Co-Op International: Altered Beast
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Co-Op International: Altered Beast

Challenge of the beasts

Disney’s latest animated feature Wreck-It Ralph is chock full of videogame references, some more obscure than others. For instance, the final boss of Altered Beast makes a brief cameo in his rhino form. That gives us the perfect excuse to look at an obscure Japanese port of the game in our latest installment of Co-Op International. This month we look at Altered Beast (called Juuoki in Japan) for the PC Engine, an 8-bit system known as the Turbografx-16 in the west. This version came from NEC Avenue, one of the console’s staunchest supporters.

Altered Beast takes place during the time of Greek mythology. A villain called Neff has kidnapped Zeus’ daughter, and so the ruler of the gods revives a pair of fallen warriors to rescue her. During each of the game’s five levels, the warriors will collect power orbs from white wolves. After grabbing three orbs, they’ll transform into a variety of monsters, depending on the level. These include wolf, dragon, bear, tiger, and the gold wolf, which totally counts as a fifth animal and not a palette swap. Co-Op Trivia: The ‘Chicken Leg’ mount from Golden Axe first appeared as an enemy in Altered Beast.

Now, the Turbografx-16 may have technically been an 8-bit system, but it was quite the powerhouse for its time. Altered Beast actually looks very close to the Sega Genesis and arcade versions of the game, with huge characters and lots of colors on-screen at once. The only graphical drawback is the lack of parallax scrolling - a visual effect the hardware always struggled with (though some games did pull it off).

Altered Beast PC Engine first stage

Sound-wise, Altered Beast doesn’t fare so well. It lacks all of the memorable voice samples, which were basically half the reason anybody played Altered Beast. Heck, the phrase ‘Rise from your gwave!” doesn’t even appear on-screen at the beginning of the game. The actual music and sound effects are a notch below the Genesis version’s, but otherwise quite adequate.

Whereas the Genesis’ controller had three action buttons, the stock Turbografx controller only had two. As such, this Altered Beast maps jumping to ‘up’ on the d-pad. The longer you hold up, the higher you’ll jump. The action buttons punch and kick, respectively. Given that jumping was always a bit awkward in this game, regardless of platform, the lack of a jump button doesn’t affect gameplay too severely.

To start a co-op game, the second player needs to press the Run button at the title screen. This port game lacks drop-in, drop-out co-op for some reason. You’ll definitely want to bring a second player along, because the Turbografx version of Altered Beast is undoubtedly the hardest version of them all. In the first level, enemies absolutely swarm you, often knocking you down and getting in another hit as soon as you get up. They also have the annoying habit of spawning directly on you, which should never happen in any game like, ever.

Once you reach wolf form, the first level gets a lot easier. The fabulously awesome-looking first boss can be super tough, but he is beatable. Strangely, the second level proves far easier than the first… Until the eyeball boss shows up. Old Lots-of-Eyes has always been a cheap boss, but he appears to be undefeatable in the Turbografx game. Even with save states, I could never manage to avoid taking damage from his attacks long enough to kill him. As far as I’m concerned, this game only has two levels, since the developers clearly did not intend for players to experience anything beyond that.

Altered Beast PC Engine Game Over

You'll see this a lot in the PC Engine Hu-Card game.

Interestingly, there are two versions of Altered Beast for the PC Engine. We’ve been discussing the Hu-Card version (basically a cartridge). But NEC also published a CD version. Oddly, the CD game required the Super System Card version 1.0, a rare BIOS card that never reached America. Although PC Engine CDs aren’t region locked, the CD game simply fails to load anything beyond the middle of the first level when played on a Turbo Duo due to its obscure BIOS requirement. The CD version adds an all-new (but crappy) intro, the arcade version’s voice samples, and an easier difficulty setting. Sadly and for reasons no mortal man can comprehend, it lacks the Hu-Card’s 2-player co-op.

Clearly, neither PC Engine/Turbografx version of Altered Beast is a co-op classic. Turbo fans have a choice of an impossibly hard 2-player experience or a reasonably difficult single-player game. Neither route stacks up to the Sega Genesis port or the arcade-perfect XBLA version, but they’re interesting takes nonetheless. Give the Hu-Card version a try through the magic of emulation and see how your beast battling skills stack up!

Language barrier: None. The Hu-Card version has no Japanese text other than the main title.

Difficulty to import: The Hu-Card game is playable in American Turbografx-16 and Turbo Duo systems using a hard-to-find adapter peripheral or by performing a region switch hardware modification.

The easier route is of course to play on an emulator like Ootake. Check out this guide for full instructions. Keep in mind the game ROM is listed by its Japanese title: Juuoki. You can even grab a Super System Card version 1.0 ROM if you’re dying to play the CD version.