(Review archived from March 17, 2023)
WELCOME TO YOUR DOOM! Er … welcome to this brief review of Altered Beast, a game that is inextricably linked to the history of the Sega Genesis thanks largely due to being included as a pack-in game with the system at launch. Sega’s unforgettable (at times notorious) marketing strategy during the 90’s largely revolved around positioning Sega as an edgier, cooler counterpoint to the perception of Nintendo as the “mild, family-friendly” option. So including Altered Beast as a pack in title with the Genesis was a savvy and effective means of reinforcing this notion. The first boss you face in Altered Beast attacks you by rapidly and repeatedly ripping his own head off and throwing it at you. This was some pretty edgy material to be playing on the family television circa 1989. I mean, for all of Bowser’s nefarious schemes … he never really resorted to self-evisceration. Leaping forward a few decades, it’s interesting to see how Altered Beast holds up these days when self-evisceration in gaming seems positively quaint.
Covering the basics, this is a single plane side-scrolling beat’em up with a decidedly lycanthropic bent. You play as a beefy hero who’s been resurrected (ahem … RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE) by Zeus for the purpose of rescuing the deity’s daughter Athena from the evil wizard Neff. To do this, you’ll need to punch and kick your way through hordes of demons and collect power-ups that transform you into a werewolf, were-dragon, and other mythical were-creatures. One might wonder whether the game features some kind of prominent theme of Greek mythology given the general storyline, but for the most part it’s really only even hinted at in a couple of the levels which feature ancient Greek buildings and architecture.
With regards to the technical aspects of the game, I’m happily to report that underneath the aforementioned ‘edge’ there’s still some solid gameplay to be had in Altered Beast … or at least what there is of it. I’ve heard Altered Beast referred to as a “tech-demo” for the Genesis, and it’s a fairly apt description really. As a pack-in title this game really showcased the technical capabilities of the Genesis. The graphics here are big, colorful, and bold, featuring huge sprites and subtle parallax effects. Music and sound is well executed, though in this regard I think the quotes I’ve included here in CAPS might be the most well remembered aspect. So there’s a lot of good here, but frankly it’s all over a bit too soon. Of course it’s great marketing to “leave ’em wanting more” but I suspect with even a bit of skill one could burn right through this game in less than 15 minutes (and a quick perusal of YouTube ‘long plays’ actually puts that estimate closer to 10 minutes). It’s a good game, but upon completion leaves a distinct lingering feeling of, “wait … that was it?“.
All the same, Altered Beast is one of the quintessential titles in the Genesis library. Any dedicated Sega fans should rise from their graves and give this one a shot, if they’ve not done so already. Recommended for were-creatures of all varieties, as well fans of Sega and beat’em ups in general.