The best classic Monster Transformation Video Game?
When people think of monster TFs in video games, some will simply point to the final boss in some JRPGs or other video games, making it only the villains and bad guys that turn into monsters and not the hero of the story. As a child, I always thought the best way to fight monsters was to become a monster. Luckily, there is a game out there that lets you turn into one to fight them. Fortunately, there are a few games where the player can become a said monster, but one of them enables you to do this while fighting other monsters. That game, released in 1988 in arcades and a year later (being the first game on the Sega Genesis) on home consoles, is Altered Beast.
An Epic Story – Literally
Altered Beast’s story takes place in Ancient Greece where you play as an unnamed centurion resurrected by the god Zeus to rescue Athena from the demon god of the underworld named Neff. The game starts out with Zeus resurrecting you with the famous words “Rise from your grave” and the centurion’s adventure to rescue Athena starts. The centurion has no weapons, but relies on punching and kicking his enemies or jumping over them. Neff’s army of monsters ranges from undead ghouls, winged demons, blobs, giant insects, and even other beast men. However, Zeus’s resurrection gave the centurion the ability to change into a werebeast.
Throughout the game’s five levels there are two-headed wolves, and there are ones that are flickering (or blue in the Genesis version) that drop items called “spirit orbs” in the manual. These orbs will enhance the centurion not just by strength but physically as shown when you collect the first one, which causes his tunic to rip and shows off a buff physique. Receiving the second one makes him more muscular and taller than the first, even towering some of the default enemies and meeting Neff’s height. However, upon collecting the third power-up, the centurion transforms in a short cutscene, into a werebeast.
The Beast Transformations
These werebeast forms are the wolf, dragon, bear, and tiger; each one provides unique abilities that turn the tide of battle. For example, the werewolf and weretiger forms allow the centurion to shoot fireballs from his fist and perform a dash attack that kills enemies (the werewolf has a dash attack horizontally while the weretiger makes a vertical attack going up and down). The weredragon not only has a projectile electric breath attack but also can generate an electric field around its body to shock enemies up close as well as being able to fly in any direction (the only moment where the D-pad can shine). Lastly, the werebear’s ability allows it to breathe a stone breath that fossilizes enemies in their place and a rolling dunk attack. These forms not only are needed to make the fight easier against the forces of Neff but are required to fight Neff and move to the next level.
Once you acquire your werebeast form, you are greeted by Neff, who “Welcomes you to your doom” before changing into a monstrous boss form (Failing to obtain the werebeast form just has Neff retreating to another part of the stage, giving you a chance to collect the power-ups needed to fight Neff.) These forms Neff uses to fight range from a mountain of corpses, a large plant that shoots eyeballs, a dragon snail, a small crocodile dragon that spits fire demons and fireballs and a werebeast in the form of a wererhino. Upon defeating Neff in the four stages, he will emerge from the ground as a disembodied head who laughs at you before stripping your werebeast form and retreating into a new level, forcing the centurion to chase after Neff until the final stage where he is defeated for good and Athena is rescued.
A Few Flaws…
The game, though fun as it is, does have some glaring issues for some people who might play this game for the first time. One problem is the game’s lack of story outside of the instruction manual found in the Genesis version. Throughout the entire game, the only story you see are still scenes that serve as transitions to each stage. These simply tell you how Neff captured Athena and how he transformed her into a small helpless bird and nothing else; no explanation on the centurion or how his werebeast form came to be.
Another issue of the game is the werebeasts themselves. Though the transition from a small centurion to a powerful werebeast is a sight to see when playing the game, the transformation from the centurion to beast form is lackluster except for the werewolf. That specific transformation shows a short animation of the centurion’s face changing into a monster; otherwise, the transformation scenes are just a picture of the centurion’s face followed by a flicker transition into the werebeast’s face. Though a positive aspect does have some sound of the werebeast, the centurion’s transforming if only brief.
Another issue with the werebeasts is that there only four transformations that are unique to each stage. The final stage just has the return of the werewolf form only with a golden-brown fur and no access to the other transformations. On the positive, it means that the changes are tied to a specific theme to the stages such as the dragon form themed to the swamp-based environment of stage two and the bear being tied to the underground caverns of the third area; however, it also means you cannot have the other forms.
The stages and their enemies are tied flawlessly together, and some of the enemies do fit with the stage theme as well as each stage is themed around Greek mythology. Starting out on the first stage has you in a Greek-themed graveyard filled with the two-headed wolves and undead creatures. Then you transition into the swamp-filled underworld of stage two where you are fighting unique enemies like fanged blobs and snakes that attack you from the ground or the ceilings. The cavernous (and very treacherous) caves of stage three filled with giant bugs and snails that will hamper your journey combined with endless pits that make your journey hell (I’ve died twice in this stage the most due to those pits.) You then reach Neff’s palace themed stage where old enemies show up to stop you from reaching their master Neff, then finally reaching the beast infested region of Dis where the final showdown with Demon god will determine Athena’s fate.
Sometimes the enemies do recycle themselves as some enemies from stage one, and two (the ghouls, fanged blobs, and winged demons) may find themselves in later stages afterward) and that the game is over after beating those five zones before repeating back to stage one again. I chalk this up to Altered Beast being made for raking up a high score than telling an impressive experience. However, I do like how Neff’s boss forms are themed to the region as well and not feel out of place. The game’s audio is pretty good for something simple.
The game doesn’t have much voice acting in the game except for Zeus’s “Rise from your grave” at the start of the game to his “power up” announcement when the centurion picks up a spirit orb. Neff only has his “Welcome to your doom” announcement upon meeting him powered up to his taunting laughter at the end of the four stages. The centurion doesn’t talk much and only grunts when hit or yells if he dies, while Athena doesn’t have any voice after all. For some people, this can be off-putting, but one has to remember that Altered Beast wasn’t made in 2019. However, the music in the game is pretty catchy.
One thing I’ve also noticed when playing the Genesis version of the game is some unique secrets that did make the game not so intimidating. By holding B and pressing start at the title screen gains, you access the game’s options screen. This allows you to start on any level, alter your health and how many lives you got. For those not used to arcade games, this basically lets the game be more accessible for some people. Another one is holding A then pressing start right after you get a game over, which makes you start off in the last stage you died in. This made the game easier too as you’d have to start back at the first stage again if you get a game over. It can also be used to make the game much harder for some people who might want a tougher challenge.
Though the game can be short not an impressive feat for a game themed around monster transformations, Altered Beast is one such game that has its fun charm. Having fun blasting zombies with werewolf fire fists to turning giant ants to stone with the werebear to giving a large eyeball plant an electric shock as the weredragon is all the mindless fun one can get while as a monster.
More Monstrous Info
Altered Beast (Genesis) (My playthrough of the game. Recorded via Fusion Emulator)
Altered Beast (Arcade) (Video done by World of Longplays)
Altered Beast Instruction Manual (PDF file from GamesDatabase.org)