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Altered Beast

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Reviewed by Michael LoCascio Upon the release of the Sega Genesis way back in '89, the entire focus of the video game industry changed. The new name of the game was graphics - at least for a time. Here's a little secret between you and me: it took quite a long time for the 16-bit systems to catch up to the "ancient" NES when it came to silly little elements such as depth and replay value. But hey - those early Genesis games were visually stunning. Game play took a back seat to huge bosses and layers upon layers of scrolling. The leader of this "revolution" was Altered Beast, a simple action game that came packaged with the Genesis. While many have questioned the quality of Altered Beast, you can't really fault Sega's reasoning when it came to including this game with their new system. Players were excited about the capabilities of these shiny new 16-bit powerhouses, and Sega gave them a game that featured some of the most impressive visuals that had yet appeared on a home console. While screen shots of Altered Beast for the Genesis will undoubtedly appear primitive today, compare them to pics of the version that came out for the Sega Master System and it's easy to understand why so many players were thrilled to get their hands on the game. But besides the revolutionary graphics, Altered Beast was already a proven commodity. The massive success that the game had achieved in arcades granted Sega a marketing ploy that they didn't pass up. The recognition that Altered Beast had already garnered gave Sega the opportunity to prove to thousands of gamers that their new system was able to boast graphics and sounds worthy of the arcades. They pulled this off flawlessly; although many players won't admit to the fact today, the inclusion of Altered Beast with the Sega Genesis had a great deal to do with their purchasing of the system. Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, the game that came packed with NEC's Turbografx-16, was actually even more impressive than Altered Beast when it came to the superficial elements - but how many kids in America had ever heard of a guy named Keith Courage? Sega's prudence combined with NEC's mistake led to a very successful launch for the Genesis - and thus Altered Beast became entrenched in video game history. Well, it didn't take very long for most players to realize that Altered Beast wasn't all it was cracked up to be. But that's what happens when a game is created around a gimmick. Along with the impressive graphics, Altered Beast introduced the clever idea of allowing the hero of the game to transform into various creatures during the course of his adventure. Unfortunately, this adventure only lasts for about ten or fifteen minutes. The basic premise of the game had some potential: a once-legendary hero is brought back to life by the gods in order to defeat a maniacal evildoer (who has of course kidnapped a girl, but let's ignore that for a second). Along the way, the hero can metamorphize into fantastic beasts in order to slay the many fiends who stand in his way. Unfortunately, the promising premise becomes irrelevant once you begin playing the game. Your "legendary warrior" looks and acts like a mindless simpleton. The mythological aspect of the game's story is completely ignored once you begin beating up on zombies and ravaging boss creatures. The game slowly proceeds from the left to the right. You're responsible for punching or kicking anything and everything that you come across. The screen scrolls along on its own; if you're in a hurry to get through a level, too bad. You have to take what the game gives you - and be able to handle however many monsters are thrown at you at once. Not that this is at all difficult; the enemies in the game are apparently even denser than the muscle-bound moron that you control. Most of them just leisurely approach you, as if they were about to shake your hand rather than deck you. Every so often a blue bull will appear; should you kill this creature, it will release a special icon that will slowly float towards the top of the screen. Grab this icon before it ascends off screen and your character will be powered-up. One icon will turn you from a generic, skinny little man into a reasonably fit hero. The second icon that you acquire will turn you into a big strong, powerful, body-building dude. Finally, should you gain a third icon, you will be transformed into one of the five different creatures in the game. The boss creatures only appear after you have attained three of the power-up icons. Otherwise, the level will continue on endlessly; the longer you take, the more difficult the enemies becomes. There is a particular creature that you can become in each stage of the game. Stage One, which takes place in the graveyard where you had been buried, demands that you learn the skills of a Werewolf. Stage Two allows you to take a break from punching and kicking and fly around a dark cavern as a dragon. Stage Three takes place in a pit-filled cave, and asks that you become an oaf of a bear in order to make it out alive. You'll roam the corridors of Stage Four as a Tiger, and conquer the final enemy in Stage Five as the magnificent Golden Werewolf. Every creature controls differently and has different powers. This is probably the most appealing aspect of the entire game; unfortunately, should you attain the first three power-up icons that you come across, the boss will appear almost immediately after your transformation has taken place. In other words, you won't get to enjoy being a creature for very long. Before you know it, the level will be over and you'll be nothing more than a skinny walking dead guy again. The transformations aren't the only worthwhile element in Altered Beast, however. The game allows for two players to give it a go simultaneously. Destroying a blue bull will release two power-up icons rather than one, and the second player will morph into creatures of different colors than the first player. Of course, the graphics and sounds in Altered Beast are very noteworthy. The boss creatures were most impressive when this game was originally released. These guys were incredibly huge, and oftentimes repulsive. The powers of the Genesis were put to good use when it came time for these end-of-level battles. The music in Altered Beast appealed to me even more than the graphics, however. The slow, low key tunes provide the perfect backdrop for this slow, dark video game. The voices were extremely effective as well. Right before a boss appears, you hear your enemy's voice say, "Welcome to your doom!" You've got to understand that this seemed extremely cool the first time I heard it; after all, Bowser and Ganon had never taken the time to talk to me or threaten me. While Altered Beast certainly has its moments, the game is incredibly repetitive and disgracefully short. Kick every enemy that pops up, use a simple trick to annihilate a boss, and move on to the next level. There are little intermission scenes (more like intermission "images") that appear in between levels. These simply show the evildoer turning the kidnapped girl into a bird (don't ask me why he's doing it). Don't worry though - she'll only have to remain a bird for the ten minutes or so that it'll take you to get through the game; beat the bad guy and she'll be back in her normal human form in no time. Once you do conquer the game and see what kind of powers each different creature has to offer, there really isn't any reason to return to Altered Beast. Good graphics can only carry a game for so long. Altered Beast is sorely lacking in depth and challenge. There are no secrets to be discovered in the game; no hidden paths to explore. Each time you play it, you'll experience the exact same game over and over again. While I gave Altered Beast a respectable rating of 6, I took into account the fact that the game was somewhat revolutionary in its own right, and that there is some nostalgia value to this cart. However, should younger players who weren't around to experience the Genesis in its heyday give this game a try, those factors I just mentioned will mean absolutely nothing to them. This is the kind of title that has a place in every expansive video game library - where it can constantly remain sitting and be remembered for what its value was in the first place. Overall: 6 / 10

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