One of the great things about emulation is that you get to play arcade games that you didn’t get the chance to experience first time around. Compared to their console ports, the arcade versions usually had better graphics and sound…but are a lot harder!
Altered Beast is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up with some platform gaming elements. It was developed and published by Sega and released in the arcade in 1988. I have already reviewed the Mega Drive version of Altered Beast (1989). For this review, I played the arcade version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).
“Rise from your grave!” commands Zeus, as you emerge from your tomb. You play as a Roman Centurion who is resurrected by Zeus (I know Zeus was a Greek God and the Roman equivalent was Jupiter, but let’s overlook the mythological inconsistencies). Your mission is to rescue Zeus’ daughter, Athena, (Minerva for the Romans) from the evil Demon God known as Neff who has taken her to the Underworld.
You must punch and kick your way through graveyards and caverns to reach the Underworld, all the while fighting numerous undead minions and monsters. In order to meet and defeat the end of level bosses, you need to collect three orbs which increase your strength and eventually morph you into anthropomorphised animals such as wolves, bears, tigers and dragons, each with unique abilities.
How Does It Handle?
Interestingly, there are one or two differences between the Mega Drive version and the arcade version. For example, the punching and kicking is noticeably slower in the arcade version. This all changes, however, once you transform into your beastie. Your speed increases significantly and you pretty much fly around the screen, which you don’t do when playing the Mega Drive version. The arcade version also sees a slight delay when you try to jump higher because our hero crouches briefly before leaping. This adds an element of realism to the game but takes some getting used to.
Being an arcade version, the graphics are obviously superior to any of the console ports, especially where the backgrounds are concerned. The sky on Level One, for example, blends the different shades of blue seamlessly, and the sprites themselves are smoother and more detailed with more vibrant colours. The two-headed dogs, for instance, are more defined and you can actually see what they are. As a kid, I thought they were some kind of bull. When you kill an enemy, rather than just explode, bits of their broken torso fly at the screen towards you which is a gory but cool touch. The animations for when you transform into your beast look great and your attacks are better illustrated and animated. I also like the fact that when you are greeted by Neff at the end of the level, you actually see him grow before he turns into the boss which is a nice little addition. After the boss fight, Neff’s head appears and sucks the orbs out from you, returning you to your puny self. The blue field that surrounds you whilst he does this looks great.
Music and SFX
The music itself isn’t all that memorable but I do like the way that for each level, it starts off quite understated but jacks up when you transform into your beast, and for when you fight the boss battle. The best music from this game, though, comes during the cut scenes. When the purple disc appears showing the various stages of Neff’s ritual, a creepy, Gothic organ plays over the top. It certainly sends a shiver down my spine.
When you collect an orb, your hero proclaims “power up” as he grows into a more muscular version of himself. This is so iconic that I’d wager any gamer worth their salt upon hearing that soundbite would be able to tell you what game it came from.
I also like when you meet Neff and he states, “Welcome to your doom!”. In the arcade version he actually sounds scary, as oppose to the raspy greeting you get on the Mega Drive.
Did I Complete The Game?
What The Critics Said:
The Games Machine: “Altered Beast is an interesting coin-op in that while not being a highly visual game like Space Harrier, Out Run and the like, it offers enough in its gameplay warrant a good play. Overall Positive”.
Commodore User: “…the gameplay really doesn’t vary greatly, or increase markedly in toughness. Still, a cleaver game, and still worth a few tens of anybody’s money. Overall 7/10”.
“Although the graphics are clearly superior to any port version, the action when you’re human is slowed down and gives the game a laboured pace. Disappointing really as even the arcade version falls short of what could’ve been so much better.”
What are your memories of Altered Beast? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.
 ‘Confrontation Co-op – Altered Beast’. The Games Machine. (November 1988). Issue 12:30-1.
 Kelly, N., ‘Arcades – Altered Beast’. Commodore User. (September 1988). Issue 60:94-5.