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Level 1
Altered Beast (Level 1)
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on March 11, 2010   |   Episode 4 (Show Archive)  


Welcome to Level 1. Every Thursday we are going to look at a random game's very first level. It doesn't matter what kind of game it is or what system it's for, we're here to dissect the game's first level and see what it tells us about the rest of the game. I promise you an eye-opening experience in each episode! This week we're moving away from video game classics and driving straight into a tree. Today we're going to talk about Altered Beast, Sega's terrible Genesis pack-in game. Forget what you think you know about Sega's early 16-bit game, because we're about to uncover all of the dirt when we play through Altered Beast Level 1!

Altered Beast (Sega)
[ Release: 1988 - Console: Sega Genesis/Arcade ]
Gradius (NES) Cover
Long before God of War hacked and slashed its way into our hearts, there was a similar action game that takes place in the same mythology. Unfortunately, that game was Altered Beast. In this game you play one of two identical warriors who are resurrected to fight the army of darkness. Or something like that. The truth is, the only reason anybody ever cared about this game is because you occasionally turn into an animal and fight large boss creatures. Through five varied levels, Altered Beast took you on a journey that had you tracking down an ugly bald guy in a purple robe.

Believe it or not, at one point Altered Beast was relevant. It's not that it was a loved or admired game, but it looked good and demonstrated that the Sega Genesis could pull off arcade-quality graphics. Altered Beast became Sega's first pack-in for the Genesis. Sega never made an official 2D sequel to the game; however THQ published a slightly revised version of the game with new levels and animal transformations. In 2005 Sega attempted to reboot the franchise with a 3D installment, but it failed in both Europe and Japan (and never came to the U.S.). These days Sega has been giving it away any way they can think of. There are two versions of the Virtual Console and it's in just about every Sega compilation released in the last ten years. And now you too can see how it begins when we push start and play through the first level.

The Graveyard: There I was, resting peaceful in my coffin, when all of a sudden the ground starts to shake and I get resurrected. What's this? It turns out that Zeus has come down and brought my sorry butt back to life. I'm talking about THE Zeus, the one everybody
Altered Beast - Rise From Your Grave
Altered Beast - "Rise From Your Grave"
talks. Yeah, well, he needs me to run some errands for him. I guess he's too busy, but who cares, it gives me a good reason to go around beat up zombies, skeletons and dogs. Truth is, I would have done that anyway, but at least this way I have a reason to mix it up.

It turns out that my first job has me fighting through a creepy graveyard. In the background are hundreds of tombstones, along with a fair amount of mausoleums and other concrete decorations. The first thing I notice is that I'm a puny, girly man. I barely have any muscles and nobody is intimidated by my tiny frame. But don't worry, I have a plan. Straight ahead I see a floating blue orb, if I know anything about
Altered Beast - The Blue Dog
Altered Beast - The Blue Dog
floating blue orbs it's that they instantly pump me up. They are like steroids ... only your junk doesn't shrink. I grab it, eat it and sure enough, I suddenly get the overwhelming sensation that I should be governing California. I don't even know what California is.

But I digress; I beat up some more skeletons and fight through a series of easily broken concrete blocks. I can tell I'm getting to the end of the level because the enemies are winding down. I see another blue orb, but it's just out of my reach. I jump for it, but a flying bat creature smacks me back down to earth. All of a sudden a pale bald dude with a purple Snuggie walks out and lets me know that he's not ready to see me. Yeah, whatever, I wasn't ready to see him either. So there!

The Graveyard ... Again: Apparently I didn't pick up enough flying blue orbs, because the game is forcing me to loop back around and fight enough zombies and skeletons until I turn into a wolf. Instead of walking to a new area of the graveyard, I find myself at the very beginning, back where the bearded dude resurrected me. I guess this means that I was walking in a circle, which sounds like the kind of
Altered Beast - Two players battle the graveyard's monsters!
Altered Beast - Two players battle the graveyard's monsters!
thing I would do if I had been dug up after being dead for hundreds of years. At least this time around I know what to do and where to go. Oh look, it's another pack of multi-colored dogs. How original. And see, this is where those skeletons climb out of the Earth's crust and get punchy. It's all so predictable. Thankfully I see a blue dog, that's my ticket out of repeating this first level for a third time.

Upon collecting the third and final blue orb, I am instantly transformed into a werewolf. Okay, maybe it's not instant. Instead of seeing my character morph, I am flung into a cinema scene. I see my long-dead warrior surrounded by fire, slowly
Altered Beast - From Human to Wolf!
Altered Beast - From Human to Wolf!
turning into a savage beast. My unfortunate transformation brings up two important questions - where did all that fire come from and why is it not burning off my fur? Either way, the fire is (thankfully) gone once the game resumes. Now I'm ready to kick some big boss butt.

Boss - Aggar: As I approach the temple I see the same bastard that mocked me earlier for not having enough blue orbs. He stands there throwing lightning at me, as if to tell me to stand back. All of a sudden he's engulfed in a strange smoke. Is this the
Altered Beast - Boss Aggar!
Altered Beast - Boss Aggar!
smoke monster from Lost? Are Harold and Kumar off screen? Unfortunately the answer is no on both counts, instead he's just turning into a creepy legless monster with an endless supply of decapitated heads to throw at you. I liked him better when he was just a scarier version of Uncle Fester.

But alas, it's my job to kick his butt. I start by using my werewolf super power, a high-speed lunge to the gut. It seems to work, so I do that over and over and over again. The nice thing about this attack is that it cuts through the falling heads, which is actually kind of gross when you stop and think about it. Thankfully I'm too busy flinging my whole body into his large frame. Eventually he dies, getting sucked away by the giant smoke monster. Life is good ... but mostly because I can stop playing this terrible game.

What Have We Learned Today? Today I learned that no matter how hard I try, I just don't like Altered Beast. It's hard to believe that there was a time when this game passed for a quality 16-bit experience. The
Altered Beast (PlayStation 2)
Sega's dreadful cover to an even worse Altered Beast game!
controls are terrible, the animation is clunky, the enemies are boring, the boss is a push-over and, worst of all, it makes no sense. If Zeus has the power to bring you back to life, then why doesn't he just resurrect a full army? That way you wouldn't have a situation where one guy has to go up against these crazy bosses, inexplicably turning into different animals along the way. It seems like something of a stupid plan. What he should have done is just sent Kratos to save the day. Kratos doesn't screw around.

What Did We Miss? As they say: You can skip entire levels and not miss much, or you can skip the whole game and not miss a thing. The sad truth is, the only thing this first level does is prepare you for how miserable the whole experience
Altered Beast artwork
I hope I'm not still talking about Altered Beast ten years from now!
is. Every level is like this. You beat up on creepy monsters, collect a few orbs, turn into an animal and then fight a boss. None of the bosses are worth fighting and none of the animals are worth earning. The game is so bad that by the fifth level the developers run out of animals for you to turn into, opting to recycle one of the previous transformations. The only thing I miss is the five minutes I spent playing through this first level for this article.

Nobody Likes Altered Beast: I don't know how many times we need to tell Sega this, but nobody likes Altered Beast. It's a fact. Every time it shows up on a compilation, people complain. The critics hated THQ's crummy Altered Beast pseudo-sequel and nobody bought it. Sega has released the game TWICE on the Virtual Console, yet nobody cares. Heck, Sega even tried to release a 3D PlayStation 2 sequel, a game so bad that it failed in Japan and never made it to these shores. Let's just be honest with ourselves, nobody likes Altered Beast. There's an argument for trying a new Alex Kidd or Wonderboy, but it's time to face facts and bury this pitiful series in the ground. Not that it would do any good, Zeus will just come and resurrect it again. Zeus is kind of a dick.


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