Classic Gaming Wednesday
"Rise from your grave!"
Back in 1988, Sega released the arcade classic, "Altered Beast" in Japan, and then shortly brought upright cabinet over to American shores a few months later. Before long, the game, a side-scrolling, 2-player, beat-em-up, became popular enough for Sega to whore off the the game and port it to a number of systems, including DOS, Atari 2100, Amiga, the NES, and of course, Sega's own gaming systems, the Master System, and the 16-bit Sega Genesis. When the Genesis was first released in the US, Sega offered Altered Beast as a pack-in, thus making it one of the most-played Genesis games early on in the system's lifetime.
Like many other stories found in video games during this time period, the background story behind this game was a bit corny, if not confusing. Basically, you control some guy who has been brought back to life by the Greek God, Zeus, and you have to go and rescue the Greek goddess, Athena, from the clutches of minor Underworld God, Neff, who somehow kidnapped one of the most kick-ass gods in Greek mythology and holds her hostage. Along the way, you run into these "Spirit Balls" (how original!) which are like steroids or something for your main character. Every Spirit Ball you collect makes your muscles get all huge, and if you collect three of them, you turn into a beast. ("Balls turn me into a BEAASSSTT!!!") You can turn into a werewolf, a tiger, a bear, or even a flying dragon, depending the level you're on, and when you do eventually turn into a beast, the music changes, and all of a sudden, you're rocking out to some upbeat music, killing random enemies as you go along.
The control scheme is rather simple, like almost every game from this era (punch, kick, jump). While the action is dated by today's standards, there's something that still cool about controlling the beast, with that whole music thing going on around you. If you gather a few friends around when you play this game, it's almost guaranteed to get everyone smiling and having fun with this little bit of nostalgia, all while you blow through the levels and make fun of the game's design.
While there have been numerous ports of the game, you can find the best versions on the Sega Genesis and the Turbografx CD (Japanese version-only). Sega released the Sega Smash Pack Vol. 1 for the Dreamcast, which featured an emulated version of Altered Beast, but sadly, this port is incredibly awful, and really isn't worth playing. The Sega Master System version isn't bad, but if you don't have it already, it'll be harder to track down this system and this game rather than just getting an old Genesis version, which you can find practically everywhere they sell classic consoles. Recently, there was a port of Altered Beast for Tapwave's Zodiac handheld, but it wasn't worth the media it was printed on, unfortunately. Just stick to the Genesis version. You can't go wrong.
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Modern Day Sequels?
In Japan, there was a 3D sequel to the original game, entitled, "Project Altered Beast" for the PS2. There were plans to release the game here in the States, but thankfully, the idea was canned after it was poorly received by Japanese gaming critics. It was hyper-violent, incredibly bloody, and had little to do with the original, save for the beast-changing part. There was also a recently GBA game, published by THQ, titled, "Altered Beast: Guardian of the Realms," that was more like the original game, featuring new beasts, and new destructible environments, but in this case, they stuck so close to the original blueprint, that the game looks as if it could've been made on the Genesis instead of the more advanced 32-bit GBA.
FUN FACT: Many gamers consider the title theme and the music from the first level of the game to be among gaming's most instantly recognizable gaming soundtracks of all time.