Released December 5, 2013 / $5.99
Version Reviewed: 3DS
Original Release: Arcade / 1988
Altered Beast has a somewhat unusual legacy as a game that people just love to poke fun at. But the potshots are warm and playful- the game elicits the same sort of reactions that the campy films featured on MST3K do. From the oft-quoted “Rise From Your Grave!” to Japanese Twitter users adding the flames from the transformation screen as the foreground of their icons, people love referencing Altered Beast. They also love playing it, apparently. In an interview with Game Watch and Impress (translated by Sega), Yosuke Okunari, the producer of the 3D Classics series, stated that they chose Altered Beast for the 3D treatment because it was one of the titles “performing well on Wii Virtual Console.”
So what makes Altered Beast so compelling? In a podcast we recorded devoted to the game, I argued that the premise played a large part- it’s absurdly fascinating. The plot summary on Wikipedia reads:
A Roman centurion who had died in battle is resurrected from the dead by Zeus. The centurion is ordered by Zeus to save his daughter Athena from a Demon God called Neff in the Underworld. To become able to withstand the perils, the warrior gets the ability to absorb spirit balls which transform him into an Altered Beast, a part animal, part human creature of formidable force.
This is about as perfect as late-80s video game plots get and remains awesome today.
What also attracted players to Altered Beast in 1988 was the glorious presentation. The large, detailed sprites and Ancient-Greece-by-way-of-heavy-metal-album-cover setting was absolutely irresistible to any youth of the era. Even the Mega Drive version (which is used as the basis of this enhanced port) looked incredible. Altered Beast also sports one of the secret best Sega soundtracks- the epic, atmospheric, compositions followed by driving synth-rock really propel the player through the game.
The most commonly derided aspect of Altered Beast is the clunky control when playing as a human. Limited to only high and low punches and kicks, your human form is stiff, awkward, and ineffective, which is why you want to power-up into beast form as soon as possible. Herein lies the game’s most compelling characteristic- the transformations. After defeating a two-headed goat, the slain beast releases a spirit orb, which incrementally powers up your character. What happens after collecting three of these orbs can only be described as what a young me saw as nothing less than electronic magic. The game cuts away from its 2D perspective to show a brilliant sprite animation of your human character transforming into a kick-ass mythical beast (or a goofy somersaulting bear). Once you transform into a werewolf, dragon, or tiger (hopefully not the bear), the real game begins. In beast form, the controls loosen up quite a bit and you finally feel empowered (the rocking tune that plays following the transformation helps as well).
You’ll feel even more empowered if you’re playing this 3D Classics version. After describing them as “emulation masters” and “port gods,” I’m starting to run out of titles for M2 (the developers of this port). Just know that they are the best at this sort of thing, and they are, as always, in top form for this port. In addition to expected features such as save states, button config, local co-op, and stereoscopic 3D, this port adds a random beast transformation option, the choice to play the Japanese or “International” version, and to have it emulated on either Genesis 1 or 2 hardware. One of the more interesting options allows you to set the screen mode as either Normal or Classic. Normal is a crisp and gorgeous rendition of the game, while Classic mode presents Altered Beast as it would be viewed through a somewhat blurry, curved CRT television- a wonderfully lighthearted touch in this year of endless debates about resolution.
Another cheeky touch to this version is the showcasing of the somersaulting bear at every possible opportunity. From the game’s icon
…to the constant visual on the bottom screen, the bear is showcased in its adorable absurdity at all times.
At first glance, players may lament the lack of difficulty settings available in M2’s ports of Super Hang-On and Space Harrier. But those with limited time/patience should fear not, as the debug menu from the Mega Drive version is available in this port as well (by holding B and pressing X on the title screen). Here you can select your stage, life bar size, difficulty, and number of lives.
3D Altered Beast is a great port of a strangely legendary game. The game is flawed for sure, but it is also bold, charming, and unintentionally hilarious. I don’t know if we’ll ever decide on gaming’s Citizen Kane, but in Altered Beast I think we have found gaming’s Troll 2. Kudos to Sega and M2 for giving it the treatment it deserves.
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