While some may knock its simplistic controls, straightforward level design and repetitive enemies, I think it's great for all those reasons. You get to transform from a resurrected centurion into a werewolf, dragon and bear. What other games let you do that?
[Editor’s note: To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the SEGA Genesis’ launch in North America (because none of the other regions matter), we’re reviewing all six of the Genesis launch games. We’ve already reviewed Last Battle (twice), Super Thunder Blade, Space Harrier II, Thunder Force II and Tommy Lasorda Baseball. If you’re a Genesis fan, be sure to check those out too!]
OK, Altered Beast has been reviewed more times than I can count, so rather than just say all the same crap you’ve undoubtedly read before, let’s do something different. I’m going to take you on a journey in time when I first came to own Altered Beast and what I thought of the game after I played through it that first, fateful night.
Wait, before we go, I have to pee. Sorry, it’s just a thing. I always have to pee before I time travel.
[Two minutes later]
Zip … OK, let’s go!
[Cue spooky time traveling music]
An adventure in time
Ahhh. I remember like it was yesterday … it was the fall of ’89 at my cousin’s house near Fort Worth, Texas, where my younger brother and I were spending the weekend. We were watching my cousin play his SEGA Master System … I should emphasize “watch” because that stingy bastard never shared the damn controller.
During the hours and hours of watching him play, I flipped through one of his gaming magazines and read about a new video game system called the SEGA Genesis. It had pictures of some games that looked amazing. One of the games was called Altered Beast, and it had a giant man/werewolf/bear guy fighting all kinds of weird monsters.
Seeing as how my only experience with video games up to that point was my Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment System, the Genesis’ gameplay screens looked like something from a cartoon.
“Hey Dylan, what’s this thing?” I asked, pointing to this futuristic black machine in the magazine.
“Oh, that’s the new SEGA system that came out a few months ago,” he replied. “A friend at school has one, and he says it’s way better than the Nintendo because the Nintendo has only 8 bits, but it has 16 bits of power.”
“Whoa … 16 bits of power?” I said, having no idea what it meant. “Man, I really want one of these.”
“Well, start saving because it’s 180 bucks!”
And with that, I flipped through the rest of the book in silence, mentally calculating how many weeks it’d take me to save up enough on my $5 a week allowance. In the weeks following my time at Dylan’s, all I could think about was that two-page ad showing the SEGA Genesis and some of the games it would have at launch.
- Altered Beast
- Super Thunder Blade
- Tommy Lasorda Baseball
- Space Harrier II
Oh yeah, I had finally finished counting how long it’d take me to save up the money to buy a Genesis. Turns out, it’d take me about 60 weeks … I added a couple weeks in there because I had to fit in my obsession for Fruit Stripe gum.
Operation: Break Dad
So what’s a kid with a very limited budget and a high-priced piece of electronics on his mind supposed to do? Pester the shit out of his parents, that’s what. I enlisted the help of my little brother. He was a whiny little bastard, so directing his natural tendency to be whiny in a direction that would benefit me turned out to work quite well.
I have to give credit to my dad, though, because at first he stood up valiantly to our constant barrage of begging and promises of future repayment.
“STOP ASKING FOR A SEGA, I JUST BOUGHT YOU A DAMN IMTENDO FOR CHRISTMAS!” he bellowed.
“Dad, that was last year, and the SEGA is 16 bits! It’s way more powerful than the Nintendo,” I reasoned.
“I don’t care how many bits it has. You’re not getting it!”
But as the weeks passed and my brother’s constant whining continued to mount, he finally started showing chinks in his armor. One day, after several hours of intermittent complaining, it finally happened.
We broke him.
“FINE, I’LL BUY YOU THAT DAMN, IMTENDO, BUT I’M NOT BUYING ANY GAMES!”
“Dad, it’s a SEGA, not a Nintendo. Also Altered Beast comes with it, so you don’t have to buy any games,” I corrected, my whole body trembling with the kind of excitement that only comes once you’ve beaten your parents down to do your will.
So, sometime in mid-November in our Lord’s Year of 1989, my dad drove my brother and me to the local Toys ‘R Us to pick up the SEGA Genesis. We always loved going to Toys ‘R Us back then. It was like the mecca for kids of all ages, cultures and religion. We always knew that when we went there, we’d be coming out with some new toy, whether it was a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, a Transformer or a video game.
As it turns out, I really don’t like going there today, mainly because my kids always try to make me buy shit. Makes me kinda feel sorry for my dad.
Anyway, enough about my dad. This story is about my brother and me! So as we walked through those legendary doors and entered the holy land, we both look at each other and exchanged knowing nods. We knew some real shit was about to go down. We were there for business. For SEGA business.
As we found the video game aisle, we blew past all the Nintendo garbage. There was still some Atari games there, too. We made a beeline for the SEGA area. It was rather small and didn’t have many games, but all we wanted was the console. When we saw it sitting behind the glass, we were awed.
“Whoa, look at that box, Adam. It looks awesome, and check it out, it’s showing some kid playing Altered Beast. I can’t wait to transform into that werewolf!”
To the victor go the spoils
When we finally got home, we couldn’t unpack our Genesis fast enough. I remember myself shaking with anticipation as I put the Altered Beast cart in and slid the power button to the “On” position.
Naturally, as the older brother, I got first dibs, even if it was a two-player game. As the iconic title screen displayed, and I hit the start button, we were awed that it had real audio in the game!
“Whoa, did you hear that? He said, ‘Wires for your groin.’ Maybe that has something to do with you transforming or something,” my brother suggested.
“No, you idiot. He said, ‘Rise from your grain.’ The guy is clearly dead in a field of grain, and the main guy is bringing him back to life,” I corrected.
“Ohhhhh,” Adam replied.
“Man, look how big the guys are. They’re like 20 times bigger than Mario,” I exclaimed.
The gameplay was brilliant. You could punch, kick and jump. It was like nothing we had played before. There were walking zombies with their heads off and some with their heads on. Then you had flying monster buzzard things that came at you.
“Arggghh, how do you kill the flying things?!” I exclaimed. “I keep trying to punch them, but they keep killing me!”
“Well, let me look at the instruction booklet to see the controls,” Adam said.
“Hrmph, whatever. I don’t need to look at the dumb manual,” I retorted.
“Whoa, so it says here, the guy who raised you from the grain is Zeus! Wasn’t he the same guy in Clash of the Titans? The bad guy is named Neff, and he took Zeus’ daughter and now he wants you to go get her back. That’s probably why he raised you back from the grain,” Adam said.
‘Lie on back and kick’
“OK, it says here to lie on back and kick, you press D-button down and simultaneously press the B button,” Adam advised.
“Ahh, OK. That works!” I said. “Keep reading that book to see what else it says.”
As I kept playing through the game and dying repeatedly, I found myself getting a bit farther each time as I learned how best to kill each monster. It turns out, that lie on back and kick thing worked really well against the flying buzzards, which Adam later told me were called Skinny Orcuses. Whatever, they look like flying buzzards to me.
“What the heck? Why am I not transforming yet?” I asked.
“Oh, you have to kill one of the blue dog-cows,” Adam replied, still reading the book. “Oh, they’re actually three-headed wolves. Yeah, kill them and you get a magical spirit ball. Once you collect three of them, you transform into your beast form.”
So it turns out, Adam was pretty smart reading the manual before playing. I also learned that each time you collect a magical spirit ball in human form, you get bigger, stronger, and your punches and kicks have a blue power aura thing around it, which really helps killing enemies.
I finally transformed into the werewolf and could nearly feel the power transfer from the cartridge and run through that really short Genesis controller cord and into my hands.
“Whoa, he’s really strong! Look at that electric dash he can do, and he shoots balls out of his hands when he punches! That’s really cool!” I said.
“Oh no, there’s Neff!” my brother cried. “Hurry up and kill him!”
“Ahhh, I can’t. I’m not hurting him. I keep shooting him but nothing happens, and he keeps sending out that electro-shock thing,” I said.
“Whoa, did he just transform into a big pile of poop?” Adam asked in all seriousness.
“I think so, look there’s little bits of skulls and bones at the bottom, too. Ewww, poo is falling off of him. Ack, he’s shooting heads at me now!”
“Oh, now look! He’s turning red and shaking. I think you’re almost going to kill him. Keep shooting, Chris!” Adam shouted.
“I did it! I beat him. Wait, did he just take all my powers?! Arrgghhh!”
And with that, we continued playing on into the night. I don’t remember how far we got, but it wasn’t very far. I remember Altered Beast being really hard as a kid. Playing it now, though, I find it to be fairly easy, especially once you find out how to beat each boss.
Altered Beast is one of the most iconic games in SEGA’s history. While some may knock its simplistic controls, straightforward level design and repetitive enemies, I think it’s great for all those reasons. You have to remember Altered Beast was an arcade game, so it was that before it was a console game, and it still plays very much like an arcade game.
That’s one of the reasons why I fell in love with the game so much, and, by extension, SEGA. It helped set the tone for not only the SEGA Genesis but for SEGA’s direction in console game development for years to come. And hey, you get to transform from a resurrected centurion into a werewolf, dragon and bear. What other games let you do that?
+ Uhhh, transforming into awesome beast animals, of course!
+ Best boxart of all time.
+ Wires for your groin!
– Some enemies can feel a bit cheap