Altered Beast: Guardian of the Realms
Review by Crythania
"Almost a masterpiece"
Altered Beast was an arcade game, and it was also on the Sega Genesis. This isn't the same game. I suppose we could say it's a sequel. As such, it stays true to the spirit of the original while offering some new twists and some very engaging game-play.
The story... Forget about the story. It's just enough of a story to justify the carnage going on. Some sort of evil demon wants to rule the world. To combat this menace, Zeus has raised one of his defeated guardians from the dead. Why Zeus doesn't join in the fighting is beyond me. He's a typical Greek god character (read: moron). To give our anonymous hero an edge, Zeus has granted him the ability to change into various types of beasts, most of which have awesome super powers.
The game is a side-scrolling fighting game with simple controls. Punch, kick, jump, duck. You can combine moves with jumping and crouching for jump kicks, crouching punches, uppercuts, and so forth. This is a simple matter of combining a button press with directional movement (i.e. Up plus Punch equals an uppercut). The controls work perfectly, offering us precise control over the character. Not having to struggle with the controls goes a long way toward providing an enjoyable gaming experience.
There are fifteen levels here, all with vividly rendered backgrounds and foregrounds. Enemy characters will come on-screen from the left and right, and the screen will scroll on its own when our hero has sufficiently cleared out an area. The levels are quite long, with droves of monsters that must be vanquished before our hero can confront the level's boss. Power-ups provide temporary benefits, such as a defensive shield or shock wave that clears the screen of monsters. There's also a health power-up and regeneration to help our hero stay healthy. When your guy advances far enough through the level, he can acquire a special power-up that increases his strength. When you get the third special power-up, he transforms into his beast form. These beasts have super powers and can often clear the screen of monsters with little effort. Finally, the beast squares off with a boss, most of which are challenging and require some strategy to beat.
There are ten beast forms. Werewolf, naga, dragon, tiger-man, spiked turtle, shark-man, rhino-man, scorpion, eagle, and chimera. While there are a couple levels that allow us to get our beast form early on, most of the levels are played in human form and we get our beast form toward the end. I'd say that for most levels, we play two thirds or more of it in human form. Each beast has three alternate power levels that can be acquired by replaying the level and grabbing a talisman that improves the beast's abilities. Another benefit of replaying levels we have already conquered is that extra lives and extra continues appear.
This game is difficult. The first time I played, I went through all three of my lives and two continues just getting through the first level. It takes some practice to become proficient with it. What at first looked impossible soon becomes very manageable. One thing I really like about this game is that it's based almost entirely on skill. The more you practice, the better it gets. With the learning curve conquered, it's very possible to complete a level without getting killed once. The game auto-saves your progress, including extra lives, continues, and talismans. Playing a couple levels and then coming back to it later isn't a problem.
Visually, this game is fantastic. The backgrounds look fabulous. Ruins of a Grecian city, underground caverns, swampland, forest, desert, and more... All vividly rendered with great detail. The characters are well animated. Each level has a good variety of enemy characters. One-eyed zombies, skeletal warriors, goat-men, spider centaurs, bats, tree-men, killer wasps, lizards, scorpion rats, praying mantises... And those are just some of the monsters in the first five levels of fifteen total. The hero's beast forms are dynamic, as are the boss characters. I especially like the naga and the large worm boss he has to fight.
Background music is unobtrusive and does a great job of setting the mood for each scene. The boss music is very fitting for those encounters. Sound effects are what one might expect from an arcade game. A good variety of grunts and growls from the monsters, punching and kicking effects, and a variety of beast form effects.
My complaints with this game are few. It would have been nice to have the option of deciding which beast form to use. This would have provided some versatility, an opportunity for experimentation. As it stands, each level decides for us what beast form we will use there. Also, it would have been nice if the beast forms appeared earlier in the levels. Mostly, we have to spend quite a bit of time in human form before the beast finally makes an appearance.
Still, the payoff here is more than present and accounted for. The game kept me playing to find out what the next level looked like, what sorts of new enemies stood in our hero's way, and what his next beast form would be like. Some of these levels have great replay value. In fact, I'd say that most of the game does.
On the whole, Altered Beast: Guardian Of The Realms succeeds brilliantly in just about every respect. It sports great-looking environments and characters, a good soundtrack, good effects, and some very engaging game-play. It's solid fun, built for lasting appeal.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/23/05, Updated 08/23/11
Game Release: Altered Beast: Guardian of the Realms (US, 11/23/02)
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