Video games are a medium that promote imagination. From the very beginning video games had to be played with a little bit of imagination. Whether it was the simple game of Pong to the first Atari classics, it was the designers of the games themselves that had to use the technology of the day and their artistic creativity to make games. After all, back then there were no rules to gaming. The designers made them up as they went. To this day, it was those designers that came up with the ideas for games that would have an impact on gaming far into the future. If you think about it, sometimes (more often than not though), the stories of the games are just as interesting as the designers themselves. Where often do you see stories about an Italian plumber who travels in and out of sewer pipes, in a Mushroom Kingdom on a quest to find a Princess named Peach? Yup, while that is the basic story for one of the most popular video game series’ (Super Mario Brothers), it isn’t by any means exclusive in its imagination. Gaming has been the medium that has transported the players to new worlds and landscapes. But, our journey today deals with one that set the tone for a new generation of gamers. A game that was both their first introduction to a new gaming console and to a new, more sinister landscape. This game was Altered Beast, and it would be the game that helped blossom the 16-bit revolution.
A lot of times in art, the inspiration for their creation can come from different sources. Some of these sources may be easily apparent or they may be abstract, but one thing is certain, it is the familiar that can strike a connection with its users. While there have been many games that deal with werewolves, dragons, tigers and bears, one of the first (and one that most people seem to remember) is Altered Beast. It was a game that (at the time) was unlike a lot of others on the market, and it was that beastly connection that helped set it apart in the arcades, and later at home.
Altered Beast first came out in arcades (something that has long been forgotten nowadays) back in 1988 and the look and feel of the game was unlike anything at the time. This may seem a little strange, but, when graphics were a lot more primitive (especially in the Atari days), artists and designers had to get a little creative in their character artwork. This was long before the days of 4K gaming, and high resolution graphics, and so, because of that, designers had to use every bit of creativity at their disposal. Every pixel on the screen counted, and so, with what little horsepower was available to designers they were able to draw the iconic characters we know today. In those days, you had a plethora of gaming personalities and games flooding arcades. The impact they left is still felt today. I mean, who hasn’t heard of games such as Super Mario Brothers, or Donkey Kong? Those games are as playable now as they were back then. Simple and to the point. A hallmark to games back then, and one that has resonated through the years. Especially in the last few years with the explosion of retro gaming. That however, is another topic for another time.
That is what set Altered Beast apart though. Especially for those of us that transitioned over to the 16-Bit generation. Long gone were the simple pixels and small characters that defined the 8-Bit era. Character sprites were bigger, music was more epic, and the action that games provided was unseen up until that point. Well, at least in the home anyways. But, for the first time at home players were able to transform into beasts, punch the undead and fight their way through different worlds unlike any time before. This was gaming on a new level, and it was awesome. Wolves looked like wolves, and enemies had more personality. This was 16-Bit gaming at its finest and it would never be the same again. But, what was Altered Beast? There were games like this before, but, what set this one apart?
This side-scroller featured the one main protagonist (or two if you play with a buddy) who has been resurrected by the god of thunder himself, Zeus. Your mission is to find and save his daughter. Kind of strange if you ask me. Considering Zeus is a god, you would think he’d find a way to handle his business himself. But, alas, why do the hard work when you have mortals to handle your business for you. Every level in the game had you running around fighting beasts from Ancient Greek mythos. You start out as some weak sucker who can barely survive an onslaught of butterflies. But, as you pick up power orbs (or crazy hormone globes as I call them), you begin to grow in size and power. After getting three of those orbs something amazing happens to your character and you begin to transform into a beast with mutant abilities!
The first level of the game has you transforming into a werewolf with has a power dash and shoots fireballs out of his fists. Doesn’t seem to crazy now, but, seeing this game as a kid, that was just the most amazing thing ever. I mean, who doesn’t want to transform into that? As sweet as that was though, every level also lets you transform into something different. From dragons to bears, it was all there for you to try out. All the while you are battling some of the craziest villains in gaming. From level to level, there were animals and beasts from Greek mythology to fight. But, that was only the case if you could make it that far. The game was originally made for arcades, so, for sure there is a bit of a challenge for the player to tackle. So, if you play the game, be prepared to die, and die often. While it’s enough to make you want to punch the wall or any poor soul within five feet of you, that’s the beauty of games from this era though. Games back then challenged (and sometimes frustrated) players to continuously try harder and become better.
This classic game set a pace and tone for a lot of side-scrollers for many years after it was released. It was so successful in its time that it became the pack-in game for the SEGA Genesis. For many new gamers in the late 80’s, it was the first 16-bit game that they had ever played. That, in itself should be a testament to the game that we’re talking about. Altered Beast is, and always will be a classic. Thanks for the memories SEGA. This is one of those games that will stick with me forever, and after all, isn’t that what gaming is all about.
Words and Photos By Daniel Navarrete
Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research.
Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.
Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.