Sega for Genesis – Action – 1989 – Rating: 3/10

Altered Beast was actually a good arcade game, one of a whole pack of great Sega arcade hits during the mid- to late-1980s. Its angle was slightly unique: you play as a pair of dead soldiers resurrected by Zeus, who commands you to rescue his kidnapped daughter (because every videogame in the ’80s involved rescuing kidnapped girls). In your quest, you are empowered with glowing spheres that mutate you from Scrawny Zombie Loser to Steroid Freak to Mutant Animal Superhero. This is very screwy theology, but it resulted in a very enjoyable experience on afternoons after school.

This was one of Sega’s very first Mega Drive titles, released in 1988 in Japan, and released in 1989 as the pack-in titles for Sega Genesis. It was practically the textbook definition of a lazy pack-in videogame: barely serviceable, lazily executed, short and basic and all too simple. It’s a decent showcase for the new system’s powers, with large character sprites and digitized speech samples. But not really. Its only real function was to force you out to the mall in search of more videogames.

What’s wrong with Genesis Altered Beast? It’s a lousy, half-hearted conversion of the arcade. The graphics kinda look right, except the colors are flat and overly dithered, the animation is lacking, the difficulty severely clipped. Beyond that, the gameplay is extremely basic, with auto-scrolling, two-tiered landscapes that somehow manage to move too slowly, yet end far too soon. I swear these levels are less than two minutes long. When your character changes into his animal form, you sit up and notice because, hey, now this game is gonna be really cool. But then the stage ends five or ten seconds later and the boss appears, a complete pushover who is dispatched in mere seconds. The main villain appears, steals your steroid spheres, and you’re back to playing as the scrawny stringbean again. What a rip.

This videogame is a cakewalk. Really, you can waltz through to the end in 15 minutes flat, and still leave time for a coffee break. It was an early work and a cheap conversion, and it shows. The game’s only novelty, again, are the digitized voice samples and large character sprites, impressive in the age of NES, but exposed as low-fi and scratchy once the Super Nintendo arrived. It’s the videogame equivalent to White Castle burgers: cheap, greasy and destined to leave a knot in the pit of your stomach. No way in hell is this trip worth eight bucks; it’s barely worth two. This game makes a mockery of Nintendo’s pricing system for Virtual Console.

Seriously, the only good thing about Altered Beast on Genesis was the box art. They couldn’t even get the ending right; the coin-op concluded with all the game’s characters removing their costumes, revealing that the whole production was, in fact, a stage play. This videogame-as-theater meme would also appear in Treasure’s Dynamite Headdy, Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers 3, and Sega’s World of Illusion and Bug; plays performed by players, performed by players who play.

Don’t believe the hype. Altered Beast on Sega Genesis stinks. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a sucker, or a con artist trying to grab your wallet. Beware on both counts.

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