Liam’s Game Room #7 (Altered Beast, Genesis)

Introduction

Altered Beast was released for the Sega Genesis in 1989 and was a launch title for the console. A launch title is a game that is released on the same day as the game console, mainly used to help sell more consoles within the first few months of the console’s existence. The main reason why launch titles were so important was because without a good set of launch titles, the console could fail and sales in some cases would not recover. Altered Beast was also an arcade game in 1988 and then ported for the release of the Sega Genesis.

Story

The story of Altered Beast is that the player plans a Roman Centurion who had previously died in battle, but was resurrected by Zeus to save his daughter Athena who has been kidnapped by the Demon God called Neff. The story of this game is simple enough so that players understand what they need to do, but the story doesn’t have any development. The major problem is that unlike some games of the time, the lack of story development doesn’t really make the player care about the character you are saving, apart from at the end of levels there being an image of Neff holding Athena captive. Apart from this, there isn’t any exposition to update the player whether Athena is alive. I just feel that the story is lacking, but lacking to the point where the player feel detached from the story.

Gameplay

The gameplay of Altered Beast is a side scrolling beat em up where the player has to defeat all the enemies on the screen before the player can progress. What this means is that the player is restricted until either the enemies scroll off screen or the enemies are defeated, which for players who aren’t aware of this is a major annoyance. On all levels, the level scrolled slowly and once enemies were defeated, the screen would scroll faster until another enemy appeared on screen. This slow scrolling makes the pace of the game feel somewhat sluggish and slow, which might be because of the arcade nature of the game and the fact that the game was made to get as much money as possible.

This leads me on to the difficulty of the game, which is way too difficult and hard for new players to get used to. The game also has only 3 lives and there isn’t any continues, which can make the game extremely difficult to beat, especially in the later levels where there are pits that the player can be knocked back into. What this means, is that if the player isn’t familiar either with the level layout or the locations of the enemies, then the player would have a different time even progressing very far at all. I do believe that if the game had some continues and a difficulty option like some of the home arcade ports had at the time, then this would have allowed players to learn the game better without being sent back to the title screen every game over. Even if the game allowed the player to continue from the level where they had got their game over, then the game would have been more forgiving.

The graphics of the game are pretty decent, although the detailing of the characters could have been more detailed, but then again for a launch game this game does a good job of showing off the potential the Genesis had. I do like how colourful the background and the characters are, which also showed off the wide colour palette that the Genesis offers. The main problem is that the downscale from arcade meant that some of the detailing was lost due to the restrictions of the hardware.

Music and Sound

Altered Beast considering the fact that it was a Sega Genesis launch title has some pretty amazing music, which really utilises the upgrades in sound quality and ability of the Genesis compared to more primitive Master System sound chip. The sound quality is also as crisp and clean as the arcade game soundtrack, which at the time to have an arcade port sound as good as Altered Beast was a rarity. Now I will analyse the soundtrack of the game stage by stage and breakdown how it sounds.

So the theme to Stage 1 is a fantastic introduction to sort of style that the player will hear throughout. In the first 8 bars the track begins with a simple drum beat, which really helps set the mood of the location and does a great job of instilling the feeling of being in Ancient Greece. Alongside the drum beat is the top line of the melody, which after the introduction harmonises very well with the mid and the bass. After the intro section of the track, the drums heard in the beginning aren’t heard again until the track loops, which is a really shame because it helps with believing you are in the time and location that the game is set in. The middle and ending sections sadly don’t live up to a introduction and the tracks falls into the realm of being quite forgettable. Overall, this theme is still ok but it isn’t the sort of theme that you will remember for more than 5 minutes and sadly the middle and the end negatively affect my overall feeling towards the track.

The theme to Stage 2 is much darker and creepier compared to the first stage, as the player is fighting through a cave. The instrumentation used in this theme is much maintains the best possible illusion of being in the time period well, but compared to Stage 1’s theme it maintains the effective instrumentation. The tempo in this piece is much quicker and the orchestration is much more stripped back with only a single bass line, which allows the creepy melodies to be the main premise of the theme. Also, this theme is much more memorable as there is a much more simple and understandable structure to the theme, which means that the track doesn’t fall into monotony, like the first theme. Three quarters through the theme, there is a repeating synth note, which acts like an effective bridge between the previous section and a short intense section where there is more layers before it loops. This theme captures the essence of being a cave very well and also does a great job of installing potential panic into the player because of the eerie nature of the chord arrangement. Also, this theme acts as the theme for Stage 4, which is the only time a stage theme is reused in another stage in the entire game. This theme is one of the 2nd best theme because it has a really track structure as makes sense within the context of the stage.

The theme is stage 3 is perhaps the best theme of the entire game and really shows off what the Genesis sound chip can do. The intro is a pure drum beat with a melodic line on the top, which really allows the drums to resonate whilst not being overpowering. The bass line comes in intermittently and main reenters for chord changes and musical progression.  The simplistic nature of the track with occasional drum accidentals make the track sound very intimidating for the player to listen to, but so brash that it would blow their ear drums out. The melodic drums really add an aura of unnerving and adds needed thickness to the track to make sure it isn’t overly spacious. This track showcases that less can be more and structure is key.

The theme for the 5th and final stage is one that really stands out compared to the rest of the soundtrack. The tempo for this piece is very high and the amount of instrumentation makes the piece very busy and complex, whilst all the individuals are still audible. The chord progression is actually quite simple, but the wide variety of different instruments and parts makes it sound like there is more progression then there actually is. The drum beat is very advanced for the era and sounds like a drum beat that would have been perfectly suitable in any chart song. The synth solo at the end before the loop is hectic and overpowers the mix slightly too much, making some parts of the track hard to hear.

The boss is the most hectic piece of the entire piece, as there isn’t just a lot of instruments playing at once, but there is 4 tempo changes, which happen as the piece plays. These tempo changes really up the tension very quickly and when the player is faced with a difficult boss, it can make the boss more intimidating. The bass line underneath the pieces repeats alongside the drum beat to really drive the piece through the varying tempo changes. The time signature is 4/4 even though it has the feel of 3/4 because of the nature of the drum line. Before the loop, I feel that the final tempo change might have been way too quick because it is so fast that hearing anything clearly is impossible and makes the ending sound like quite a mess.

Overall, the soundtrack of the game compared to other Genesis games isn’t as strong, however considering the fact that this game came out in 1989 and a launch title for the console, it sets quite a good standard. I feel that more themes around Ancient Greece would have benefitted the game more because some themes felt out of place because it didn’t really represent the time era very well.

Conclusion

Overall, Altered Beast was a decent game at the time and did show off the potential of the console, but in comparison to Sonic, which was a pack in game the game doesn’t look or sound as good. For what it is it is a decent game, but there are definitely a few problems with the game, which definitely held it back for being a great game that stands the test of time.

6/10

Liam

Copyright ©2016 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use

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