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Altered Beast retrospective: Vintage arcade beat 'em up from Sega

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First Released: 1988 (arcade)
Now Available On: Xbox Live, PSN, iOS, Virtual Console

Sega established itself as one of the biggest names in the arcade business in the late 1980s, thanks to the success of titles such as Golden Axe, Space Harrier, and one of our old favourites, Altered Beast.

Debuting on coin-op hardware in 1988, Altered Beast was a side-scrolling beat 'em up set in Ancient Greece that cast players as a resurrected Roman centurion with shape-shifting abilities.

Altered Beast for Sega Arcade and Mega Drive

© SEGA


The game begins as the warrior protagonist's eternal rest is brought to an abrupt end by Zeus, who tasked him with rescuing his daughter Athena from the clutches of underworld demon Neff.

Players battled their way through five stages, slaying a menagerie of creatures from the annals of mythology along the way. It would have been another bog standard addition to the action genre was it not for the memorable transformation system.

The centurion gathered spirit balls on each level. Collecting a single orb beefed him up into a muscular powerhouse, while snagging a second turned him into a man-beast hybrid with devastating special abilities.

Altered Beast for Sega Arcade and Mega Drive

© SEGA


There was a different creature to control on each stage - from the graveyard level's Werewolf to the Weredragon of the underworld - and watching foes fall like dominoes under their savage force was among the highlights of the experience.

Each level ended with a showdown against Neff, with the player in beast form and the demon taking on the shape of a different screen-filling horror each time.

The boss battles also stick in our mind. Who could forget squaring off against Neff in the guise of an ogre-like monstrosity with endless heads, or being charged at by an armoured rhinoceros-esque creature during the final confrontation?

Altered Beast for Sega Arcade and Mega Drive

© SEGA


We'll always remember Altered Beast for its sound effects, too, with the game making effective use of digitised speech and even borrowing a howling effect from the 1981 movie An American Werewolf in London to add style to its transformation sequences.

Altered Beast was well received in the arcades and a successful release on home formats followed. The Sega Mega Drive version is by far the most memorable, preceding Sonic the Hedgehog as the console's pack-in game in the UK and North America.

Although the game was a smash hit for Sega, it never grew into a strong franchise, which is a shame considering how much mileage the concept had.

Altered Beast for Sega Arcade and Mega Drive

© SEGA


Sequels could have introduced additional beasts to transform into, new foes from Greek scripture and new deities to embark on missions for, or even wage battles a la God of War's Kratos.

A follow-up of sorts was released for Game Boy Advance in 2002 in the form of Altered Beast: Guardian of the Realms, which revisited the side-scrolling gameplay and introduced new beast forms, additional power-ups and destructible environments.

Sega attempted an Altered Beast revival in 2005, reimagining the concept for PlayStation 2 as a modern day science-fiction tale. Players took control of a "Genome-Cyborg" who was capable of altering his DNA to take on the shape of various beasts.

Altered Beast for Sega Arcade and Mega Drive

© SEGA


The game had little in common with the classic that stole our hearts in the 1980s and was critically panned.

We would like to have seen Sega take the concept in an entirely different direction, retaining the setting of Ancient Greece and reviving Altered Beast as a 3D hack n' slash offering in the vein of God of War, but that particular ship has surely sailed.

Do you have any fond memories of Altered Beast? Post a comment below!

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Spyro the Dragon retrospective: PSone's first essential 3D platformer

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First Released: 1998 (PlayStation)
Now Available On: PlayStation Network

It was a long time coming, but the PlayStation finally received a competent, fully 3D platformer in 1998 when Spyro the Dragon touched down on the Sony console.

Spyro the Dragon

© Sony


By providing tight controls, a user-friendly camera setup and countless hours of unabashed fun, Insomniac Games' colourful creation excelled where its genre predecessors had failed.

Spyro, a purple dragon with a firefly friend named Sparx, resided in a Disney-esque cartoon world where a villain named Gnasty Gnorc had imprisoned the rest of his species in crystal.

Players embarked on a quest across six worlds, each containing six levels, to free the other dragons, collecting hordes of stolen treasure and retrieving missing dragon eggs along the way.

Spyro the Dragon was never about earth-shattering innovation, but it was a 3D platformer done right, and these were in short supply on PlayStation back then.

Most levels didn't play out much differently than the ones found in other 3D platform titles, although Spyro did possess skills that set the experience apart, such as fire-breathing and the ability to ram enemies with his horns.


There were also arcade-flavoured flying stages that challenged players to keep Spyro in the air for as long as possible by collecting items within tight time limits.

Insomniac Games really nailed the level design in Spyro the Dragon, providing players with vast colourful playgrounds to immerse themselves in.

Revisiting worlds was encouraged at every turn, as there was a myriad of bonus collectables hidden throughout each level for fans to discover the second, third and fourth time around.

Unlocking all of the bonus levels required players to hunt down every solitary piece of treasure and dragon egg, and there was enough incentive on offer to keep us invested in this daunting task.

Spyro the Dragon was also a treat on the audio front, with in-game worlds brought to life by strong voice acting from the likes of Carlos Alazraqui, Clancy Brown and Harvey Fierstein, as well as an atmospheric soundtrack by former Police drummer Stewart Copeland.

Spyro the Dragon

© Sony


The game took some of its cues from Nintendo 64 classic Banjo-Kazooie, emulating its smooth controls, useable camera and bright cartoony visuals.

However, Spyro didn't quite scale the same heights as Rare's masterpiece or other genre-defining platformers like Super Mario 64, as the challenge was never quite there.

Granted, collecting all of the bonus items was no easy feat and the final boss was hardly a pushover, but for the most part Spyro the Dragon's difficulty setting was tailored for a family audience.

Spryo was more than just another me-too creation hoping to do for PlayStation what Mario and Sonic did for Nintendo and Sega, and the way the character has endured is testament to this.

After spawning a dozen sequels, the Spyro the Dragon series was rebooted in 2006 with the multi-platform release of The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning, a game that boasted an all-star voice case spearheaded by Elijah Wood and Gary Oldman.

Spyro the Dragon

© Sony


The character went on to carve out a place for himself in the current generation, with a prominent role in toys-to-life franchise Skylanders taking his popularity to new heights.

So, what does the future hold for Spyro? Following an appearance in Skylanders: Trap Team later this year, the door is open for the purple dragon to feature in another solo adventure.

Sony's Andrew House recenty said that the firm is open to revisiting the Spyro series, and could even reboot Crash Bandicoot down the line. Exciting times for the children of the 1990s!

Do you have any fond memories of Spyro the Dragon? Post a comment below!
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The Sims retrospective: Simpler times for the iconic series

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First released: PC (2000)
Now Available On: PC

Maxis enjoyed great success with the original SimCity games, but there was always something impersonal and bureaucratic about virtual urban planning and digital building work.

Spinoff title The Sims took a refreshingly different approach to the original world creation series, holding a magnifying glass to the city's inhabitants and placing emphasis on humour and personality.

Developed by Will Wright and his team at Maxis in 2000, The Sims gave players the opportunity to play god to a small group of pint-sized beings and had them cater for their every whim.

The Sims screenshot

© EA

The Sims screenshot


While this included such basic needs as eating three square meals a day and answering the call of nature, it wasn't as banal as it might sound.

The eponymous Sims were fascinating beings, oozing personality and representing a giant leap for artificial intelligence in PC gaming at the turn of the millennium.

There was rarely a dull moment watching your characters' lives unfold and seeing them encounter the same trials and tribulations that we face every day, plus hearing them babble away in their native tongue of Simlish was always endearing.

The Sims screenshot

© EA

The Sims screenshot


Sims had to be instructed to carry out tasks like get washed, exercise and learn new skills, but they also had a degree of free will, unless the player chose to deny them it in the options menu.

Watching on as they autonomously interacted with other characters, striking up friendships, relationships and rivalries was among the highlights on offer in this infinitely re-playable game.

Like its sequels, the game was applauded over the diverse range of relationships on offer, with players given the option to strike up same-sex relationships, a feature that has sadly never sat well in countries such as Russia.

The Sims screenshot

© EA

The Sims screenshot


Although The Sims was open-ended in the sense that there was no ultimate goal, characters could be killed off through starvation, drowning, fires and electrocution, or pack their virtual bags and leave the game if they were chronically unhappy.

Sim City's building and book-balancing wasn't jettisoned entirely, as players could remodel and furnish a customised suburban home for their Sims via Build Mode and Buy Mode.

The in-game architecture system was highly sophisticated, and this comes as no surprise given that Wright and his team originally envisioned the title as a house-building simulation.

The Sims screenshot

© EA

The Sims screenshot


The Sims' role was initially to evaluate the houses constructed by the player, but it soon became apparent during the development process that they were the stars of the show.

Not only was The Sims a creative trailblazer, it was also a huge commercial success, displacing Myst as the bestselling PC game of all time with more than 11 million copies sold worldwide.

EA and Maxis continued to invest heavily in the game post-launch, supporting it via the expansion packs model, a system that remains in place for modern incarnations of The Sims.

The Sims screenshot

© EA

The Sims screenshot


'Livin' Large' was the first add-on to drop in August 2000, and it was followed by six others over the course of three years, each adding new items, characters, skins and features.

The Sims' phenomenal success on PC paved the way for the game to be ported to consoles, with developer Edge of Reality charged with tailoring it for PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube.

The game survived the conversion process well, so much so that the console market received new instalments in the series for years to come, but the PC edition was always the definitive version.


The Sims has spawned dozens of sequels, ports and remakes during its 14-year lifespan, and although its core entries have grown ever sophisticated, the 2000 original will always have historic significance.

With The Sims 4 due to touch down on PC less than two months from now, fans of the series can look forward to the new instalment safe in the knowledge that the underlying framework that made the original a classic appears to be firmly in place.

Do you have any find memories of The Sims? Post a comment below!
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Virtua Tennis retrospective: Arcade smash that took Dreamcast by storm

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First Released: 1999 (arcade)
Now Available On: PC

Before Andy Murray's recent success, the closest thing us Britons got to tennis glory was securing virtual trophies in the world of video games.

With the Scot's Wimbledon title defence in full swing, we've been reminiscing about some of the greatest tennis games ever released, and Sega's Virtua Tennis is one that immediately sprung to mind.

Developed by Sega-AM3, Virtua Tennis made its debut in arcades in 1999 before being ported to Dreamcast the following year and PC shortly after that.

Virtua Tennis screenshot

© SEGA

Virtua Tennis


The game's blend of blistering on-court action and intuitive controls made it an instant hit among coin-op enthusiasts, and the Dreamcast edition built on this early success.

Virtua Tennis' gentle learning curve made it a great fit for the arcade, with the game's five-match tournaments being the optimum length for solo play sessions and its multiplayer an instant smash.

More substance was required when it came to the console market, so the development team added a World Circuit mode for the Dreamcast release, challenging players to climb the world rankings.

Players progressed by defeating low-level opponents to unlock matches against more testing ones, as well as taking part in training exercises, which were designed to be fun rather than realistic.

Virtua Tennis screenshot

© SEGA

Virtua Tennis


Virtua Tennis wasn't backed up by the kind of extensive licensing agreement that games from the EA Sports stable boast, but it did feature more than a dozen ATP players.

Tim Henman represented Great Britain and producing volleys was his speciality. Other real-life players to make the cut included Mark Philippoussis, Carlos Moya and Tommy Haas.

Each player was strong in one particular area, be it serving, running, backhands or forehands, making them more effective against some competitors than others.

There were also a handful of bonus fictitious players to unlock, and these came with their own unique abilities. For instance, Davor Tesla was an expert in wide-angle shots and Pieter Tinbergen was adept in both serving and volleys.

Virtua Tennis screenshot

© SEGA


Furthermore, the game featured two unlockable bosses in the form of King and Master, a formidable duo that tested players to their very limits.

Grand slam tournaments like Wimbledon and the US Open did not lend their licenses to Virtua Tennis, but they were represented in all but name.

Grass, clay and hard court slam events featured in the game, in addition to a variety of special competitions, such as the Germany Men's Indoor tournament and a Sega-branded event in LA.

Virtua Tennis is rightly regarded as one of the best games ever to appear on the ill-fated Dreamcast, proving a big hit with fans and critics alike.

Virtua Tennis screenshot

© SEGA


It was one of just 17 games on the platform to be inducted into the Sega All Stars range, a line of budget reissues in the spirit of the Platinum Hits, Greatest Hits, and Player's Choice ranges.

The title's success on Dreamcast paved the way for a handheld port on Game Boy Advance, which earned plaudits for capturing the playability of its home console predecessor.

This was followed by an utterly forgettable version for the Nokia N-Gage that failed to deliver the essence of the Virtual Tennis experience at every turn, let down by atrocious controls and snail-paced matches.


Sega has resisted the temptation to deliver a new Virtual Tennis game each year, but the series has managed seven instalments to date, including 2012's mobile offering Virtua Tennis Challenge.

Its latest console iteration, Virtua Tennis 4, didn't generate the same level of acclaim as its predecessors when it touched down in 2011, but we're hoping the franchise will endure since there are few other places to turn for arcadey tennis thrills.

Do you have any fond memories of Virtua Tennis? Post a comment below!
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Grim Fandango retrospective: Why a revival was long overdue

By , Gaming/Tech Reporter
First Released: 1998 (PC)
Now Available On: PS4, Vita (in development)

One of the greatest adventures of all time is finally getting the recognition it deserves as Grim Fandango is soon to be resurrected for a new generation to discover.

Tim Schafer's 16-year-old opus might seem like an unlikely candidate for a PlayStation reissue given that it was a commercial turkey, but there are good reasons why a revival is long overdue.

Grim Fandango arrived at the tail end of the golden age of adventure gaming in 1998, introducing a number of creative breakthroughs to the flagging genre.

Grim Fandango

© LucasArts

Grim Fandango


The game is an inspired blend of Mexican folklore and film noir, combining elements of Aztec afterlife beliefs with style aspects from movies such as Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon.

The story takes place in the Land of the Dead - where something rotten is going down both literally and figuratively - from the perspective of a travel agent named Manuel 'Manny' Calavera.

Manny is charged with guiding newly-arrived souls to their eternal resting place by furnishing them with travel packages based on how virtuous they were in life.

Our hero is embroiled in a complex crime caper when he becomes involved with a client named Mercedes 'Meche' Colomar, who has all the makings of an effective femme fatale.

Grim Fandango

© LucasArts

Grim Fandango


Grim Fandango is a bona fide film noir mystery. Its storyline isn't necessarily original, but setting it in the Underworld provided a unique spin on the genre's established conventions.

The game's bold art style also stands out, with character models taking on the form of calaca figures, commonly used decorations during Mexico's Day of the Dead festival.

It comes loaded with South American flavour, with many scenes decked in imagery and symbolism from the Aztec civilization, others with striking 1930s Art Deco design motifs.

Razor-sharp writing, likeable characters, expert voice acting and rib-tickling comedy all played a part in making Grim Fandango an under-appreciated classic, but the way it broke free of tradition is what sets it apart from other adventure games.

Grim Fandango

© LucasArts

Grim Fandango


Earlier LucasArts adventures favoured a point-and-click interface, but Grim Fandango dared to be different by employing keyboard controls coupled with innovative systems such as head tracking to focus on objects.

Although this control system posed a steeper learning curve than its studio brethren, Schafer and co deserve plaudits for breathing new life into the adventure category (ironic given the game's themes and subject matter).

Grim Fandango is more than deserving of its upcoming PlayStation revival, given that it never found the commercial success it deserved back in the late 1990s.

Grim Fandango

© LucasArts

Grim Fandango


Moreover, ageing disc-based games like this are becoming increasingly unplayable as PC hardware and operating systems move on. It would be a crying shame if a stellar title like this was left to fade into history.

Announced at E3 2014, the remastered edition of Grim Fandango came about as a result of a tie-up between Sony, Double Fine Productions and rights holder Disney, who acquired the license when it bought out LucasArts in 2012.


The fact that this announcement was one of the highlights of the convention for many old-school gamers is testament to the sheer power of nostalgia.

We can't wait to see Manny and the gang with a fresh coat of HD paint, and have everything crossed that this relaunch will pave the way for remastered editions of other LucasArts favourites such as Full Throttle, Sam & Max and Day of the Tentacle.

Do you have any fond memories of Grim Fandango? Post a comment below.
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Games out this week: Kirby Triple Deluxe, Slender, Super Time Force

By , Gaming Editor
We're in the calm before the storm of Wolfenstein, Watch Dogs and Mario Kart 8 later in the month, but those with an Xbox 360, PS3 or 3DS will appreciate two great games out this week.

Kirby: Triple Deluxe

Release date: May 16 (Europe), May 2 (North America)
Platforms: 3DS

Players are required to hunt down Sun Stones to enable them to progress through the new Nintendo 3DS title.

Featuring over 20 types of copying abilities, Kirby will be able to use a range of moves to advance through the game, while its StreetPass functionality will enable players to collect items through a method other than discovering them for themselves.

Our Kirby Triple Deluxe review: A blast, no matter how easy


Slender: The Arrival

Release date: May 14 (worldwide)
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3

The horror game will be released by publisher Midnight City on consoles following its release on Steam last year.

The new content features levels showing the perspective of two of Slender Man's previous victims, which can be experienced after the core game has been completed. As well as the new content, the console release will provide additional polish for the audience.

Our review of Slender: The Arrival on PC


Super Time Force

Release date: May 14 (worldwide)
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox 360

This platforming shooter has been described as a cross between Gunstar Heroes and Braid, where players can rewind and fight alongside duplicates of themselves.

It's available on both Xbox One and Xbox 360.


Also out this week:

Minecraft: PlayStation 3 Edition retail release (PS3) - May 14

What games are you buying this week? Add a comment below!
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Mobile reviews: Republique Episode 2, Superfrog HD, Intake

By , Gaming Contributor
Each week, Digital Spy rounds up the biggest mobile gaming releases with reviews and trailers. This week's games include an episodic stealth adventure, a speedy caped amphibian and a pill-popping musical arcade game.

Republique Episode 2: Metamorphosis

Reviewed on: iPad 4
Platforms: iPad, iPhone
Price: £2.99 / $4.99 through in-app purchase, or part of the £10.49 / $14.99 season pass

Republique's second episode, titled Metamorphosis, sees the dystopian stealth series picking up shortly after the first episode's conclusion.

While the first episode introduced players to Hope as the escapee protagonist, episode two takes a bit more of a step back to let players learn more about Republique's world and the oppressive government at the heart of it all.

Republique Episode 2

The sense of setting was already one of Republique's strengths, and by focusing the story more in that direction for the second episode it adds weight to Hope's personal story and actions while making it even more satisfying to explore the environment for small hints and clues toward the bigger picture.

How you control Hope hasn't changed, though the swipes to steer security cameras and taps to direct Hope's movement are more precise, thankfully lessening the number of frustrating accidents compared to its predecessor.

The second episode does however heighten the tension by introducing new enemies with less predictable patrol patterns and armour that shields them from the limited stun weapons you can acquire.

These new guards can move very freely throughout the level, and require players to be mindful of hiding spots behind potted plants and book cases even when backtracking through previously cleared rooms.

New upgrades can be acquired to help counter-act these persistent threats, like a tool to predict patrol routes or one to see through walls, which help to even the odds in a game that was previously entirely reliant on memorising enemy patterns.

Republique Episode 2: Metamorphosis builds on the first episode's foundation for a stronger experience in every respect, with a story build up that is poised to make the wait for episode three feel even longer.


Download Republique from the App Store


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Sportsfriends live stream - watch Digital Spy play live on PS4

By , Gaming Editor
Updated story: The stream is now over! Thanks for joining us, and be sure to follow Digital Spy on Twitch for future events.

Watch a replay of our Sportsfriends playthrough:

Original story: Sportsfriends is available this week on PS4 and PS3.

The local multiplayer bundle features four games - fighting game BaraBariBall, QWOP and Octodad-style game Super Pole Riders, the fast-paced Hokra and physical party game Johann Sebastian Joust.


Digital Spy will play the PS4 release from 1.10pm to 2pm UK time - bar Joust due to its physical nature, unfortunately - and we want you to join us.

If you have any questions or queries during the live stream, be sure to comment on Twitch or in the comments section below.

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Gaming releases out this week: Sportsfriends, Titan Attacks!

By , Gaming Editor
Just a few downloadable releases on PlayStation platforms to purchase this week, including the anticipated local multiplayer bundle Sportsfriends.

Sportsfriends

Release date: May 6 (North America), May 7 (Europe)
Platforms: PS3, PS4

Sportsfriends bundles together four local multiplayer games - BaraBariBall, Super Pole Riders, Hokra and the physical, tag-like game Johann Sebastian Joust.

Note that up to seven people can play Johann Sebastian Joust on PS3, while the PS4 version supports a maximum of four players, with both systems supporting optional PlayStation Move support.


Titan Attacks!

Release date: May 6 (North America), May 7 (Europe)
Platforms: PS3, PS4, Vita

Inspired by classic arcade shooters of yesteryear, Titan Attacks! is a simple Space Invaders-style game with crisp high definition visuals, upgrade availabilities and a rock hard difficulty.


What games are you buying this week? Add a comment below!
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