This won’t be the only change to the website. You may see some advertisements here in the near future. I know they can grate, but this site needs to pay for its own keep. While it’s currently running for free on Blogger, I still buy hosting for the domain and server, and I’d like to move things back to a more independent platform. I don’t miss the days of coding everything in HTML and having no comments section, but I do miss having a website that stood on its own.
Anyway, new banner. It’s full of things I’ve written about over the years. Even the two human figures pay tribute to my favorite action-RPGs in their hairstyles, and my hat goes off to anyone who can pick out the references. I left a lot of the characters represented there up to Bratwurst, though Rygarfield’s inclusion is all my fault.
Of course, the banner evokes Altered Beast, Sega’s silly 1989 Greek-werewolf action game, more than anything. This may make me a hypocrite and poseur, because I’m not a huge fan of Altered Beast.
I like the aesthetic of the ruins and all, but I’ve never had a strong connection to Altered Beast. I grew up a Nintendo kid who didn’t go nuts for any Sega series beyond Panzer Dragoon and Phantasy Star, and I didn’t get a Genesis until the mid-1990s. That was well after Sonic had replaced Altered Beast as the system’s pack-in game and everyone had forgotten about it.
By the time I played it, Altered Beast was just an old curiosity, worth playing just to snicker at the grotesque monsters and the homoerotic bellows of “Power Up” as the centurion hero bulks up into an Athenian lycanthrope. If you asked me to name my favorite Sega games, Altered Beast would be way down there below Arrow Flash but probably above the version of Fighter Vipers that doesn’t have Pepsiman.
But if I’m going to borrow Altered Beast’s aesthetic, I should find its best side.
It’s not that bad of a game, really. Like a lot of late-1980s Sega fare, it’s just fine as an arcade attraction: short, easy to grasp, and full of enough weird sights that you’ll keep up the quarter supply just to see where the next stage leads you. It might turn the hero into a dragon in a swamp full of carnivorous blobs and cockatrices, or he might become a were-bear facing giant snails and ant-people. Altered Beast delivers memorable goofball oddities right up until the last stage, where the game recycles its earlier werewolf form and pits you against a disappointingly small final boss.
Let’s talk about that final boss. Altered Beast’s stage-enders are its best sights, ranging from a Venus flytrap full of eyes to a zombie mud demon that throws its own heads at you. The last stage, however, sees you finally confront the wizard Neff, who transforms into…a rhinoceros thug not much bigger than the hero. Nothing sums up the Greek pantheon like a rhino Battle Beast.
It’s a letdown, though at least I saw it coming. I first read about Altered Beast in the pages of the Sears Wish Book, which pitched the game as the exciting standard-bearer for Sega’s new system. The captions built up a ferocious quest, but the last one dropped the ball much as the game does. Turning into a Golden Werewolf didn’t sound very exciting after screens that promised dragons and giant lizards. I was convinced that the final boss had to be some hideous Stygian creature that filled the screen, while the rhino guy had to be just an imposing grunt enemy from the last level. Whoops. You gave the secret away, Sears.
That said, Altered Beast was a perfectly calculated pack-in game for the Genesis. It showed that the system could look and sound remarkably close to an arcade game, and it let two players take part at the same time. Most importantly, it ensured that those players would want another game very shortly. Altered Beast is short, simple, and not all that challenging once you know the code to continue.
New NES owners could sink a good month or two into Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, denying Nintendo those precious additional game purchases. Sega dodged that problem. The majority of fledgling Genesis buyers would finish Altered Beast in a week, perhaps go through again with a friend, and then spend a few more days messing around with the secret menu that lets you control any were-beast on any stage. After that, adults would head out in search of a game more substantial, and kids would start the long process of nagging parents and saving allowances until they could get Golden Axe or Mystic Defender or perhaps Phantasy Star II, which could take children up to two years to finish even with the handbook.
So I have nothing against using Altered Beast’s motif for a banner, even if it might make me a giant Sega nerd by default. Come back next week, when I’ll post nothing but thesis-length articles about how Nintendo colluded with the Khmer Rouge and how Sega could still win the console war by making the Dreamcast 3000.