ALTERED BEAST

By Sean Harris

“RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE!!!”

So began the immortal words of father Zeus at the start of Sega’s classic side-scroller ALTERED BEAST. You are the resurrected corpse of a long dead centurion, and the king of the Gods has charged you with the burden of fighting your way into the underworld to challenge the demi-human Nef. Through five stages, you must battle his legion of unholy creatures (as well as several hideous incantations of himself) to retrieve your lord’s beautiful daughter from a sacrificial fate.

Undead greet you cordially in the cemetery.

While the scenario of hero-rescues-maiden is a familiar one, Sega’s graphical titan had a cool twist. During each level, ghostly two headed wolves randomly appear, and you must destroy them to obtain mystical glowing orbs. Your first sphere grants you a slight increase in physique, and strengthens your basic attacks (punching/kicking now have little power bursts around them). The second adds to this again, hulking out your muscles and making you able to kill most enemies with a single hit. The third is the charm, however, and upon grabbing it from the air, you’ll be treated to a quick cut scene of your character poly-morphing into a devastating supernatural monster.

After collecting three orbs, you'll wolf out.

Each stage begets a new form. In the opening necropolis, you’ll merge into a werewolf with fire based attacks. In the murky swamps beyond, you’ll become a were-dragon capable of lightening beams and projecting electrical shields. Deep below the earth’s crust, your level three were-bear can solidify with icy breath or spin like a fury buzz saw, shredding through opponents. A powerful flame imbued were-tiger will guide you through the cold halls of the abandoned shrine, and in Hades, the final backdrop, you’ll assume a wolf form again (this time with a golden hue) to do battle with Nef’s true embodiment.

That’s the game, essentially, and it can be a quick experience if you’re skilled at catching the orbs. Per level, you get three chances to power up into an altered beast, which amounts to three passes through very slowly advancing scenery while you wait for the glowing hounds to appear. Miss your targets before they scamper off screen, and you’ll be denied battle with Nef’s guardian form for another pass. If you haven’t managed to turn by the third attempt, you’ll have to fight in your human body, and Zeus be with you in your struggle against a vastly overpowering boss encounter.

Shoot this ocular menace from afar, dodging his projectile peepers.

Nasty enemies from ALTERED BEAST include all things of horror from occult imagery. Rotting zombies lurch at you, skeletons carrying their own heads advance, impish gargoyles flap down from the skies. There are pulsating leeches, stinger-adorned giant worker ants, and even some particularly satanic looking two legged goat men that box at you with cloven hooves. Basically, it’s a nightmare of impressive proportions, and your inner child should be giddy playing mythical monster mash-up.

Sega pulled out the stops to make it look nice, too. Detailed and large character sprites, beautiful color shading, optical effects with scaling set pieces, black and white stage transitions, and the ever cool cinema sequences of your warrior changing into beast had players drooling over the monitors in the late 80’s. To match it sonically, they programmed in some cool dialogue with the SPLAT and CRACK sound effects and ambient score, and you’ll be quoting the malevolent “WELCOME TO YOUR DOOM!” bit likely to the end of your days.

One more power-up to go.

It’s short, just like all of Sega’s system-16 titles from the same time period, but the stylings make up nicely for the lack of length. For being such a brisk adventure, it remains challenging, since getting the requirements to complete each round arrive in easily missed opportunities (which can be a tad frustrating, when crowds of enemies force you to fail collecting your items). The game does thankfully feature a 2-player simultaneous¬†option for more replay value, so while it may be something you only revisit once in a great while once the innovation has worn off, ALTERED BEAST remains a showy and fun cooperative platformer.