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).

Star Wars: Dark Forces

In the early 90s, I was at the height of my Sci-fi geekdom. I watched and re-watched Star Trek and Star Wars movies with unhealthy regularity. The video games that the franchises were producing in the early 90s were also filling my daily quota of science fiction. Resisting the entreaties of my parents to go out into the summer sun, I preferred to stay in a darkened room and lose myself in these cherished universes. Some would say it was an unhealthy hobby for a teenager, and they could be right…if it wasn’t for the fact that I played competitive football at least twice and week, and worked part-time jobs that is. However, the memories I have playing these games with a childhood chum (who I shall refer to as MC), are not to be discarded lightly.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Star Wars: Dark Forces is a first-person shooter developed and published by Lucasart in 1995 for MS-DOS and Macintosh. A year later it was released for PlayStation. In 2009 it was re-released on Steam. The version I played was for the PC.

A map can be used whilst still moving around the levels which is very helpful (Screenshot taken by the author)

You play as Kyle Katarn, who is studying agricultural mechanics with the intention of working in the family business. Whilst at the academy, he is told that his parents were killed by the Rebels, causing him to enlist in the Imperial Army. Whilst working for the Imperial Army he meets Jan Ors, a double agent working for the Rebels. She informs Katarn that it was an Empire raid killed his parents. With the truth known, he helps Ors escape. He then becomes mercenary and begins to take on jobs for the Rebel Alliance.

The first mission is set during Rogue One, and sees Katarn charged with stealing the Death Star plans (naturally this storyline is not considered official canon). It then skips to after A New Hope. Once the Death Star is destroyed, the Rebels ask Kyle to investigate an assault on a Rebel base by a new type of Imperial soldier.

This first-person shooter sees Katarn navigate his way through several locations including a Star Destroyer, Jabba the Hutt’s Palace, and the planet Coruscant. The levels are well designed and challenging, and really give the illusion that you are in the Star Wars universe.  Throughout the levels, there are lots of secret doors which contain power-ups and goodies to help you on your way.

“There he is, blast him!” (Screenshot taken by the author)

You can choose between a number of different weapons with which to fight the Imperial soldiers including blasters, thermal detonators, land mines, and some more explosive weapons. All weapons have a secondary mode which offers a different effect when fired. All weapons need ammunition so use the more powerful weapons sparingly.

The map unfolds as you progress for the level, adding to the feeling of isolation and the unknown. You can toggle this map to be overlaid whilst you are walking around the level too which is a useful tool to have. There are times in the game when you need to use night-vision goggles and breathing apparatus which are nice touches. Just remember that you’ll need to pick up batteries for the night vision goggles as they only have limited power.

The in-game music is atmospheric, but very basic. Don’t expect John William’s well-constructed musical themes blasting through your speakers in high fidelity. The in-game graphics are generally good. Although the levels are 3D, the baddies are 2D. However, they are well illustrated and use familiar exclamations such as “You’re not authorised in this area!”, and “There he is, blast him!”. Sadly, they do become a little pixelated as you get closer to them. The cutscenes are beautifully illustrated but sadly, it’s not the real Darth Vader’s voice.

Even animated, Darth Vader is an imposing figure (Screenshot taken by the author)

The controls let this game down a little. Whilst you are able to run, jump, duck, swim and look around, the mouse only allows you to look horizontally turning left and right. You need to use the keyboard to look up and down. This makes it unnecessarily difficult when shooting at enemies on high ledges. The jumping is frustrating too as the player doesn’t stop instantly when landing which, although realistic, means plummeting to your death alot as it’s difficult to gauge when you are near to falling off the edges.

The three difficulty settings, and the fact this is a Star Wars game, give this game some replay value, but I don’t think this is a game that will have you returning time and time again.

Did I complete the game?

Yes!

What the critics said:

Gamespot:Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the game is set in the Star Wars universe. It’s much more fun to blast Imperial lackeys than faceless monsters. The familiar setting is enhanced by your enemies’ taunts, like “Stop, Rebel Scum!” Dark Forces’ only real flaws are its tragically short length – less than a dozen levels – and its lack of multiplayer options or add-ons, which severely limits the replay value. Overall 7.6/10”.[1]

Next Generation: “Ultimately, Dark Forces offers nothing that Doom didn’t provide a year ago apart from some pretty Star Wars cut-scenes. And Technically, it’s on par with the most accomplished 3D games, but it seems that LucasArts’ reputation as a software pioneer has made it wary of producing an instantly playable title. Dark Forces will be judged by Doom Standards, and in most areas, it falls just short. Overall 3.5/5.[2]

PC Zone: “The best Doom-inspired game to date, based on Star Wars. Overall 95%.”[3]

My verdict:

“Overall the game has a good storyline and is fun, even for non-Star Wars gamers. Some of the controls need a little fine tuning but the number of weapons you can use, the level designs and familiar phrases such as “There he is, blast him!” make this game worth playing. However, single player limits the replay value a bit.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Dark Forces? 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] Dulon, R., (1st May 1996). ‘Star Wars Dark Forces Review’. Gamespost.com https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/dark-forces-review/1900-2538507/ Accessed 17th March 2020.

[2] ‘Finals: PC – Dark Forces’. Next Generation. (May 1995). Volume 1 Issue 5:94. https://archive.org/details/nextgen-issue-005/page/n95/mode/2up Accessed 17th March 2020.

[3] ‘CD Rom Review – Dark Forces’. PC Zone. (March 1995). Issue 24:52-56. https://archive.org/stream/PC_Zone_24_March_1995#page/n55/mode/2up Accessed 17th March 2020.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge – Special Edition

Avast me hearties! Guybrush Threepwood be back with a new adventure for ye. So grab your mouse and be ready for more whacky adventures says I.

Original title screen (screenshot taken by the author)
Special Edition title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge is a single-player, point-and-click adventure game, and the second game in the Monkey Island series. It was developed and released by Lucasart in 1991 for the Amiga, FM Towns, Mac OS, and MS-DOS. The special edition was released in 2010 for iOS, Microsoft Windows, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The version I reviewed was downloaded from Steam.

Now I realise that I only recently reviewed The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, but I felt that I had to play this second instalment straight way.

Seven months after defeating the pirate LeChuck, wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood finds himself back in the Caribbean in an attempt to locate the treasure of Big Whoop. From finding ingredients to make a voodoo doll, to attending fancy dress parties, rigged gambling, and drinking and spitting contests, Threepwood attempts to locate the map that’ll lead him to Big whoop.

The gameplay and graphics are identical to The Secret of Monkey Island (I won’t repeat them here). Once again you are able to switch between the original and updated graphics at the click of a button.

Lucasart have done it again. They have produced yet another fun game with plenty of humour, challenging puzzles and plenty of head scratching moments. The animation is smooth, the characters and the backgrounds are colourful and detailed.

However, for some reason that I can’t put my finger on, I didn’t enjoy this game quite as much as The Secret of Monkey Island, and that may be because there was nothing new to learn. Then again, that may just be me being very picky.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I did complete the game with the assistance of a walkthrough on several occasions.

What the critics said about the original:

Amiga Computing: “…horribly close to being a perfect game. It’s certainly the best adventure game I’ve seen in ages… Overall 95%[1]

Computer and Video Games Magazine: “Already Monkey Island has staked a claim to the best game of this year…. Overall 96%.”[2]

What the critics said about the Special Edition:

“…good, but the lack of keyboard support took something away for me. That said, the game picked up on the problems I had with the first and changed it for the better. I did feel that this game took away some experiences, so that brought its score down a little. There are things you should be told but you should also learn on your own, and they gave away too much to the player this time around. Overall B+.”[3]

Awards:

Winner – 1992 Computer Gaming World ‘Best Adventure Game of the Year’[4]

My Verdict: “A worthy sequel. Funny, challenging and beautiful to look at…just keep your walkthrough guide close by.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s revenge? 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] Whitehead, D., . ‘Review: Amiga – Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge’. Amiga Computing. (August 1992). Issue 51:10-1. (http://amr.abime.net/review_8171 Accessed 17th February 2020).

[2] Boone, T., ‘Review: PC – Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge’ Computer and Video Games Magazine. (February 1992). Issue 123: 15-7 (https://archive.org/details/computer-and-videogames-123/page/n17/mode/2up Accessed 17th February 2020).

[3] Meitzner, B., (Sept 19, 2011). ‘Review: Monkey Island 1 and 2 Special Edition’. Gaming Bus. (https://web.archive.org/web/20110927164615/http://www.gamingbus.com/2011/09/19/review-monkey-island-1-and-2-special-edition/ Accessed 14th December 2019).

[4] ‘CGW Salutes the Games of the Year – Best Adventure Game of the Year’. Computer Gaming World: Collector’s Edition. (November 1992). Issue 100: 110. (https://archive.org/details/Computer_Gaming_World_Issue_100/page/n109/mode/2up Accessed on 6th February 2020).

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

Get ready for a swashbuckling adventure and set your wits against the cream…well the dregs, of the Caribbean. Only by solving mind-boggling puzzles and matching your witty repartee with your enemies will you win the day.

Original title screen (screenshot taken by the author)
Special Edition title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

The first in a popular franchise, The Secret of Monkey Island was developed and published by Lucasfilm Games in 1990. The special edition version was released in 2009. It can be found on many platforms including the Amiga, MS-DOS, Atari ST, Macintosh, CDTV, FM Towns, Sega CD, OS X, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. The version I reviewed was for the PC.

This point-and-click adventure game starts with Guybrush Threepwood declaring “I want to be a pirate!”. What ensues is an adventure full of humour, perilous pirate trials, the rescue of a damsel in distress and the defeat of the ghost pirate LeChuck, all set in the Caribbean. Along the way Threepwood must complete tasks to progress in his adventure, many of the tasks are peculiar and to solve them involves thinking not just outside the box, but outside of any other shape you can think of as well.

The Special Edition sees the game get a makeover with slick new graphics, improved music and sound, and vocalisation which adds to the humour of the gags. However, for the purists you are able to revert back to the original music and graphics at the touch of a button. On many of the screens you can opt to hear commentary from the games creators explaining how they created the graphics and music, which I think should be incorporated into more games.

In order to interact with the world around you, you must choose from 12 commands at the bottom of the screen. These commands include ‘pick up’, ‘talk to’, ‘open’, ‘close’ etc. This can become quite tiresome, especially when you are stuck and need to enact the “try everything with everything” method of problem solving.

Although cartoonish, and originally in 8-bit graphics, the backgrounds and characters are very colourful. Oddly enough, when close-ups of characters occur, they look very life-like, which is the opposite of the Special Edition. The music also sounds great and captures the pirate mood exceptionally well. For me, the Special Edition graphics adds more life to the environment.

Original graphics (screenshot taken by the author)
Special Edition graphics (screenshot taken by the author)

The only thing that let’s this game down, and it is only one thing, is that some of the puzzles are so convoluted that you will need to use a walkthrough to find the solution. I like a mental challenge as much as the next person, but most would never think of using a  rubber chicken as a zip-line.

Did I complete the game?

I did finish the game, but there were many times that I needed assistance from walkthroughs.

What the critics said of the original game:

Computer and Video Game Magazine – “Usually the entertainment you get from an adventure is derived solely from solving puzzles, but the hilarious characters and situations, and the movie-like presentations make playing this more like taking part in a comedy film so it’s much more enjoyable.  Overall 94%[1]

Dragon Magazine: “If you enjoy a great graphic adventure spiced with humour top-notch graphics, and a soundtrack filled with really good, original compositions, this is a must buy for you. We haven’t stopped laughing yet! 5/5.[2]

Zero Magazine: “At last an adventure game that’s enjoyable rather than frustrating. Overall 84%[3].

What the critics said of the Special edition:

Eurogamer.net: “Few games can stand the test of time with such confidence, and whether your interest stems from its genre-defining significance or its reputation as an unforgettable game, you won’t be disappointed by time spent on Monkey Island. Anyone who disagrees probably fights like a cow. Overall 9/10.”[4]

IGN.com: “The Secret of Monkey Island has a special place in the museum of videogames for its quick wit, its personality, and the way it surprises us at every turn. Playing this adventure will take you back to a simpler, more innocent time before games needed to bash us over the head with ultra-violence to get our attention. They definitely don’t make ’em like this anymore. The Special Edition doesn’t offer any new gameplay, so its appeal may be limited if you’ve already been initiated. But if you’ve never seen a three-headed monkey, download this now. Overall 8.7/10.[5]

Gamespot.com: “If you’ve got opposable thumbs, a sense of humour, and a brain that you’re not afraid to use, this puzzle-filled adventure is one well worth taking. Overall 8/10.”[6]

My Verdict: “Avast me hearties, here be a fun, classic point and click pirate game for ye. The puzzles be tough, but there be plenty of laughs for a landlubber such as yourself. Now pass me the grog!”

Rating:

What are your memories of The Secret of Monkey Island? 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] Glancey, P., ‘Review: PC – The Secret of Monkey Island’. Computer and Video Games Magazine. (December 1990). Issue 109:112-4. (https://archive.org/details/Computer_Video_Games_Issue_109_1990-12_EMAP_Publishing_GB/page/n113/mode/2up Accessed on 13th December 2019.

[2] ‘Review: PC/MS-DOS – Secret of Monkey Island’. Dragon Magazine. (April 1991). Issue 168:49-50. (https://annarchive.com/files/Drmg168.pdf Accessed 14th December 2019).

[3] ‘Review: PC – The Secret of Monkey Island’. Zero Magazine. (November 1990). Issue 13:58. (https://archive.org/details/zero-magazine-13/page/n57/mode/2up Accessed on 14th February 2020).

[4] Whitehead, D., (16th July 2009). ‘Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition’. Eurogamer.net.  (https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/the-secret-of-monkey-island-special-edition-review?page=2 Accessed 13th December 2019).

[5] Hatfield, D., (Jun 14th, 2009). ‘The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition Review’. IGN.com. (https://web.archive.org/web/20111208163158/http://xboxlive.ign.com/articles/100/1003651p1.html Accessed 14th December 2019).

[6] Calvert, J., (April 23, 2010). ‘The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition Review’. Gamespot.com. (https://web.archive.org/web/20120804010019/http://www.gamespot.com/the-secret-of-monkey-island-special-edition/reviews/the-secret-of-monkey-island-special-edition-review-6260007/ Accessed on 13th December 2019).