Mega Drive owners. Including me. Playing the game again now was almost as nostalgic as playing Sonic. The music, the simplistic yet charming visuals, the difficulty of getting past that damn level 2 boss, the thrill of transforming into "the beast" at the end of each stage. Yes, these were all hallmarks of my younger days. Oh how times have changed. Is the game still playable? Yes, to an extent. I've played it many times since buying it, trying to finish the blasted thing, never quite getting there. It was common lore back in the day that the boss fight at the end of round 2 was nigh on impossible. Paying now in my twenties, I can get past him with relative ease every time. However, getting much further past him is an entirely different can of worms. Furthest I've reached is mid-way through round 4 (there are only 5 rounds in the game). But something about the title keeps pulling me back. Perhaps it's that nostalgic need to actually finish it all these years later.
So there is a sense of the "good ol' days" hanging over the game. But take a second to stand back and strap on your critiquing cap or helmet, and take a look at how limited this game really is. For starters the visuals and effects are pretty piss-poor. Compare the title to it's arcade predecessor for an indication at how much this title was hacked at presentation-wise for it's home console release. The backgrounds are flatter, the characters are blockier and the effects are far less detailed. Each stage does have it's own look and feel and in some cases, it's not terrible to look at (the round 1 graveyard or the round 4 palace for instance), yet some levels, like the round 3 caverns, are painstakingly dull to look at. Sound wise, there are a few tracks here that stick in my memory well, however, play the game a bit and you'll realize there are only about 3 or 4 tracks in the whole game. They just get reused every couple levels or so. This is pretty lazy quite honestly. The sound effects (how few there are in the game) aren't terrible, though the same can't be said for the dialogue. Who could forget starting the game to Zeus ordering you to "Rise from your gwave"? All it needs is a complimentary line of "welease wodger" and we're in farce territory (brownie points if you get that reference).
Gameplay wise, it doesn't get much simpler than this. Move right, killing things with occasionally unresponsive controls. Kill blue cow things to get orbs. Collect 3 to turn into your altered state in order to defeat the boss and progress. Why the evil villain waits around for you to reach the peak of your powers before fighting you is beyond me. Each level gives you a different state; a wolf, a dragon, a cuddle looking bear, a tiger, and a gold wolf (lazily its the same as the first wolf, just a different colour). If done right, you can reach these states pretty early in each level, reaching the boss rather quick. In fact if you play the game well, you can probably finish the 5 levels in around 15-20 minutes. You'd think playing with a friend in co-op would make the game easier. However it only lengthens the experience as both players fight for orbs and get in each others way. You could probably excuse the game if there was health or power-ups to pick up on the way but no. There's nothing. You're given 2 lives to begin with, and must keep them throughout the game...
In the end, Altered Beast is a pretty bad, lazily ported game, that only holds value if it belongs in your childhood game collection. Me? I'll keep playing it in a desperate attempt to finally finish what I started 20 years ago. As soon as I finish that last level and complete the story (wait, there's a story?), I'll place it in a pile and never speak of it again....until the next time I'm in need of a nostalgia boost.
VERDICT - 6 out of 10 read