Altered Beast (Sega, 1988)
“RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE.”
Any hardcore classic gaming fan can source that quote. It's from one of the most ridiculous (and fun) sides-scrolling beat em ups in history.
Altered Beast was released as an arcade game in August of 1988 by Sega. It was very popular both in Japan and abroad, and was ported to several home computers and consoles. Most of you (like me) are probably the most familiar with the Sega Genesis version. Prior to the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, it was Altered Beast that came as the console's pack-in game. The title was also ported to the Famicom (Japan's version of the NES), the ZX Spectrum, the Sega Master System, and even to DOS.
Altered Beast chronicles the quest of a centurion resurrected by Zeus to rescue Athena from the underworld. Nitpicking and historical/cultural details aside, Zeus grants the centurion the power to transform into various beast-man hybrids to battle the demon god Neff. You see, Neff has kidnapped Athena (who, if you're familiar with Greco-Roman myth, is no soft target) in order to... I guess, turn her into a giant bird? That's what the cut scenes lead me to believe.
Great plan, Neff.
When you're in human form, you're armed only with your fists and feet, but you get access to these fantastic powers by kicking in the faces of leaping two-headed wolf creatures. They look kind of like wolf/goats in the Genesis version. The normal ones give you nothing, but the whitish-blue ones turn into whirling balls of energy. The first two you pick up just make you beefier by degrees, first buff and then cartoonishly buff. The third orb initiates motherf*cking beast mode. Then it's on.
The form you take depends on the level you're on, and each of them have slightly different powers. The first and last levels have you turning into a werewolf, but you're no ordinary werewolf; you throw fireballs and hurl your energy-charged body like an arrow at enemies. My favorite has always been the bear in stage 3, who really takes the cake as the least threatening... but has breath that petrifies enemies. Some of the port versions have different forms for some levels, like the Famicom version's lion and shark.
Left to right: unleashing your roid rage on some unsuspecting undead; the boss I like to call Bath Time Sally; Neff's rhino form; the first level boss who never runs out of heads; and the Lord of the Unicorn Dance in his dainty shoes. Click on an image to view a higher res version.
The enemies you fight vary from level to level as you descend into the underworld after Athena and Neff. There are a great many undead creatures, especially in the first level. There are also giant ants, unicorn men, and all kinds of winged baddies. Some of the enemies bust apart violently when you beat them, but the effect is way more comical than gory. The levels will continue on and on until you've powered all the way up, so get those orbs as fast as you can. Once you've taken beast form, Neff shows up to taunt you for a few moments before taking some ghastly shape to try and kill you off. In the final level he takes his meanest form, that of a rhino man. Once you've finished him off, Athena flies out, turns back into... well, not a bird, and you're treated to an ending sequence that reveals the whole thing as a movie shoot. That's a wrap, I guess.
The game's graphics are very good, at least in the arcade and Genesis versions. Obviously, they had to scale it all down for ports to lower-bit systems. The sound is also strong; Zeus's digitized voice loses a bit of realism in the Genesis port, but the fighting sounds are bone-crushingly real. The music doesn't have a lot to it, but it sounds great and it's appropriately “grand” for something set in an ancient time period.
The game never spawned a franchise like so many of its era, but Altered Beast itself remains a valued classic. It's been made available via download for the Wii U, PS Network, and for the newer Xbox consoles. It was even released in 2010 for iPhones and iPads.
I give Altered Beast 7/10. My strikes against it are that is two-player mode isn't that fun, and that it's a little monotonous once you've gotten through it halfway. However, its concept is killer, its graphics and sound are great, and one cannot deny that it was a great success for Sega.