There’s no two ways about it: Altered Beast is a terrible game. Even here, in a perfect conversion of the arcade original, it’s so horrendously stodgy and repetitive that it makes you wonder quite why anyone holds it in the slightest bit of regard.
For those lucky few amongst you yet to engage in a little beast altering, the game is a side-scrolling combination of platform and fighting, as you control a resurrected hero who powers up whenever he consumes the glowing orbs left behind by defeating certain enemies. When you collect three orbs, you transform into a deadly creature ranging from a bear to a dragon, depending on which level you’re playing. This is where the game actually becomes vaguely enjoyable, to such an extent it’s enough to make you wonder quite why Sega didn’t just make a full game based on the beast parts.
The major problem with Altered Beast is that it’s so damned repetitive. With only punch, kick and jump buttons it’s a matter of walking up to an enemy, tapping the buttons until they die and walking to the next enemy to repeat the same steps. If you fail to collect enough of the required power-up items, the level will extend, prolonging the agony still further. Once you’ve made the change, you can face the game’s boss at the end of the section – the game wants you to work hard to collect the orbs, then rob you of them at the first available opportunity.
Even the beast play gets horribly repetitive, though. In fact, despite the game’s short size at just five stages, the first and last beasts are almost identical, resulting in still more repetition. At least the bosses are reasonably varied, with huge eyeball-spitting watermelon creatures and head-slinging mudmen, although they can all be defeated reasonably easily with your beast’s projectile attack.
At least the game has a decent level of variety in its graphics and sound, with levels based on crumbling ruins, muddy caves and swamplands, and some reasonably pleasing tunes tinkling away in the background. Of course, the most famous aspect of Altered Beast – the digitised speech – is here in its original form, and sounds much better than its Mega Drive equivalent, although you’ll still say find yourself saying “wise fwom your gwave!” every time you play. Old habits die hard.
If you’re finding the game a little too straightforward – and chances are, you will – you can at least tweak it with a reasonable set of options, including health stock, rapid fire and even giving yourself as many as 240 lives, if you’re a real sadist. Bizarrely, the rapid fire is automatically set at the highest level, so you can’t blitz through the game with punch held down, but you can make the game more challenging by using the hard or very hard modes.
On the whole, Altered Beast is a lame dog that should just be left to die. It hasn’t aged well at all, with horribly shallow gameplay that pales in comparison to Sega’s other classic 2D scrollers such as Shinobi, Golden Axe or Streets of Rage. Even the most hardcore of Sega fans will find it difficult to find much enjoyable in this two-dimensional slog.