Every time Sega puts out an iPhone version of one of its old classics, I fire it up, hoping for something new. After all, Sega has been producing video games for decades, and there's a reason it's still going strong: Even it's old games are pretty great. That's why ports like Altered Beast from the 1988 arcade game are so disappointing. Yes, they make old games available to players, but they never feature anything remarkable to go with their transfer to the iOS platform.
That's a big bummer with Altered Beast, which, like most, or all, of Sega's old games, is tough. The side-scrolling beat-'em-up has a bit of a Greek mythology theme to it, in which you play a centurion raised from the dead by Zeus to save the kidnapped Athena from Hades (or some such plot). As you fight through various undead and monstrous enemies, you'll collect power-ups that increase your character's power, until you finally top out, and turn into some kind of man-beast, like a werewolf. Once you're up to full strength, you can reach the end of the stage and fight its boss, but you'll keep going indefinitely if you haven't attained beast mode.
It’s a simple formula that works well with Sega's standard array of iPhone features. Like all its ports, Altered Beast has virtual controls overlayed on top, and while this can be irritating in other games, the layout of where your character appears on screen means your thumbs won't be blocking the action. In fact, Altered Beast is a great game for the iPhone, because it's simple to play and the controls work well, but it also carries that old-school nostalgia that makes it nice to own.
The big drag of Altered Beast is that it's so true to 1988 sensibilities about gaming, and it's clear Sega hasn't taken any time to bring the game into the modern era. You're basically just playing the old game — Sega has added accelerometer controls (as it does with all its ports), but they're nothing special, and cost you precision while you play. There's also no Internet support of any kind, be it for leaderboards, achievements or multiplayer. You can play with a friend via Bluetooth, but you probably won't get a lot of use out of that mode.
There's also a total lack of saving or passwords, which means constant restarting from the beginning of the game, and playing the same two levels over and over. It's a bummer that Sega didn't bother to even add continues to the game, and it detracts seriously from the fun.
Although Sega gave Altered Beast a bit of a lazy port, it still only runs 99 cents, and lets you play an old arcade title whenever you want. The title won't be a smash with players who aren't looking for old-school gaming, but it's cheap enough to find its niche audience.