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Hindsight : Altered Beast

Cart: Altered Beast
Cab: Arcade / Megadrive / Genesis
Coin: Team Shinobi

“Wiise fwom your gwave” – Those words are immortal to almost anyone who bought a Megadrive/Genesis pre-Sonic the Hedgehog. Managing to be both impressive AND comical back in 1990, as this launch title showed off the capabilities of Sega’s new machine.

In fact, looking back at Altered Beast, it has clearly become remembered more for its amusement value than its gaming value. This is for good reason.

The game is a side-scrolling beat ’em up, with sluggish controls, patchy collision detection, and a constant feeling of being bumped around by enemies who appear to have larger reach than you despite having shorter arms/claws/etc. The arcade is not much better, which is surprising given it was originally created by Team Shinobi.

Tiger! Tiger! Tiger Uppercut!

Tiger! Tiger! Tiger Uppercut!

What it did do well however, was show off the graphics and sound technology of both the System 16 Arcade Hardware and the Megadrive respectively. Large sprites, big bosses, lots of colours, sampled speech – impressive stuff when it was first created and converted in 1988. I bet very few kids who looked on the back of a Megadrive box at launch and saw the flaming wolf head didn’t subsequently ask their parents for the system.

In hindsight though, the big sprites don’t really have the same impact, and the sound doesn’t have the impact intended. In 2013, the flurry of sampled speech just sounds plain bad on the arcade version, and ridiculous on the Megadrive.

What strikes me playing both versions back this week, is just how very very camp the whole game is. In places this thing is like Top Gun in gaming form.

This is the firing movement on level three. I don't think a humorous caption would do it justice.

This is the firing movement on level three.
I don’t think a humorous caption would do it justice.

When you (as a human) collect an orb, you suddenly rip through your clothes with extra muscles as a voice says “Power, up!” When you transform into a bear on level 3, he fires with a weird bending over movement, not to mention looking more like a fluffy toy than a big scary creature from the woods. Not to mention how some of the transformation effects are actually quite funny, as your human face turns into a yellow tiger in four frames.

Then you reach the boss, an old guy in a toga who tells you “Welcome to your doom!” (or “wllcmm to yoor dmmm” on the Megadrive) before transforming into some large enemy. Oh the enemies get funny too, the final boss on the arcade is a large Rhino, and one of the latter enemies is a purple standing unicorn. After the level the power ups are taken away with a sampled evil laugh, which sounds like the understudy from a small, not very talented local theatre group overacting with bad reverb.

The only way this could look camper is if the character was a goose. Do you read me Maverick?

The only way this could look camper is if the character was a goose.
Do you read me Maverick?

Of course it’s easy to look back on games and laugh at things once considered technologically advanced, and in this case, kind of fun too. The game is poor, one of the worst Sega games on the Megadrive – but play it at least once, if only to understand how utilising the latest technology does not guarantee a good game (See also CD-Rom interactivity and Full Motion Video).

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Rob is an advertising strategist and author of 'The Ad Pit' blog. Rob has been playing games for 25 years - which makes him feel very old. He used to have a victory ratio of 40:1 in Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, but that was a long time ago! #dogyears

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One Comment

  1. I actually used to like this in the arcades, player it again recently and sea how awful it was!

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