Sega’s Altered Beast was released in the arcades back in 1988 and I can still remember the somewhat frightening vocal samples “Rise from your grave!” and “Welcome to your doom!” very clearly in my young mind. It was a challenging game to say the least at a time when arcade games were built to not only be fun and entertaining, but to also suck as many of your parents’ and grandparents’ quarters away as you played – which is why most of my time with Altered Beast was spent playing the Sega Genesis version which was equal in difficulty only you had the options to adjust the difficulty level in a few ways and even use cheat codes and as an added bonus, you didn’t have to spend quarter after quarter pushing through the game.
Released with the Sega Genesis when it arrived in the US back around 1990, Altered Beast did a great job of bringing arcade quality action and graphics home to the consoles and even the rather stiff controls made their way over also. The sound samples were in (although not quite as well as the arcade could handle, understandably), the large characters were there, and even the big bosses you would face at the end of each level were intact. Altered Beast in any form is a rather short yet challenging game by default with only 5 levels to clear but offering a nice variety in terms of levels and beasts you could morph into.
If you are unfamiliar with Altered Beast, the game features you as the protagonist, a Roman centurion brought back to life by the almighty Zeus in efforts to rescue his daughter Athena from the Demon God Neff. Along the way, you are granted the ability to collect orbs that will transform your puny man self into 3 other levels of greatness up to the final form which gives you overpowering abilities including fireballs, shock attacks, and a rather strange rolling attack that works to some degree although I found it to be my least favorite.
You begin the game in the Roman graveyard, rising from your grave along with the trademark vocal sample “Rise from your grave!” that might even be playing in your head right now as you read this. Moving from left to right in traditional beat ‘em up style, you punch, kick, jump, and even jump kick and duck kick your way through the 5 distinct levels fighting zombies, wolves, ant-like creatures with interesting appendages, annoying blobs, snakes, winged demons, purple unicorn dudes, and eventually bosses for each level. These bosses for the most part resemble ones you might find in R-Type or Gradius-esque, side shooter games where they are on the right side of the screen often times just lobbing stuff at you to avoid while you pummel them or use your beastly magic against them. The final boss differs in this regard, offering more of a challenge as he puts up a moving fight in the form of a Rhino that chases you down from side to side.
During your adventure through the stages, you will find certain glowing enemies that when defeated give up power orbs you can collect to morph your character into the Altered Beast that gives the game its name. You start off as a slender human in your underwear and with each orb, you grow stronger and this is represented both graphically and gameplay wise. Bad guys take less punches and kicks to defeat and your character graphically turns into a beefy Schwarzenegger styled character that can punch and kick through the enemies with ease. When you collect the third orb on the level, you morph into a beast with each level having its own type. If you miss the third orb the first time around, the level continues on to give you another shot, otherwise, it’s boss fightin’ time soon after that morph happens. The beasts you morph into include a werewolf, a flying dragon (my favorite), a bear with an almost useless roll attack (my least favorite), a tiger, and finally, a Golden werewolf. Turning into the beast turns up the action to 11 as you are then fairly overpowering just about anything coming your way and the bosses at the end when morphed are easy to defeat if you know what to expect.
The levels themselves are each varying in style, setting, and colors but are all fairly the same in the sense you are walking from left to right beating anything in your way up to reach the boss. Roman graveyards, caves, and underworld palaces are mostly what you should expect and the bosses within are fairly unique also with a giant boss made of corpses, a plant with eyeballs all over, a giant dragon headed snail that shoots fireballs, a flying croco-dragon that summons demons and shoots fireballs, and finally Neff who turns into a Rhino that chases you around faster and faster until you defeat him.
Altered Beast is not a very long game at all, can be finished easily in under an hour, and can scratch that old school beat ‘em up itch you might have once in a while. You don’t need to dust off your Genesis to play it either; it’s been released on just about everything nowadays including the 360, the PS3, and the PC in various forms. If you’ve never played it, it might be worth an hour of your time to check out. ”Rise from your grave!” and send Neff to his doom in Altered Beast from Sega.