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Altered Beast Review

Developer: Sega Publisher: Tonka
Release Date: 1988 Also On: None

Altered Beast, the arcade legend; I remember playing this beauty in the arcades when I was six. It was totally incredible for its time. Of course, it was eventually ported for home systems and led the Genesis to the forefront when it was first released. It was, however, also released for the Master System at the same time.

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For those of you familiar with my reviews at this point, I’m not going to introduce this with my typical “arcade port” diatribe. Instead, let me state two simple points and further these using this game as an example. One, never, ever make an attempt at a direct port if the system does not have the capabilities to make it moderately close to the original; tragedy can only result. Two, if you do decide to uptake an arcade port, make an attempt at creating something different that would make one want to play the home version over the original. Now then, allow me to explain why.

Sega really made an effort to make this as close to the original as possible. That’s the main problem. They used as much of the power of the SMS as they could to almost get the arcade out of it, but it just doesn’t work. Due to this, a number of details are missing including an entire level. The sprites move horribly and nearly reach the point of completely glitching. I’ll give them a bit of credit for that, but not much because it still plays bad because of this. The colors are pretty close to the arcade but they just don’t cut it. You can’t just sort-of approach the original in terms of graphics, you have to be very close or very different. There’s no middle ground.

Though credit is due for the effort, it just looks awful in the end due to the skipping nature of the characters and numerous instances where objects, backgrounds, bosses and so forth have been scaled down to meet the Master System’s capabilities. I believe the only redeeming features I noticed were the title screen, the transformation screens, which are still awkward but at least look better than everything else, and a few character designs.

Stress on the few because even when it looks promising something happens to ruin the effect. Perfect example is the end of level animations. Neff’s head floats up out of the ground, but he doesn’t draw your energy as on the Genesis or in the arcade, his head just floats there, and disappears, leaving you to stand there in full transformation while the screen skips and you’re suddenly a skinny chap once again. They didn’t even fade out to suggest this.

The sound is no better. With the SMS’ poor sound chip, you just don’t get the same epic feel that you do with the original, or with the Genesis version, for that matter. The music is terrible. The digitized voices are actually decent, but hearing them amongst everything else makes one assume they spent the entire programming budget on them alone, and they’re not even all there. Or, at least the ones you want to hear aren’t there. If anything, they should have just kept the legendary “rise from your grave” at the start and forgot the rest. At least they kept the roaring of the beasts. Too bad it’s the same sound over and over for each creature.

Altered Beast is a simple concept, you walk around punching and kicking creatures, collect power orbs, transform and then take on the level boss. You can’t reach them unless you’ve transformed. However, you only need two orbs to do it, not three. This may not sound like much, but there was always something about going from the skinny lad to the ripped lad to the absolutely huge freak and then to the were-creature. Really annoyed me they took out one step. It couldn’t have taken that much memory to do it.

Due to the odd movements of the characters, this game is almost difficult because of it. However, if it weren’t for this, you’d find the difficulty has pretty much been stripped down to nothing. Throw in creatures that seem easier than they should be, pathetic bosses and infinite continues and you’ve got nothing. Why did they even bother giving you lives? It would have made more sense to just provide infinite lives. The continue feature itself is odd, it’s almost a “secret” of sorts because you don’t see a continue feature after the “Game Over” appears, but in the manual it tells you how to do it. Why?

The controls aren’t too bad, except for the fact that you have to press both Buttons 1 and 2 in order to jump, making attacking and jumping at the same time difficult. Doesn’t really matter though, since it’s missing the only level where you actually had to jump so you won’t need to do it at all really. All in all the gameplay is terrible. It’s way too easy and poorly programmed. If it at least had all the levels I may have scored higher, I always liked that were-bear transformation.

As usual, I don’t score an arcade port high for creativity unless it can do one of two things. One, it either must nearly approximate the original, or two, it uses the ideas of the original to make something entirely new while following the game mechanics in the arcade. Numerous games have been made like this, and they succeeded very well. The Castlevania series is a good example, as well as the Wonderboy series for the Master System. Altered Beast completely fails. It lacks numerous features that made the arcade game so interesting, stripping it down to almost nothing. So I strip the score down to almost nothing. Nah, screw it, all the way to zero.

I’m really not going to come back to this game. It’s just awful. There’s no two-player feature to speak of and playing it alone is pure depression. Have some Lexapro handy should you choose to brave this one, because it’s just not worth it. It doesn’t even suck in a good way, it just sucks.

In conclusion there is really only one thing to say. Don’t play this game. If you really want to play Altered Beast you have two options that are much better. One, should you get lucky, pop in a quarter or few and play the original if you see it around. Two, buy it for the Genesis/Mega Drive for a couple of dollars. That version is much closer and by far much better. The fact that Sega decided to release the same game at the same time for both systems is totally ridiculous. They had a converter to play SMS games on the 16-bit unit and a better version of this title for it. I have no clue how many sorry children had this forced upon them by parents who refused to upgrade, but hopefully the numbers were small. Based on the current rate of depression and anxiety in this country, it’s still up for debate.

Graphics: 2
Sound: 0.5
Gameplay: 1.5
Creativity: 0
Replay Value/Game Length: 1
Final: 1
Written by Stan Review Guide