“RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE!” the little digitised voice from the arcade machine said, as I stood outside a schwarma take-away place with my dad in old Hillbrow. I watched the thing in pure wonder as a man changed from an undead soldier into a werewolf who threw fireballs at a lumpy rock boss throwing copies of his own face. The arcade machine spoke to me, and I had to play it. Begging my dad for 20c worked, and I got to play a game that would be one of my favourites for years. Here’s the thing though though. It’s a bloody awful game. Rose-tinted nostalgia glasses had me thinking it was great for years, but it’s never really been any good at all, has it?
First up, it features a dead Roman centurion who’s raised from the dead by the Greek god Zeus to help save his daughter Athena from the clutches of Neff, the bald guy you end up killing 5 or so times. That alone makes no sense; if Zeus is powerful enough to bring a nameless soldier back from the dead, surely he could just save her himself?
In each level, you’ll go about as your sculpted hunk of surprisingly undecomposed manflesh, moving left to right, kicking and punching things; zombies, weird backward wasps, wolves, more wolves, and stupid birds until you finally kick or punch special things that give you magical orbs. They’re magical orbs of insta-steriods, because for whatever reason you become buffer with each one. Your chest and arms expand like you’ve been klapping gym, boet until eventually you transform in to some or other creature.
The first is the aforementioned werewolf, later, a dragon that shoots off bolts of electricity at giant eyeballs – and later, a roly-poly bear that seems to spit death, or something. As the bear, you get to take on Neff in his insidious form of an evil giant snail, because why the hell not. Worst of all, when you do beat the end-level boss after becoming a big powerful were-creature, that bald bastard whose ass you’ve just whipped takes your powers away, leaving you a skinny little weakling all over again.
The whole thing’s over in about 12 minutes if you’re good at the game. You aren’t though, because it has the worst mechanics and hit detection in any game ever. Couple that with the fact that your shirtless, were-lothario feels like he’s perpetually moving in quicksand and you’re in for a bad time. It’s not a great game. It was never a great game, and any real fondness you may have for it is driven by nostalgia and nothing else. Altered Beast is awful. Even that digitised voice sample in the beginning; the only reason you know it says “rise from your grave” is because of the accompanying text. Really, it sounds like “mrss fwmmer gwaaf,” which makes more sense than the game’s stupid narrative.
In the end, it turns out the whole thing’s just been one elaborate and frankly stupid stage production as everybody reveals their stupid masks to reveal they’re actors. I replayed it not too recently, and it ruined my life, essentially proving that just about every fond arcade gaming memory I had as a child was a lie. The game was led by SEGA’s Makoto Uchido, who went on to use the same basic template to create something good, and that actually still stands up to scrutiny as a worthwhile game today: Golden Axe.
Last Updated: November 18, 2014