When the Sega Genesis was released in 1989 the first game many people experienced was Altered Beast, an arcade port and pack-in. With near-perfect arcade-quality graphics and fast-paced action, Altered Beast was the perfect fit for the burgeoning 16-bit market. But like many first generation titles, Altered Beast was a quickly forgotten, and ultimately shallow experience that is rarely talked about these days.
It's not that Altered Beast has passed on; Sega announced a PlayStation 2 update several years ago but has so far been unable to show more than a short game trailer. The title also found its way onto the Game Boy Advance in one of the systems worst playing platformers. Going back and playing through this Sega Master System version it's easy to understand why gamers of today would not be as interested in the Altered Beast experience. It's not that it's a bad game; it's just so rudimentary that it's hard to enjoy.
The game play is largely unchanged from the original 16-bit version. You control this long-dead Roman Centurion who is resurrected to rescue the kidnapped Athena. You go through the game kicking and punching enemies, all while collecting orbs to level your character up. Each orb makes you a little stronger, bulking your character up until you finally transform into one of several fury beasts. (Certainly a big warning to all those people out there injecting steroids.)
Turning into these beasts is a major part of the appeal of Altered Beast, heck, the game is named after this transformation. This game allows you to take control of a Weredragon, a Weretiger, the traditional Werewolf, and of course, the Gold Werewolf, each with slightly different abilities. You take these characters through four different levels until you finally take down the ultimate bad guy and (gasp) save Athena.
This port isn't without a few problems, though. For one thing, the game is extremely short, both with shorter levels and one part of the game completely excised from the 8-bit version. Although the control scheme is simple, moving and fighting can sometimes be a pain. If you're patient enough you can get through it, but with the ho-hum level design and repetitive game play you have to question why you would want to play this in the first place.
The graphics in this version of Altered Beast don't take as much of a hit as I would have imagined, it's easy to see the difference between this 8-bit version and the 16-bit Genesis version, but only if you hold them up side by side. The sprites are a lot more basic here, but just about all of the original art direction is well represented in this shrunk down version. At the end of the day the graphics are far from the worst part of Altered Beast.
There was a time when a game like Altered Beast could be loved and admired, but those days went out around the time people stopped using the RF Switch. This is an extremely easy action game with very little depth and no replay value. Too much of it is just the same thing over and over with almost no reward. If you're going to experience Altered Beast make sure and do it on the Genesis, but really, at this point, there's almost no reason to want to play this Sega oldie.