It’s that time of the year to kick back and dig out the old horror and slasher films for many. And, for some, it’s a good time to play horror-themed games. If I’m going to be perfectly honest, games like Doom, Resident Evil, and Silent Hill never really scared me. Not even on Friday nights after school with the lights turned off. I was in love with horror at a very early age, even earlier than my first time picking up a controller. My father introduced me to Child’s Play when I was about 3 or 4. I guess you could say that the traditional jump-scares and tactics used in movies and games to “scare” viewers and players just never phased me as a result of that experience. Not to mention, I watched the entire Friday the 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street sagas by the time I was 8. There was one game in particular that scared the living shit out of me as a kid to the point of having nightmares, though. And it will probably surprise you. Or make you laugh. Probably both.
Of all the games that had a fairly good chance at scaring a six year old, Altered Beast was the one that got me so bad that I couldn’t even get past the second stage until picking the game back up years later.
A prominent piece of Sega history, Altered Beast was the original pack-in game for the Sega Genesis Model 1. It was a conversion of the arcade game of the same name, and meant to show how much more powerful the Sega Genesis was over its competition- the Nintendo Entertainment System. Centered around Greek Mythology, the game plays as a sidescrolling beat ’em up in which the player transforms into a number of different animals (ranging from a werewolf to a dragon). These days, it’s considered to be a title that’s aged more like milk than fine wine, but it was still a very important title in the pages of console history.
“How the hell could a game like this scare you?”, you may be asking. There were two monsters in particular that sparked my overactive imagination.
Meet Aggar, the first boss of the game. What really spooked me about this guy in particular wasn’t the fact that he is a legless monstrosity that chucks his own head at you as a means of attack. I’d already seen killer dolls and burnt men in ugly sweaters that invade nightmares. What got me is this face.
Fortunately, this guy goes down pretty easy. Even with my eyes shut. It’s on to level two, which introduces the creature that made me shut the game off and chuck the cartridge up in a closet.
At first, these purple blobs with fangs seem harmless. But, if you’re careless, they’ll bounce onto your head and cover it completely. Even if you mash the d-pad to shake free, they’re still likely to cost you a life or knock you down to your last unit of health if you’re lucky. It was enough to fill my mind with all kinds of wild imagery populated by these hellspawns. I didn’t even bother looking away. I just shut the game off that night and got ready for bed. But it didn’t end there.
I vividly remember having a pretty crazy nightmare about the game that night. This was, as I said, 15 years ago so some things will be fuzzy (after all, it was all just a dream). I can definitely remember it being in the third person point of view…my own personal horror movie starring myself. I remember that I was running around in a setting similar to Hell as depicted in numerous cartoons, and then looked up to see an enormous version of the Round Leech descending. Fangs open, tongue salivating…there was nothing I could do. It swallowed me whole, spitting out my skeleton while I heard the laugh of Neff (the game’s antagonist) in the background. Needless to say, I woke up sweating and clutching my teddy bear.
I never came back to Altered Beast to face my childhood fears and complete the game until a couple years back after snatching up a copy of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (which, by the way, is an amazing collection of Sega classics for the PS3 and Xbox 360. If you don’t have it and have ANY interest in retro games or Sega’s illustrious history, I can’t recommend it enough). It’s funny to think that this one scared me so many years later, but I also felt it made for a good story to share outside the usual news and reviews I share here.
Do you remember your first experience being scared by a video game? Drop a comment!