Altered Beast

Summary

Altered Beast[a] is a 1988 beat 'em up arcade video game developed and manufactured by Sega. The game is set in Ancient Greece and follows a player character chosen by Zeus to rescue his daughter Athena from the demonic ruler of the underworld, Neff. Through the use of power-ups, the player character can assume the form of different magical beasts (wolf, dragon, bear, tiger, and golden wolf). It was ported to several home video game consoles and home computers. It was the pack-in game for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis when that system launched in 1988.

Altered Beast
Altered Beast cover.jpg
European Mega Drive box art
Developer(s)Sega
Publisher(s)Sega
Designer(s)Makoto Uchida
Artist(s)Rieko Kodama
Composer(s)Kazuhiko Nagai
Platform(s)Arcade, MS-DOS, Amstrad CPC, MSX, Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari ST, Amiga, Master System, Genesis, PC Engine, Commodore 64, Game Boy Advance
Release
Genre(s)Beat 'em up
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer
Arcade systemSega System 16

The game was developed by Makoto Uchida, who developed the game as his first project as a lead developer. Uchida and his team used the System 16 arcade system board for its graphical capabilities with sprites. Altered Beast was ported numerous times in addition to its Genesis conversion, including for the Master System by Sega and to several computer systems and video game consoles by various third parties.

Altered Beast's arcade release and its various ports have all received mixed reviews, mainly targeting the game's gameplay and graphics. The game has been re-released several times for various consoles and as part of video game compilations, and two sequels to the game have been developed.

GameplayEdit

 
A single player fighting against the undead in the first level of the arcade version

Altered Beast is a side scrolling beat 'em up game with light platform elements. It has five levels and can be played by up to two players simultaneously. Combat takes place across five levels set in Ancient Greece and populated by aggressive undead creatures and monsters resembling those from Greek mythology. The demonic god Neff waits at the end of each level. Between each level are small animations giving the player glimpses of Athena's peril.[4][5] Players can punch, kick and jump.[6]

The game's premise is that Neff, ruler of the underworld, captures the goddess Athena. Angry, her father, the Olympian god Zeus, decides to choose a champion to save her. Respecting the bravery of Roman Centurions, Zeus resurrects one of them and empowers him as a champion. The game's player character is the resurrected Roman Centurion, given extra power by Zeus so they can battle Neff and his supernatural minions.[7] In the original arcade game, the end credits include the revelation that the whole game actually depicted a staged film production.[8]

Whenever a player defeats a white two-headed wolf, a Spirit Ball power-up appears. Each obtained Spirit Ball increases the player character's strength and size. Collecting three Spirit Balls allows the player character to transform into a powerful beast form, increasing their combat abilities before having to face Neff at the end of the level. The player character's beast forms include a weredragon, a werebear, a weretiger, a werewolf, or a golden werewolf. Each beast form grants its own abilities. The dragon can unleash lightning bolts and an electric barrier, the bear has a petrifying breath that turns enemies into stone, the tiger can throw fireballs in a zig-zag pattern, the wolf can throw direct, but weak fireballs and has a powerful thrust attack, while the golden werewolf has the same abilities as the wolf form but stronger. In the Famicom version of the game, available beast forms also include a shark, lion, and phoenix form.[9]

DevelopmentEdit

Altered Beast was developed by Makoto Uchida. He took inspiration for the game from The Howling and the music video for the Michael Jackson song "Thriller",[7] as well as movies by Ray Harryhausen, and chose the Greek setting for the powerful characters he had in mind.[10] Uchida admitted that he struggled during production because it was his first game he developed, and so he leaned on his lead programmer to help create balance in the gameplay.[7]

One of Uchida's goals was to create flashy visuals that would surprise players, so he asked his lead artist to focus just on the player character's transformation sequences for one month. Additionally, he and his team used the System 16 arcade system board for its ability to add great detail to large character sprites, as well as the visual effects it could provide, such as limbs flying off characters during combat.[7] Uchida was not impressed by the initial concept art, so he worked with an artist to sketch out his specific ideas on character design. While the results of this were positive, Uchida's lead designer quit the team over this situation.[10] Altered Beast includes Easter eggs that are references to other System 16 titles Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars and Shinobi, as a nod to members on Uchida's team that had worked on those titles previously.[7]

There were planned features for the game that Uchida did not have the opportunity to implement, namely a pressure-sensitive button. Discussions took place but a deal could not be reached with the owner of the patent of the pressure-sensitive device over the small number to be ordered. The failure to secure the button meant that half of the planned character actions had to be removed. Uchida claims that the reduced complexity of the game caused by this caused players to tire of Altered Beast quickly. Despite this, Uchida was proud of the reactions he was getting from players during play testing.[7]

ReleasesEdit

 
Altered Beast became the pack-in title for the Sega Genesis in North America and the Mega Drive (pictured above) in Europe and Brazil.

Released in June 1988,[8] Altered Beast's arcade version proved to be more popular overseas than it did in Japan. As a result of its popularity, it was selected to be ported and made the pack-in game for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive in North America and Europe. Uchida was not involved directly with either the Genesis or the Master System port, though he did give some advice and noted he was not worried about the Genesis port because its hardware was based on the System 16 arcade system board he used. He had hoped to implement the pressure-sensitive button for the Genesis port, but could not due to tight development time and the lack of the button in Genesis hardware. Because Altered Beast was not the pack-in game in Japan, Uchida did not get to see his game included with the console. By the time he went to the US three years later, all of the available consoles instead included Sonic the Hedgehog,[7] which replaced Altered Beast in part over concerns the latter's themes of zombies and magic were not popular in the Bible Belt.[11]

In addition to the Genesis and Master System, Altered Beast was ported to several platforms, including for PC Engine, PC Engine-CD, Famicom, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and Amiga. Several of the conversions for European systems were completed by Activision. Certain differences are seen between the several versions of the game. Some of them, like the Master System version, were missing levels. Others provided additional beasts to mutate into, such as a humanoid lion, shark, and phoenix forms seen in the Famicom version, ported by Asmik.[7]

The Genesis version is included in the compilations Sega Smash Pack,[12] Sega Genesis Collection,[13] and Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection,[14] with the latter two also including the arcade version as an unlockable game.[13][14] The Wii's Virtual Console service, the Xbox 360's Xbox Live Arcade, and the PlayStation 3's PlayStation Network all received a version of the game.[15][16][17] In 2017, Altered Beast was rereleased on iOS and Android as a part of the Sega Forever collection.[18] M2 released a 3D port for the Nintendo 3DS as a digital download on the Nintendo eShop.[19] The game was also included as one of the pre-loaded games on the SEGA Genesis Mini.[20] This game has also been released on the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack service on December 16, 2021.[21]

ReceptionEdit

In Japan, Altered Beast was the second highest-grossing arcade game of the month in July 1988.[40]

Upon its initial arcade release, Altered Beast received mixed reviews. Commodore User called it "a clever game, and well worth a few tens of anybody's money."[33] Computer and Video Games criticized the game's plot as being unoriginal and the graphics as "large and clumsily drawn".[2] Your Sinclair stated the game was "not recommended to those that are still living".[41] By contrast, Crash called the graphics "nifty" and suggested that despite the repetitive plot, the gameplay is compelling.[42] The Games Machine offered a positive review, stating that while the game is not highly visual like Out Run or Space Harrier, the gameplay makes the game worth a play.[29]

The various ports of Altered Beast received more mixed reviews. The Games Machine gave the Mega Drive version a positive review on the faithful arcade conversion.[30] In 1989, ACE praised the Mega Drive conversion as never having played better on any home system, and they rated it as the best Mega Drive game available at the time.[24] Sega Power, however, criticized the same version for jerky gameplay and bad scrolling.[36] The PC Engine CD conversion was panned by The Games Machine, which called the port "a disappointment" and suggested players who want to play the game try the Mega Drive version instead.[32]

Julian Rignall of Computer and Video Games criticized the Master System version, stating that while he is a fan of the arcade version, the reduced graphics, slow gameplay of the port, and fussy collision detection are significant issues.[27] Contrary to their praise for the Mega Drive port, The Games Machine called the Master System version "a middling conversion of a nice coin-op".[31] Electronic Gaming Monthly was more positive, claiming the game "does a good job of capturing most of the familiar play mechanics of its arcade cousin."[9] Sega Pro called the Master System version "a shame, since the Mega Drive version was a great success."[37] S: The Sega Magazine stated that there are better arcade conversions on the Master System and that Altered Beast, while having a passable soundtrack, suffers from poor animation and control issues.[38]

Mega placed the game at #10 in their list of the 10 Worst Mega Drive Games of All Time.[43] Its re-release for the Wii's Virtual Console was given a lukewarm reception by GameSpot and IGN, describing the game as merely decent with some nostalgic value.[44][45] The Xbox Live Arcade re-release was even described by IGN as a "relic of the arcade heyday that just doesn't hold up today".[46]

LegacyEdit

Altered Beast has received two sequels. Altered Beast: Guardian of the Realms, developed by 3d6 Games and published by THQ, is a 2002 sequel for Game Boy Advance in the style of the original arcade game. It adds new features like power-ups and beast forms, as well as 15 levels.[47] While the graphics are improved compared to the original game, the scrolling mechanic remains the same.[7] A PlayStation 2 title known as Jūōki: Project Altered Beast in Japan and Altered Beast in Europe was released by Sega in 2005.[7] It was planned for a North American release as well, but was later cancelled.[48] Rather than serving as a sequel to the original game, the newer title features a more modern setting that is unconnected to the original game, with a darker and more violent tone. Uchida advised on the project, and stated, "We really couldn't steer away from the violence aspect. The American marketing side was cheering us on, so we did it as best we could." The 2005 Altered Beast received mixed reviews for its camera system and poor graphics.[7]

Additionally, Altered Beast has been referenced in other media. In 1993, Matthew Sweet named his album Altered Beast after the game. Sweet told Spin magazine that the title meant "whatever is inside you that someday might explode, and maybe you don't know it's there", which he found similar to the game, where "you have to find these little power-up things, and when you eat them you become the Altered Beast, this other creature that's really powerful and violent".[49] In 2014, Sega announced a partnership with Evan Cholfin for film and TV projects based on their games.[50] Altered Beast was announced as an animated project in 2016.[51] The character Neff, in his Rhino form as the boss of the game's final level, appeared in Wreck-It Ralph, along with Sonic the Hedgehog villain Doctor Eggman.[7]

Altered Beast is popular among competitive gamers. On October 31, 2019, ZeeGee_ of New York achieved the world record for fastest speedrun at 6m 10s on the Sega Genesis,[52] while thu_ox placed second with 6 12s on the Nintendo Wii. Apostle Studios achieved the world record of highest score with 6,621,500 on the Sega Genesis, while Samuel Clemens of California placed second with 1,008,300 points on July 19, 2022, on the PlayStation 4.[53][54] As of 2022, Guinness World Records does not recognize records of Altered Beast.

Video game journalist Ken Horowitz stated that video gamers identify the "rise from your grave" opening from the game, whether they are fans of Sega's games or not. According to Horowitz, Altered Beast's biggest attraction is its charm, which was reduced in the modifications to the game's Genesis port, and has called the game "one of the more memorable concepts Sega conceived."[8] Uchida has expressed surprise over the sustained popularity around his arcade games, stating "When I occasionally visit videogame arcades in the US, I still see people playing my Altered Beast and Golden Axe games. It proves to me that, if the game is good, people will still pay good money to play it."[7]

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Jūōki (獣王記 (じゅうおうき), "Beast King's Chronicle")

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit