I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most people think the Genesis launched with Sonic the Hedgehog. Sega’s mascot completely redefined that platform and it’s hard to imagine life without him. But the reality is Sonic didn’t show up until 1991, 2-3 years after the system had been on the market. Instead we were all forced to suffer through Altered Beast as the pack in game.
Altered Beast was first released in the arcades in 1988 and the following year for the Sega Genesis as the pack in title. Although created by Sega it has the distinction of being whored out to nearly every platform with a screen, from the master system, the commodore 64, and even the Famicom. Seriously were they really so hard up for money that they helped out the competition? Anyway what little plot there is in the game casts you as a fallen warrior resurrected by Zeus to save Athena from the demon Neff. 1 or 2 player coop is available as you smash your way through the underworld to fulfill your duty.
Across 5 levels you battle the denizens of the underworld. A small assortment of enemies make up the opposition with your only means of attack being your fists and feet. That is until you collect spirit orbs dropped by blue oxen. These orbs buff your character, increasing your attack power. Collecting three will transform you into that level’s designated Werebeast. The five different beasts you change into possess their own unique powers that make the already weak enemies trivial as the action ratchets up. Until you reach the bosses there is very little chance of dying. Here your powers are crucial to defeating whatever form Neff morphs into. You’ll have to reach the boss in Were form; running into Neff without full powerups causes the level to loop infinitely to give you another opportunity to transform.
This was all mind-blowing back in the late 80s for those of us raised on a steady diet of 8-bit games. But even back then it didn’t take long to realize how subpar the game is. The game is criminally short and can be beaten in as little as 20 minutes. The levels serve as little more than an appetizer for the bosses and will piss you off with their cheapness. The hit detection is spotty with your attacks missing demons that are right in front of you, I mean practically between your legs. This extends to the bosses as well, with miniscule hit boxes despite their size. Enemies swarm like killer bees and it’s easy to find yourself with little to no health in seconds because of one slip up. There are no health powerups so there is no way to heal the retarded amounts of damage inflicted upon you. These are all relics of the game’s arcade heritage but should have been excised for the home version, not that it would have made much difference.
The Genesis version of the game is not arcade perfect but is perfectly serviceable considering when it was released. Aside from some minor loss of color and detail the graphics are the same. What didn’t make the transition intact was the digitized speech from the arcade. This was always a problem with Genesis games and here it produces hilarious results, with the opening “Rise from your grave” sounding more like Elmer Fudd, “Wise fwom your gwave!” That didn’t stop our 9 year old minds from going ape shit when hearing it though. Ah youth.
Time was not kind to this game as it was quickly eclipsed not long after release. They made the right decision packing it in as I feel it wouldn’t fare that well at retail. This remains nothing more than a relic of its time.
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