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).

Shadow Warriors/Ninja Gaiden/Ninja Ryūkenden

Throughout the 70s and 80s, the popularity of eastern martial arts rose dramatically in popularity in the west through Bruce Lee and The Karate Kid movies. Naturally, gamers are attracted to games where they can perform a flurry of punches, an array of agile kicks and jumps, and master hand to hand combat because, let’s face it, these things take years of training and dedication which many of us don’t have the inclination for.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Shadow Warriors is a side-scrolling action-platform game developed and published by Tecmo. It was released for the NES in Europe in 1991, having previously been released in Japan in 1988 as Ninja Ryūkenden, and in North America in 1989 as Ninja Gaiden. It was later ported to the SNES, PC and mobile phones.

You control Ryu Hayabusa who travels to America to avenge the murder of his father. He soon learns of a person known as “The Jaquio” who plans to take over the world with the help of an ancient demon whose power is contaminated in two statues. The game contains 20 levels broken down into six acts.

I’m not sure why Ryu has a reddish tinge to him (Screenshot taken by the author)

The controls are very responsive and the movement tight, allowing for close control. Ryu’s main weapon is a sword but you are able to pick up and use limited numbers of shuriken. Ryu can jump and cling onto the walls, but can only climb if he is on a ladder. If not, and a wall is opposite, he can spring himself up by jumping between walls. Annoyingly, and this is common amongst early games, if you progress to a higher screen and you fall back down the whole you just came from, you die as oppose to simply fall to the level below.

The levels are very difficult and unforgiving, but you do receive unlimited continues. Sadly, I was only able to get to Act 3 as my version kept crashing. However, I really enjoyed playing this game and so will definitely return to it in the future. After each act, there is a beautifully illustrated anime-type cutscene furthering the storyline.

The graphics and music are standard for 8-bit home consoles in the 80s but withthe introduction of 16-bit consoles, begin to look dated by the time of its release in Europe in 1991. The Ryu sprite has a reddish glow to him, which is strange.

Between levels, there are beautifully illustrated cut scenes (Screenshot taken by the author)

Mean Machines: “A superb game, very similar to Shadow Warriors coin-op. Highly recommended top Nintendo beat ‘em up fans. Overall 88%.[1]

Mean Machines: “A superbly presented Ninja game which proves very playable. Overall 90%.[2]

Awards:

Best Challenge 1989 – Nintendo Power Awards 1989[3]

Best Ending 1989 – Nintendo Power Awards 1989[4]

Best Game of the Year – Electronic Gaming Best and Worst of 1989[5]

My verdict:

“Tight controls, beautiful cut scenes but very difficult and unforgiving. A good edition to the ninja genre”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shadow Warriors? 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] ‘Nintendo Review – Ninja Gaiden’. Mean Machines. (July 1990). Issue 06:12-4. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-magazine-15/page/n107/mode/2up Accessed 10th December 2019).

[2] ‘Nintendo Review – Shadow Warrior’. Mean Machines. (July 1991). Issue 10:66-8. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-magazine-10/page/n67/mode/2up Accessed 10th December 2019).

[3] ‘Nintendo Power Awards ‘89’. Nintendo Power. (May/June 1990). Issue 12:27. (https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20012%20May-June%201990#page/n23/mode/2up Accessed 1st July 2020).

[4] ‘Nintendo Power Awards ‘89’. Nintendo Power. (May/June 1990). Issue 12:28. (https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20012%20May-June%201990#page/n23/mode/2up Accessed 1st July 2020).

[5] ‘Best and Worst of 1989’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1990Video Game Buyer’s guide. 5:17. (https://retrocdn.net/images/d/d5/EGM_US_005.pdf Accessed 1st July 2020).