Altered Beast

Altered Beast was one of the first 16-bit games I played as child and I have idealised memories of how good the game was. The question is…how will I feel revisiting it after 25 years?

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

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. It was later ported to the Master System, PC, NES, Atari ST, Mega Drive, ZX Spectrum, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Amiga and MS-DOS. It was later released in the Wii Virtual Console, Xbox and PlayStation. For this review, I played the Mega Drive version.

After rising from your grave, you must fight your way through a graveyard whilst collecting orbs that turn you into an anthropomorphic beast (Screenshot taken by the author)

“Rise from your grave!” demands 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.

The cutscenes are accompanied by some incredibly eerie gothic organ music (Screenshot taken by the author)

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.

Chicken Stingers, as they are called in the manual, are similar to the pink creatures you ride in Golden Axe, with a similar attack. Does this mean Altered Beast and Golden Axe are in the same universe? (Screenshot taken by the author)

The game is tougher and more frustrating than I remember. The screen scrolls slowly from left to right automatically, meaning you have no choice but you advance. The controls are sluggish and your punching and kicking range is so small that you need to get very close to the enemies. They are quicker than you and so can kick your arse pretty easily. Modern critics argue that the game doesn’t hold up to today and I have to agree.

The graphics are clearly, early 16-bit. The sprites and backgrounds would be cleaner and more detailed if this game was released a few years later. Having said that, I still think the games looks good. The creepy gothic organ music during the cutscenes is pretty cool.

In a previous review, Shining in the Darkness, I discussed the possible links that suggest Shining in the Darkness and Golden Axe were in the same universe, due to the presence of Gilius-Thunderhead, the green dwarf. During this review, I noticed that the Chicken Stingers, are identical (except for athe colour palette change) to some of the Bizzarians in Golden Axe. Does this mean that Altered Beast is also set in the same universe as Shining in the Darkness and Golden Axe?

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Mean Machines Sega: “Altered Beast is a spot-on conversion of the coin-op. The trouble is, the game wasn’t exactly a smash-hit – it’s a very simply beat ‘em up with only five levels. The gameplay is very samey, and it doesn’t take long to get all the way through the game. Overall 67%.”[1]

Sega Pro: “For its day, it was amazing – speech, smooth scrolling and lots of playability. However, its finest hour has truly passed. Overall 74%.[2]

The Games Machine: Altered Beast turns out very close indeed to its arcade origins, complete with two-player mode. The main characters and enemy sprites look ever so slightly washed out, but the detail is all there, and background graphics are spot on. Overall 87%.[3]

Sega Power: “However much you enjoy the coin-op, give this one a miss. Poor scrolling, jerky animation and limited gameplay. Overall 2/5.[4]

My verdict:

Does Altered Beast deserve the accolade of being a classic title? There are many video games that acheive the accolade as a ‘classic’ but not all of them are worthy of title. Having revisisted Altered Beast, I can say that the concept was great, but the execution was lacking. The game is too short, the controls too sluggish and frustrating, and the graphics should have been better. I think this game is better remembered than played.

Rating:

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.


[1] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Altered Beast’. Mean Machines Sega. (October 1992). Issue 1:137. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n135/mode/2up Accessed 28th July 2020).

[2] ‘Sega Software Showdown – Altered Beast – Mega Drive.’ Sega Pro. (November 1991). Issue 1:19. (https://retrocdn.net/images/7/75/SegaPro_UK_01.pdf Accessed 28th July 2020).

[3] ‘Review – Altered Beast’. The Games Machine. Issue 19:17.  (https://archive.org/details/the-games-machine-19/page/n15/mode/2up Accessed 28th July 2020).

[4] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Altered Beast’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:52. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 29th July 2020).

Robocop

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!”

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Robocop is a beat ’em up/run and gun arcade game developed and published by Data East. Based on the 1987 film Robocop, it was released in 1988 for the Arcade, Apple 2, PC, Amiga and Atari ST. It was later release on the NES in 1989 and the Game Boy in 1990.

A crime wave has swept the city of Detroit and the streets are no longer safe. OCP, a private company, have developed a cyborg to assist law enforcement. Using his fists, and an array of guns, the cyborg known as Robocop aims to clean up the streets, destroy ED-209, and defeat Dick James, the mastermind behind the crime epidemic.

Before the game starts, the intro consists of a run through of Robocop’s cybernetic make-up, which I think would have been made better with a bit more backstory as to how Robocop came to be. Not everyone has seen the film after all. However, the cut scene between the levels are nicely illustrated and the phrase “Crime in progress” appears which is a nice nod to the movie.

A short but well illustrated cut scene kicks the game off (Screenshot taken by the author)

That game is very easy to play. Robocop is a big hunk of machinery and so he can only walk at one speed (As you can imagine, he cannot jump). However, he can also climb and descend stairs, crouch and block, and punch or fire his gun (Note: when descending the stairs you only need to press down as oppose to diagonally down). He can fire his gun in all directions except straight down. During the levels, Robocop can pick up and use other firearms other than his standard side-arm including a machine gun and cobra gun (Robocops standard side-arm has infinite ammo but these other weapons do not).

There is no time limit to the levels, but Robocop’s energy bar depletes as he progresses through the level. Once the bar is depleted he will cease to function and need to restart the level. Thankfully, he can pick up batteries along the way to restore his energy bar. Robocop’s health bar will deplete if he is hit by an enemy. Collecting bottles labelled ‘P’ will help restore his health.

Why unarmed criminals try to take on a cyborg I’ll never know! (Screenshot taken by the author)

At the bottom right of the screen are four symbols. When they flash they indicate the following:

Infrared Vision – Which will help you locate a weak wall that you need to punch to break through.

Punch – You can only defeat an enemy by punching.

Foe Detector – Begins to flash faster and faster the closer you get to a boss/sub-boss.

Energy/Power Alarm – Indicates when energy or health levels are low or when they drop dramatically.

Graphically, this game is good for an 8-bit console in 1989, and matches the likes of Ninja Gaiden. The sprites are detailed and clearly defined against the backgrounds, and when using his gun, Robocop even mimics the one-handed stance seen in the film. The backgrounds themselves are pretty good too. However, there is a fair bit of sprite flicker, especially from the dogs and when you’re shooting at the first boss.

Robocop will only use his gun when the threat level increases (Screenshot taken by the author)

Like the film, Robocop matches his weapon to the threat level of his attackesr, which I think is a very neat feature and adds an element of realism to the game. This means that Robocop won’t use his gun until he comes face to face with an enemy who uses guns, flamethrowers or explosives etc.

I do have a few issues with this game though. Firstly, the stupidity of the unarmed enemies and dogs. Why on Earth would you run towards a huge bloody cyborg that can dispatch you quite easily with one punch…especially when your only attack is a flying kick?! Also, you have one life, then it’s game over. You do seem to get an infinite number of continues but when you use them it takes you back to the beginning of that level. If you are going to force people to use continues and restart the level, then please give them more than one life.

This game only has one difficulty setting so there really is not much to keep you coming back once the game is completed.

Did I complete the game?

No, I barely got past the first level. I just couldn’t be bothered with getting to the end of level boss, dying and being sent back to beginning of the level.

What the critics said:

At present I have been unable to locate contemporary reviews for the NES version.

My verdict:

“Graphically, this game is good and the controls are simple and responsive. However, the game itself is very tough, and although it will certainly pose a challenge to gamers everywhere, the lack of lives sees you having to repeat the same monotonous levels over and over again. This game could have been so much more.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Robocop? 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 Facebook.

Snow Bros.

What makes a great video game? Graphics, music, replay value, multiplayer options…there is no correct answer. Personally, I feel that gameplay is more important than the others. If a game doesn’t play well, the rest is pointless. That’s just my opinion of course.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Snow Bros. was developed and published by Toaplan for the arcade in North America, Japan and Europe in 1990. Over the next few years it was released for home consoles on the NES, Game Boy and Mega Drive in North America and Japan but wasn’t officially released in Europe until the Android and iOS versions in 2012.

In this platform game you play as Prince Nick and/or Prince Tom who are cursed and turned into snowmen by King Scorch whilst he captures Princesses Teri and Tina. Naturally, the two princes pursue King Scorch in order to rescue the princess.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

To progress through each level, you must turn monsters into snowballs by throwing snow at them. Once they are transformed into snowballs, you need to push them into each other or to the bottom of the screen where they smash against the wall and die. Once all monsters in a level are defeated you progress to the next level. There are several power-ups to help you along the way. The power-ups are: Red – increases walking speed; Blue – increases amount of snow you throw; Yellow – increases the distance snow can be thrown; Green – inflates you like a balloon where you can fly around the level killing anything you come into contact with. There are 50 levels in total, with a boss battle occuring every 10 levels.

Every ten levels, there is a big, bad boss to defeat (Screenshot taken by the author)

The levels are very colourful, sometimes so much that it hurts the eyes. The game also tends to flicker a little when the screen is busy. The controls are simple…move left or right, jump and throw. This game looks simple, and older gamers may think this is for children…it is not! It’s challenging and it’ll take you several tries before you can complete the game. The game has limited replay value, but I think you will come back to it more than once after you have beaten the game.

Quite simply, this is a fun game to play, especially in two player mode. Thankfully, you cannot harm each other when you are throwing snow, which could get extremely frustrating if that was a feature.

You must throw snow at the enemy to turn them into snowballs (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the game?

Although I did play this several times with Mrs. L, I completed it by myself.

What the critics said?

At present I have been unable to find a contemporary review of this game.

My verdict: “This game is fun! It’s easy to control but challenging. It has the added bonus of being two player, and even after you have beaten the game, you’ll want to play through it again and again.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Snow Bros.? 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 Facebook.

Contra (Probotector & Gryzor)

A picture containing man, holding, people

Description automatically generated

Arcade games were designed to be nigh on impossible to complete. This was because not only did the creators want to challenge gamers, but they also needed to be able to sell a product to arcade owners who in turn wanted games that gamers would repeatedly pump their pocket money in to continue playing…it is a business after all. When arcade games were ported to home consoles, it often seems that the creators failed to adjust the difficulty levels. Young gamers today have no idea how easy they have it all with constant automatic saving, online walkthroughs and cheat pages close-by, at the touch of a button.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Contra is a run and gun video game developed and published by Konami for the Arcade in 1987. A home version was released on the NES in 1988 (in Europe, Contra was known as Probotector). Ocean Software ported the game to the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC in Europe in 1988 under the name Gryzor. Interestingly, Ocean’s cover art for the game was a clearly influenced by a photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Predator. I reviewed the NES version of this game.

The cover art was clearly influenced by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Predator (1987).

According to the NES manual, in 1957, a large object crashed into the Amazon near some Mayan ruins. Nothing further seemed to have happened and the incident was forgotten about. 30 years later, reports of weird alien monsters terrorising the local villages have been received by the Pentagon. Rather than create a political incident by sending in an army, the US send in two commandos, Lance and Bill, to find and destroy the aliens.[1]

Bright colours, clearly defined sprites, and excellent gameplay (Screenshot taken by the author)

Contra is easy to play but tough to master. You mainly run, jump, lay down, and shoot. The controls are nice and responsive, and you can shoot in all directions. However, if you want to shoot directly down, then you need to jump. You can jump down to a lower platform simply by pressing down and jump. Be careful though…one shot can kill you and you only get a finite amount of lives and continues

The manual describes all the levels you will fight through as well as what all the power-ups do. The power ups are greatly appreciated as you progress through the games and the enemies begin to increase in number and strength. They also make defeating the end of level bosses much easier.

After every level you must battle your way through a series of rooms by destroying a flashing button to lower the electrical field (Screenshot taken by the author)

After every level, the perspective changes and your character begins in the foreground firing at enemies and defensive weapons in the background. Once you destroy the circular flashing light, which powers the electrical fence stopping you from moving forward, the rear wall explodes and you can progress to the next room. This must be done several times before you complete the level.

The levels are very well designed and very detailed. They are brightly coloured with many different platforms for you to jump up to and down from. The music fits the game well, and the sprites are clean and nicely animated. The overall graphics are pretty damn good for a home console in 1988.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

The game becomes a lot more fun in two-player mode. Although you are competing for points, you are actually co-operating to beat the game, and it certainly makes the game easier. Mrs. L was my co-op buddy for this run through.

Did I complete the game?

Mrs. L and I did complete the game, but we needed the cheat that gave us 30 odd lives each. Else we could only get past the first few levels. On YouTube I did see one video where someone completed the game without dying once. Fair play to them.

What the critics said:

Computer Gaming World: “Two player contests are always in demand, because most video games are designed for a solo gamer. Contra is doubly welcome, because it is a truly outstanding action epic.” No rating given.[2]

Joystick: ”Overall 92%”.[3]

Awards:

Best Action Game – 1989 Player’s Choice Awards[4]

My verdict:

“Although this game is tough, it is also a lot of fun, especially in two player mode. Great graphics, tight controls, and adrenalin inducing levels. I think that you will find yourself returning to this game again and again.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Contra? 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 Facebook.


[1] ‘How to Play Contra’. NES Contra Manual. :4 (https://www.gamesdatabase.org/Media/SYSTEM/Nintendo_NES/manual/Formated/Contra_-_1988_-_Konami.pdf Accessed 28th March 2020)

[2] Katz, A., ‘Video Gaming World – Contra’. Computer Gaming World. (June 1988). 48:40. (https://archive.org/details/Computer_Gaming_World_Issue_48/page/n39/mode/2up Accessed March 29th 2020).

[3] Huyghues-Lacour, A., ‘Probotector’. Joystick. (April 1991). 15:118. (https://archive.org/details/joystick015/page/n117/mode/2up Accessed on 6th July 2020).

[4] ‘The 1989 “Player’s Choice Awards” – Best Action Game: Contra’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1989 Annual. (March 31 1989). :20. (https://retrocdn.net/images/6/64/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1989.pdf Accessed on 6th February 2020).

Columns

Reviewed by Nick Lawrence

In 1989, Nintendo released Tetris on the Game Boy, and it proved to be an instant hit. By its 25-year anniversary Tetris had sold over 70 million copies worldwide.[1] Sega, eager to compete, needed a puzzle game of their own. They settled-on Columns, similar enough not to deter Tetris fans, but different enough to try and attract a new audience. Sadly, Columns couldn’t imitate Tetris’ success.

Screenshot taken by the author

Columns is a puzzle game created by Jay Geertsen for the arcade in 1989. Its success led to it being ported to many other platforms. The version I played was from the Sonic’s Ultimate Sega Collection on the Playstation 3. It was originally developed and published by Sega in 1990.

The game consists of three coloured jewels being dropped to the bottom of a rectangular screen, similar to Tetris. However, instead of aiming to complete horizontal lines, you must match three or more of the same coloured jewels in either a vertical, horizontal or diagonal line. Once lined up the jewels will disappear allowing any jewels above to fall down to the lowest point possible. You will also be awarded points. You are able to cycle the order of the jewels to aid in your organisation of landed jewels. If a multi-coloured, flashing set of jewels appears, you can land any colour of jewel that you wish and all of that type of jewel will disappear. The higher your score, the faster the jewels will fall. Columns can be played in one-player and multiplayer modes, flash-modes and a time trial mode which add to the replay value of such a seemingly simple but highly addictive game.

Screenshot taken by the author

I have a real soft spot for this game and prefer it to Tetris, possibly because of the beautifully coloured jewels. The graphics in general have a classical Greek/Roman feel to them and each jewel is brightly coloured and easily distinguishable from the others. The music is rather basic but does have a tendency to get stuck in your head, but mostly you will find that you’ll turn the sound down and listen to your own music, podcast or an audiobook.

I used to play this game a lot and got pretty damn good at it. As you can see from the photograph below, the highest score I achieved was 5408848 at level 121. I would have continued but I had been playing for a while and was due to go out for the evening. I could have paused and come back to it but I feel that I had proved my aptitude for the game.

A photgraph of my highest ever score

Did I complete the game?

No one seems to know how high the score or levels go, and I don’t know of anyone who has “completed” this game, so I’m going to assume this is a game that cannot be completed.

What the critics said:

Mean Machines Index: “Sega’s answer to Tetris, this puzzle game is excellent. There’s a huge variety of options, including arcade-style time trials, three different difficulty settings, nine different starting levels, and a two-plater head-to-head made which adds to the game’s lasting appeal. Overall 88%[2]

Sega Power: “A Tetris clone with a superb challenge mode. Simple and addictive. Overall 4/5.[3]

Sega Power: “A Tetris clone with superb one-on-one challenge mode. More of an end-of-blast relaxer than a main game. Simple, addictive , but expensive for what it is. Overall 4/5.[4]

My Verdict:

“It’s like Tetris, but better in my opinion. Colourful, challenging and surprisingly addictive.”

Ratings:

What are your memories of Columns? 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 follow me on Facebook.


[1] Johnson, Bobbie, (June 2009) ‘How Tetris Conquered the World, Block by Block’. The Guardian. (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/gamesblog/2009/jun/02/tetris-25anniversary-alexey-pajitnov Accessed on 10th February 2020).

[2] ‘Review Index: Mega Drive – Columns’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:138. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n137/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

[3] ‘The Hard Line – Review: Mega Drive – Columns’. Sega Power. (September 1993). Issue 46:96. (https://retrocdn.net/images/b/b9/SegaPower_UK_46.pdf Accessed 17th February 2020).

[4] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Columns’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:53. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed on 29th July 2020.

Super Hang-On

Hold on to your hats guys, its time to rev that engine, feel the horsepower, and leave your competitors to eat your dust. Glory awaits!

Screenshot taken by the author

Super Hang-On is a single-player motorcycle racing game developed and published by Sega. Originally released in the arcade in 1987 as a sequel to Hang-On, it would later be released for the following:

1987 – Amstrad CPC, Arcade, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum.

1989/1990 – Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, Macintosh, DOS, Sega Megadrive, and Sharp X68000.

2003 – Game Boy Advance (Sega Arcade Gallery)

2010 – Wii’s Virtual Console (2012 in North America)

2012 – Xbox Live Arcade (Sega Vintage Collection)

The version I reviewed was on the Sega Mega Drive and can be found in the Mega Games I package.

Whilst still similar to Hang-On, there is now a choice of four new tracks, based on the continents of the world. Each continent contains a different number of stages to increase difficulty (Africa = 6 stages, Asia = 10 stages etc.). A turbo button is also available should you need an extra boost.

Screenshot taken by the author

The Megadrive version, which I played as part of Sega’s Mega Games I, contains both the full arcade mode, and an original mode. The original mode is a bit more in-depth and allows you to gain sponsorship and earn money to upgrade your motorbike.

I have vague recollections of playing this in the arcade at Folkestone Rotunda Amusement Park when I was a pre-pubescent imp. It had the full arcade set up complete with a replica motorbike that you could sit on and use your weight to lean left or right. Being small at the time, my father would stand at the back of the bike and help me lean it, ensuring I didn’t go flying off.

Screenshot taken by the author

The bike is easy to control, and the game is easy to learn. The graphics are clean, with brightly coloured sprites making it easy to distinguish yourself from other riders. The backgrounds and time of day change as you move through the stages of a race giving you a real sense of location and distance. At the top of the screen you have information telling you your score, speed, what course and stage you are on, and a countdown dial.

The game can become frustrating when you crash in Arcade mode as there is no way to make the time up again, so you may as well restart the game. I also dislike the time countdown in arcade mode too. In the arcade one can understand a time limit as you want games that are “quarter guzzlers”, but for gaming at home, it’s just plain annoying. Admittedly I didn’t spend that much time on this game as I’m not a racing fan, but if you are, I am sure that you will enjoy the challenge of this game.

Did I complete the game?

Nope, nowhere near.

What the critics said:

Mean Machines: “This cart manages to contain all of the playability of the coin-op, coulpled with slick audio-visuals. Definitely worth getting if you enjoyed the coin-op, or if you’re after a decent Mega Drive game at a bargain price. Overall 90%.”[1]

Sega Power: “Brilliant biking coin-op conversion. Terrific sensation of speed and movement, with good graphics and smooth 3D update. Thrilling to play and lasts for ages. Overall 5/5.[2]

Sega Power “Another coin-op classic of yesteryear. Fine, but a bit mouldy. Overall 4/5.”[3]

My Verdict: “I’m not a fan of racing games but if you are, this may prove a challenge. Beautiful graphics and scenery too, and enough replay value to make it worth adding to your collection.”

Ratings:

What are your memories of Super Hang-On? 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 follow me on Facebook.


[1] Leadbetter, R.,’Review: Mega Drive – Super Hang-On’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:127 (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n125/mode/2up Accessed 15th February 2020).

[2] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Super Hang-On’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:54. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed on 29th July 2020.

[3] ‘The Hard Line – Review: Mega Drive – Super Hang-On’. Sega Power. (September 1993). Issue 46:98. (https://retrocdn.net/images/b/b9/SegaPower_UK_46.pdf Accessed 17th February 2020).