A BIT of History Part 4 : Altered Beast (Sega Genesis)

My TALDIG had some issues working for a while but I had it fix. Now that we are  ready to travel back to the past that shows us the past again, I find myself asking, is this to weird?  Perhaps we should make these things a bit more straightforward? 

Change

Altered Beast is a well known classic for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. It started out as an arcade title in 1988 but was ported to Sega console the same year at least in Japan. The game then appeared as a launch title for the system for Europe and America and got numerous arcade releases bundle releases and was a part of the Sega Genesis Mini.
In this game you play a nameless fighter who gets resurrected by Zeus back in the days of ancient Greece (which roughly puts it at around 1200-900 BC) were you have to rescue his daughter Athena from the evil god of the Underworld Ha… I mean Neff. I distinctly remember that being somebody else though.

Altered Beast is all about changing, it’s a beat them up, the changes up the formula quite a bit. The length of the stage depends on how long it takes for you to gather three orbs that change you to more powerful forms and the final boss can only happen when you acquire beast mode. If you encounter Neff before this happens, the stage .. kind of loops on you.
You take the role of “Fighter” .. a guy in a pinkish Toga so clearly I was excited to play this one, but it left me wondering. Should I change as well?

I feel that the ‘A BIT of History’ concept might be a bit too weird to focus on. The history lessons taken from these games might be a bit too flimsy to focus on and best be relegated to a paragraph should I find such a game. So I am thinking of changing this series into “A BIT of Nostalgia’  in which  I revisit famous classic games or games that are very dear to me.
It offers me a bigger spectrum of games to play and allow me to play the games I would actually want to play, rather than have the time setting dictate which ones I should play. It took me a fair bit to get me to play this one because I wasn’t in a beat them up mood. Yet it was one of the most iconic ancient greece games. So expect some changes to this format soon. Now back to the review, because unlike the era of the ancient greeks, this game has not aged well.

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures

This game features Fighter in Pink.. our hero that we all know and love! Back from the dead he has to stop the evil god of the underworld Neff and not Hadas..who turned Athena into a blue bird, which anime taught me mean she is a lesbian now. Throughout five stages you have to fight classic greek enemies such as cyclops (plural) and …. well there are Satyrs…sort of they have goat heads as well but I guess they are there? Though they are called Gory Goats here… then there are zombies, demons ant wasps and evil chickens with poisonous stingers. So clearly the greek setting is used very well. I can only assume all these creatures died out because Fighter in Pink really disliked them and punched them all to death.


The most important enemy in this game is the three headed wolf though, which came in two colours. The useless brown variant and the all mighty blue variant. Both will make the sound of a paper crumpling when you kick them and die right away, but by killing blue three headed wolves the ancient greeks could call upon the power of an orb, that turned them from buff philosophers into half naked Jojo characters.

Killing another  one then turns them into the old Dragon Ball Broly, and after killing a third blue three headed wolf the ancient greeks could turn into beastmen. The buffing up and the whole Neff  standing menacing before you, checking out if you are worth his time has a pretty big Jojo feel, this could be a new take on that series and since it’s set in ancient history I decided to name this Fighter in Pink. Jorges Jorda is a farmer who died from being attacked by animals.. now zeus resurrects him and by gathering the power of death…he can channel what caused his death.

The game does feel like a bizarre string of adventures with stages strung together like the graveyard, the swamp, the cave, the Greek building and the underworld/city of the dead. Wait.. if the hero died wouldn’t he already be in the underworld? Would that not be better to start? Now he gets resurrected and has to travel back to the underworld again. One could argue that Jorges would have to find his power orbs but Neff steals them at the end of each stage, assumingly needed to make him reach his final form or something.  Hmm.. clearly not all the ancient Greeks were philosophers. Zeus clearly wasn’t the smartest god either, then again that seems to be a bit of a theme with Zeus in games or movies, he tends to get blindsided a lot. So you heard it here first guys! Zeus can be outsmarted by uncle Fester from the Addams family.. because I am pretty sure that is who Neff is.

Too much bits

The Mega Drive was the first sixteen bit console, with amazing stuff like blast processing and an iconic sound chip.  Unfortunately it clearly shows that this game was not designed for this console and people were still a bit unfamiliar with the power of this machine. The enemies don’t look very clean. The three headed wolves look more like misshapen bulls to me and for a few other enemies I also had to struggle to look what they are. Now of course this in part is due to the home consoles being less powerful than arcade cabinets, but if we look at Turtles in Time, which although appearing later did it much better. Stages were changed up , difficulty was slightly adapted and  visuals and vocals were changed.  This games suffers from this being NOT the case in this port. In fact I like the Master System port more because it feels more distinct.

With the speech of Neff  included he welcomes players to their doom before the start of each boss fight, and doom you will face , over and over and over and over again. This is a problem with a lot of Beat Them Up ports. Most of these games were designed to be unrelenting so they can guzzle up as much of your quarters as much as possible. Basically in the arcade you have infinite lives as long as you have quarters. Good Beat them up ports thusly either give you infinite lives… as the price of a full priced game should get you infinite quarters or at least a series of lives and a handful of continues. Altered Beast on Genesis asks you to beat the entire game on three lives which basically equals three quarters. If even that!

There are NO healing items in this game so all damage is permanent. You get three “hearts”/blocks of life that can all take 1 to 3 hits depending on the enemies strength. Given that a random chicken enemy (who crossed over from Golden Axe) can take a complete life block away due to you having virtually no invincibility frames after being it.. this game is relentlessly hard.

Luckily by holding A (or 1)  plus start in the main menu you can at least continue on the stage you died on. Yet still finishing a stage is a rather herculean feat. Yet like most arcade games this doesn’t really come down to your gaming skills,but more to pattern recognition. If you know where the blue wolves will show up and you can manage to hit them quick and fast and gather your orbs fast enough these stages are fairly doable. Mostly because the bosses once you get their pattern down are actually quite easy. Except for the second boss.. whose tell of damage is so deceptive it took me five times to figure out that I wasn’t exactly damaging it when it flashes red when I hit it.. I needed to hit different hitboxes, which do not flash at all!?It’s things like this that show this game came out so early in the console’s life span, that actually influence how enjoyable the gameplay is.

Sega Does

I really wish I could be more positive about this game, but unfortunately there was very little that I liked about this game. That doesn’t make it is a bad game, just that I review if negatively, if you enjoy this all the power to you! I hope and know people do like this game, which is great, everything deserves love. I did like the variety in bosses and how you have to actually use your beasts powers and some strategy to take them down. I especially like the fourth stage boss, which is like a baby dragon with a huge lava ball. It releases some firebird minions as well as big strings of fire balls and avoiding both felt like a good challenge.

The third boss and the final boss however are total pushovers I beat them first try both without taking a hit just by using cheap tactics.  The third boss is a sort of dragonhead stuck on a helix fossil with some gooey egg sack material attached to it.. and it shoots purple balls and blobs. By using the Bear’s  (that stages animal)  spin jump while on it’s body you can defeat it without any trouble.  The third stage itself though has some awkward platform jumps which can be very irritating to get trough.

In the fifth stage we see Neff finally taking his true form, that of a white Rhino. Yet in the Master System it is Cyan and in the Arcade it is pink. It always grinds my gears when pink things are such pushovers. It isn’t much harder than Rocksteady from the first TMNT game on NES. You can easily jump over it and spam damage until it dies. No skill required. However everything else on that stage deals soooo much damage, especially the dark unicorns, so getting there.. is a long arduous process of learning where things spawn and when to punch it to death.

If you miss a blue wolf on your first roulation I found it rather impossible to stay alive long enough to reach the boss. The music is the same in about every stage with fairly little sound effects other as coming from the player so I am glad the fifth stage was the final one.  We see Athena standing next to some beastmen.. in the final cutscene and then we are done.
In the fifth stage we turn into the wolf again, we turned into the first stage as well..but this time he is golden. So I guess it’s a super Wolf?!

Also why go for choices like the Dragon and the Tiger? I get the wolf and the bear as those might be found in ancient greece but why not make one where you turn into a Bull/Minotaur and one in a horseman/centaur. So much potential here goes away with bad flavoring. I barely learned anything about ancient greece because.. nothing is done with the setting at all. The cutest thing is that they have  the chicken enemy from Golden Axe as a homage.

There was so much more they could do with this formula, even for an arcade cabinet. It’s not like the greek mythos is lacking in mystical creatures or cool enemies to fight. Yet according to this game it does, which by the logic of A BIT of History .. now means that I learned that ancient greek had plenty bland video game type enemies.. which in truth I never knew!

While I have no doubt that this game was amazing in 1988 and even in 1990 this game has been surpassed left and right by just about every other beat them up out there. Turtles 2 the arcade game, Turtles in Time, Streets of Rage, Final Fight and Towers of Mystara just to name a few. Nintendo in particular has time and time again shown that this does not need to happen to games. Sega more or less in their original IP’s as well. Yet even when we consider this one in the arcade , the better version it has been surpassed by just about everything. Sure the classic mario has been improved upon but you can still enjoy the original game, this just made me want to play Turtles in Time instead. I guess Sega really does what Nintendon’t . Because Nintendon’t age this poorly.

This cocktail has been sitting here for a while.. and it has fermented which leaves a Pine-Meh-Pple taste in your mouth if you can not add enough nostalgia sugar

All other posts in this series

Part 0: What is Pinkie Doing now

Part 1: E.V.O. The Search for Eden

Part 2: Flintstones Treasure of Sierra Madrock

Part 3: Joe and Mac Caveman Ninja’s

To be REBRANDED

A BIT of History (Part 3) Joe and Mac Caveman Ninja

It is time for another trip to the past. Today we are going back to 1991 , to one of the first co-op games I ever played with my sister. Aside from the Turtles games. In this game we go back to early age of man as we take control of two cavemen..who also happen to be Ninja..apparently.. as well as the earliest womanisers. Joe and Mac.. in their first outing on the SNES , Joe and Mac Caveman Ninja

Barebones

Caveman Ninja  is a bit of a hybrid between a beat them up and a platformer. In which you take control of Joe who journeys throughout several stages collecting power ups to attack with but also making jumps up tree’s mountains and across lakes. You fight big dinosaurs to claim back one of the many cave-women, and you progress to a new stage that while in a linear order are connected to a world map. Stages hold some secret totems that can unlock more stages or bonus stages so if you want there is lots to explore. If you do not feel like exploring that is fine as well because you can still get a satisfying ending by just doing what is absolutely necessary. I followed the latter route..because I discovered something. Without my little sister to play this with this game feels a bit… empty.

Like a screen without enemies or usefull upgrades

This SNES game is made to be played by two and it shows throughout the game.  While what it offers is fine and functional this arcadelike co-op game really only shines when played as such. All by your lonesome you can enjoy the solid controls the okay soundtrack and the quite likeable graphics..but there is this sense of tedium. I like to compare this to the battle of helm’s deep where Legolas and Gimli played .. who can kill the most Uruk-hai with each other. It lifted that action scene to something more unique..for both them as well as the audience.  Playing Joe and Mac alone.. felt like Legolas standing there alone. Easily picking off some foes he clearly is going to conquer. While it hits the same action beats.. the magic is a bit gone.. this would even go for Legolas, who not remember losing that game now and probably just mention it as “ a battle”.. and that was the experience I have gotten with this classic tittle.. it’s just another game. 

I see.. because I am alone I could not play SUPER game ..

Reinventing the wheel.

The biggest issue I had with this game is weirdly that I did not feel like a Caveman… or a Ninja. I think if I ask you guys ..  what weapons does a caveman use.. I dare say that at least 90% of you would say club! You do use that weapon in Joe and Mac.. for about  five seconds. After which you pick up your first power-up. After which this game becomes a sort of projectile based, platformer, beat them up. Somehow when you want to play a caveman you want to bonk stuff on the head till it dies.. not throw bones at them. Yes tossing bones is your main attack in this game. In a way this game becomes a sort of 2d horizontal space shooter.. with platforming and beat them up elements.. which sounds nice and it doesn’t really play bad.. but something just doesn’t connect for me. There are a few powerups that you can collect but they don’t feel that different. I could not really tell what they did differently aside from maybe angle and a slight difference in damage. Never had I an idea  like “oh this works well” or “this totally doesn’t work” it’s all on that level of.. sure whatever. I want more Oogah Boogah Club club! Points for being original.. but sometimes a girl just wants to whack dinosaur skulss with a large piece of wood.

Close enough?

Bones, wheels, boomerangs fire are the upgrades you use to hurl at dinosaurs, bones of dinosaurs and crazed caveman. Each dies fairly easily and if you remember a bit how enemies move you will be able to dispatch them quickly. Each stage has a boss , making it feel closer to those old beat them ups again and once this boss has been dispatched you get kissed by a girl and move on to rescue the next. My favorite weapon was the wheel. It was a bit slower.. I think.. But did more damage, I am not sure if i used it correctly but at least I had some semblance of fun when using it.  The boomerangs I felt were like obnoxious bones so I never used those. I did use bones though to hit some of the faster moving enemies..but rarely. Still .. where is the Ninja weaponry. Where is the ninja jumping, where is the ninja element of this game? Well .. this game is even less Ninja.. than Ninja Baseball Batman (which is one of my favorite beat them ups ever) and even in that one the ninja part was kind of iffy. In a game called Caveman Ninjassomehow the chosen gameplay makes me feel neither like a caveman or a ninja.. that has to be a flaw right?

So..besides being Caveman and Ninja’s they are also Australian… which would explain their names!…Kinda?

Fire

Does that mean this game is terrible? No , in fact this is quite a lovely game. The controls are smooth, the gameplay has a nice flow to it and it looks pretty as a peach. There is plenty variety in the stages and Joe (and Mac if he is there) are well animated. There is a lot of humor in the game. When you hit an enemy it does feel satisfying because of the adorable hit animations on most dinosaurs. It just doesn’t really feel like you caused that impact.  During the first 60% of the game.. the first hour and a half or so, I was entertained throughout. Happily sending some awesome screencaps to my friend.. but he lost them. Into the second half of the game we begin to see the classic tropes of repeating enemies, reskinned boss fights and all of that jazz, but in doing so it can bring back a font memory of the flaws of the past. This game really uses those flawed tropes and manages to build a still entertaining game with it. It’s just never amazing.It’s like cooking on a fire, you’ll get your nutrients of the egg you are baking on an open fire all the same.. but your omelette would have been nicer in a more controlled environment.

Well at least breaking the egg won’t be that difficult for my omlette

Due to it’s weird gameplay .. which still is oddly satisfying yet can’t sate any appetite, it is not a game I can easily compare with anything. Each genre it uses has better games. Like Pocky and Rocky for co-op 2d shooting with cute characters for example. Or Donkey Kong for the platforming stuff. Turtles in time is a better arcade beat them up yet oddly there is no game like Joe and Mac that is better than it. Maybe Mystical Ninja.. but that is once again a very different feeling game. In a way it kind of feels a bit like a “my first retro”  game suggestion. It has a bit of all the forgotten genres. The beloved classics. So if you want to pick up retro gaming.. to take your first steps Joe and Mac is kind of a really solid choice.

Ways to dodge a boss are pretty well telegraphed as well

It’s forgiving it teaches you the fundamentals of platform timing, it is action packed and colourful and with a friend I am sure it can be a hoot and a half.  Losing your last life will boot you out of a stage and makes you re-do it and by the time I finished the entire game I never experienced a penalty more severe than that…which is good because of the level of tedium would have shot way up and the last few stages already felt to repetitive.  It knows what it is and caters to that so the game can be played by basically everyone who has a free night on their hands. It’s filled with plenty of flaws.. but some of those flaws we can still be nostalgic about.

Kinda looks like the T-Rex skull on the wrong neck. Undifed Undead Dino.

Going for the Bronze

At least Joe and Mac teaches us a bit of things about history. Before I played this game I always thought that Humans and Dinosaurs lived in separate ages unless in cartoons.. but hey these guys are ninja’s and those are always serious. Nor was there ever a Joe and Mac cartoon! So that must mean these events are the actual history. Humans and Dinosaurs did live together. Also the wheel was not invented for transportation but for combat reasons. It is very good against T-Rexes and for removing Mastodont trunks, from the elephant creature while they still are live! Dinosaurs also loved to captured young ladies.. or people did to feed them to the dinosaur.. history is kind of vague about that one. Still it is all rather fascinating to see how even vegetarian dinosaurs used to capture girls and be all evil!  In fact even dead dinosaurs did! That is right .. in one stage you fight the skeleton of a brontosaur which has captured a dame. Who knew that dinosaurs like human females as much. I guess it explains why King Kong does what he does. I mean I bet he evolved from dinosaurs too! So it makes sense.

You broke off those tusks.. later the tusk as well. Later it got cybernetic replacements and became a Zord though!.

Also it shows that christianity existed before the birth of jesus, because the final boss is the devil. If your character dies they become an angel, which clearly shows that caveman clearly had some christian values! Which was really surprising! I really figured JC started the thing. Apparently that was all a lie! Maybe the story of this game made Joe lust for many women so he actually steals them from the dinosaurs.. but he finds out it is actual Satan manipulating his lusts so Satan can  claim the souls of the first ninja’s ever in existance. Again History can be quite unclear about it’s motivations. Especially in the age before cutscenes were invented. It wasn’t even that hard to defeat satan, we did not need hours of introspection or prayer .. we just needed 300 stone wheels and 500 bones. Now there is a lesson that is practical. Satan’s weakness is wheels! So toss a tire at him next time you see him.

Boning Satan also helps in defeating him!

Joe and Mac by no means is a must play, but it is not something you will regret playing either. It can be a delightful low brow evening with a friend that you can play on your old consoles with a brewski or two. Most of these Beat them ups or 2d shoots are insanely difficult… like Pocky and Rocky for example.. and therefore can be a bit unrewarding to play, yet with Joe and Mac you are sure to have a good time. Yet at the same time I can’t help but feel this game is “that safe choice”. No matter what type of player you have this game is fine for basically every retro enthusiast but if you put it on no one will have an AMAZING time either. It’s like that student that always goes for “the passing grade”. It doesn’t go for the win as long as it can finish on the podium or in the ranking. That is something I take greater issue with somehow as someone trying to be great but failing but that is strictly a personal thing of mine. In the two hours and a bit I had played I mostly had fun and I honestly think anyone will. However I am fed up with caveman for now and it is time to leap a few years ahead. To the age wear people began to wear sheets instead of skins. Where philosophers and titans ruled supreme! We travel to the age of the third place.. . I wonder.. did people forge stuff with gold and zilver first and did bronze actually came in third or is that something different. We will find out next time!

You might taste some Berry in your first stips and some Pineapple in the last.. but over all it is a pretty average OKiwi flavored game!

Thank you again for reading my post and supporting the blog ! If you like my content back sure to follow the blog or check me on twitter so you do not miss any of my brainfarts! Tell me about some historic retro games I should play in the future! Now I shall board the TALDIG again and we shall meet again in the future and 1988 and 1200 BC! Remember I love you all, keep smiling and stay positive!

XO
Pinkie

Previously on A BIT of HISTORY

Part 0: What is Pinkie Doing now

Part 1: E.V.O. The Search for Eden

Part 2: Flintstones Treasure of Sierra Madrock

And Next Time!